Organizational Dynamics Celebrates its 40th Anniversary

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Dr. Nancy Bauer, founder of Penn's Organizational Dynamics
June 29, 2017

Penn’s Organizational Dynamics graduate program celebrated 40 years with a gala held on Friday, June 2nd. More than 120 faculty, alumni and current students gathered at the Mütter Museum to reunite with classmates and make new connections. Meredith Methlie, administrative director of the program and organizer of the event shares, “Our goal was to get the community together for this major milestone.” Of the attendees, some traveled from as far as Montréal, Indiana and Texas to be a part of Organizational Dynamics’ history. “It was a very special night, and it became even clearer what an impact our program has on people’s careers and lives,” she adds.

Organizational Dynamics was founded by Dr. Nancy Bauer, an expert in learning theory. The National Science Foundation contacted her about funding a program that connected adults to a research institution in the mid-1970s. She knocked on the Provost’s door and began the process of starting the first program to offer courses at Penn for working professionals.

In its early development phases, Nancy met with corporate and government leaders in Philadelphia as well as the deans and leading faculty of the schools across Penn. She recalls, “I asked all of them, ‘What question do you think about that needs to be addressed?’ I got the same response. Each one of them wanted to know, ‘What is next?’ and that became the mission of Organizational Dynamics.”

What first started as a liberal studies program, based on the needs of its participants, Organizational Dynamics became focused on business leadership with the humanities at its core.

Nancy shares how the early courses and curriculum were created, “No one is allowed to lecture—that’s still true today—and there’s a key question each faculty member has to pose and try to answer. Dr. Renée C. Fox— an internationally renowned scholar and creator of the sociology of medicine—was one of our earliest faculty members. She explored ‘How do cultures happen and why do they differ? Is there any such thing as corporate culture?’”

Organizational Dynamics Celebrates its 40th Anniversary

Throughout its 40 years, Organizational Dynamics has helped leaders take on professional and workplace challenges by taking a deep dive into these kinds of questions. Nancy explains, “A lot of graduate programs cover the information within a field of study. It’s not enough to know what’s happening; you have to know why. Our participants bring to the class what is happening in their organization, and in the course of the discussions, we start to uncover why.”

Dr. Alan Barstow, an anthropologist and current director of the program adds, “Our brand isn’t about us telling you what we know. We’re going to think together and ask questions for which we don’t yet know the answer.” Nancy concurs, “We are aware that all organizations must grow to compete. Members of organizations, therefore, have to grow to compete as well. This is a program where faculty and students study together while the facts are changing. The opportunity to get to know each participant—we really do get to know each other, and see ourselves from the outside and others from the inside—is extraordinary. It’s dynamic indeed.”

Looking ahead, Alan notes that the program is creating more online and hybrid courses as well as compressed sessions and concentrated models. “As our community continues to grow and disperse around the country and the world, opportunities for in-person engagement, like our gala, will be even more important,” he shares.

Nancy adds, “The global aspect of the program is crucial for the future. People in Organizational Dynamics are going to make a huge impact on what this world is going to be. Penn is growing, and growing internationally all the time. There seems to be no limit to its scope. And that’s exciting.”

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