A significant part of my work has involved writing profiles that establish thought leadership and brand value. Three samples, of a student, an alumna, and a faculty member at Saybrook University, are below.
Keima Sheriff: Organizational Systems PhD student
“There are things I need to make happen in my education,” says Keima Sheriff.
Keima owns her own consulting firm, and it has a mission: to teach businesses how to thrive by making their employees a priority.
It can be done, she says: it’s all about balance.
“A lot of the time consultants go in and try to fix an organization while ignoring its human parts,” she says. “So consultants will go in and create all kinds of systems and tools to deal with absenteeism or reduced productivity without ever noticing that the business is, say, primarily female and the women are also parents or caregivers who are struggling to create balance. We try to find what balance looks like for the individual and the organization and create a workable relationship between employees’ personal and professional lives. I’m trying to grow businesses while growing individuals.”
It’s a balance Keima has to deal with in her own life as a mother who’s devoted to both her career and her son. She needed a PhD to grow her own business: how could she add graduate school to the mix while staying personally balanced?
Saybrook’s distance learning program offered the answer – but that’s not why Keima applied. She applied because Saybrook’s humanistic approach is crucial to the work she was doing. This was a school where she can learn something meaningful, and that made all the difference.
“While I could have gone to programs close to my home, none of them offered a humanistic approach,” she says. “None put the human being at the center.”
The experience of being at the center of her own education has been transformative: Keima says Saybrook’s given her a whole new set of tools for her business even as it’s helped her evolve personally.
“There was a time when it was very hard for me to believe that anybody would want to hear what I had to say,” she recalls. “But now I’m getting past that, and not only understanding it but embracing it as something I need to understand for my work professionally. It’s amazing: it feels not just like a change, but like evolution. I’m at this place where I’m digging that I have some really cool gifts, and that’s huge for me. Before, if I could blend into the bland paint, I would.”
She’s taken full advantage of Saybrook’s emphasis on individual learning, and helped design several new areas of the curriculum based on her own workplace experiences. “I’ve had an opportunity now to create two independent study programs – and both of them are leading to potential courses. It’s a great opportunity to be in control of my learning. That’s just crucial for me – and Saybrook’s made that possible.”
Dr. Mary Madrigal: Psychology Alumna
Mary Madrigal remembers that when she first came to Saybrook she wanted “to get my degree and get out.”
“I liked that you could get an MA and apply it to your PhD, and that you could study while still working. I wanted to advance my clinical career. I didn’t care that it was a humanistic school.”
Her career has grown as much as she hoped for, and more – but she’s grown as a person too, in ways she never expected.
“The professors challenged the people who took their workshops to look at patients as people – to look past their symptoms and think of them, not as a disease, but people. And that challenged all the professional experiences I’d had up to that point, which were to find the disease, label it, and move on,” Mary says.
She went back to work, looked her patients in the eyes … and realized her professors were right. Her medical training had taught her to dehumanize the very patients she was trying to help.
“That changed everything,” she says. “If their doctor sees them as a human being, it’s easier for patients to get past their symptoms too: they have support to be ‘John, who experiences schizophrenia,’ rather than just ‘schizophrenic in room 3.'”
Changing the way she saw her patients changed the way Mary practiced medicine, and eventually led her to expand the kind of patients she could help. Today, while working on her dissertation, she runs her own case management company – specializing in the cases of mentally ill people that no one else wants to touch.
“You know how there’s a fire and everyone runs away, but the firemen runs to it?” she asked. “I’m kind of like that with these people. When government agencies are wondering ‘who’s going to deal with these people?’ I’m the one that they call.”
She finds that by applying her humanistic training – by seeing her clients as whole people rather than just their disease – she can make a difference where others fail. “There are hundreds of older adults who are no longer homeless because I was willing to work with them,” she said. “I helped them get food, shelter, apartments, and reconnected them with their families, because I was able to start by looking at them as individual people rather than conditions to be solved.”
By the end of his senior year of college Dennis had been accepted to NYU Medical School, and had even enrolled. But “it was 1967, and the world was getting very interesting, and I asked myself if I wanted to spend four years in a hospital when all these interesting things were happening?”
He loved the idea of being a doctor, but he loved the idea of being in the world and making a meaningful contribution more. So instead he went into organizational consulting, and then psychology – both areas where major changes were underway. “It was a very exciting time, all the things about organizational and cultural change were just opening up in those years,” he remembers.
In the 1970s he was a working family therapist … and in the 1980s he was working with companies on organizational change. By the 1990s, something clicked.
“People would hear I’d been a family therapist and start referring me to family businesses that needed consultants” he says. “Family businesses combine a lot of the psychological issues of families with the organizational issues of business, and eventually I started getting enough referrals that I began focusing on this. It just kind of evolved.”
He wasn’t the only one: at the same time that Dennis was making a name for himself as a consultant for family businesses, a group of scholars was coming together to declare that family businesses were themselves an interdisciplinary field of study and practice. Dennis joined their ranks, and has played a central role in the development of Family Enterprise Consulting ever since.
The author of over 14 books on management, Dennis served as the Deputy Director of Research for the MacArthur Foundation Network on Healthy Companies, and helped create some of the key tools for assessing family business success, such as the “Enterprising Family Sustainability Index,” “The Aspen Family Business Inventory,” and “The Aspen Family Wealth Inventory.” He’s also served as the Adelaide Thinker in Residence for the government of Australia, and helped that country develop a climate of support for small and family businesses.
Saybrook was already using one of his textbooks when he applied to teach here, and it’s been a partnership that’s lasted over 30 years.
“I was always considered a good teacher and academic, but it was never clear what department I fit into,” Dennis says. “My degree is in sociology, I’m a psychologist, I work with organizational change … universities have always tried to force me into one department or another, no matter what my research interests really were. But here at Saybrook, they’ve never tried to force me to choose a box to fit myself in. That’s one of the things that keeps me here.”
It’s also one of the things he admires most about Saybrook’s approach to education. “You are not a good faculty member at Saybrook if you’re very narrow and only know one area,” he says. “A good Saybrook faculty member is well read in a whole lot of fields and has a very good understanding of how the issues fit together. I also find it very helpful that I can work with students, many of whom are experience professionals, in a whole range of areas: that’s an incredible opportunity.”
To Dennis’ mind, the world needs more boundary crossing and fewer boxes. “Take any important problem and there’s no clear answer whether it’s a sociological problem or a psychological problem or a public health problem or a political problem,” he says. “It’s really clear that the big problems are at the intersection of all these things, and it’s an anachronism to have schools organized into fields and department that refuse to acknowledge how broad and multi-disciplinary the things they study really are.”