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Built to order

When companies need education, UD delivers

Not too long ago, in the earnestly businesslike offices of JPMorgan Chase, the bank’s executives put down their spreadsheets, picked up their notebooks and waited for the college lecture to begin.

Class was in session, without a campus in sight. Over at biopharma innovator Incyte, where next-gen science is in the corporate DNA, a group of up-and-coming leaders discovered a new sort of tech magic: professors who leaped across the internet and into the pharma company’s offices in Wilmington and California. 

Vic Wang, director of UD's noncredit professional programs, speaks at biopharma innovator Incyte.

Graduate-level Blue Hen coursework had gone coast-to-coast, at the speed of light.

At business after business—schools, construction firms, hospitals—the University of Delaware is ambitiously aiming to become Delaware’s vendor of choice for corporate human development training, designing and delivering custom classes at a moment’s notice—“our place or yours.”

It’s aptly called the Customized Learning program, UD’s answer to the growing demand for practical, pain-free, personalized employee training. Each year, businesses, nonprofits and even government agencies from various industry sectors enlist the kind of instruction usually studied by backpack-wearing, degree-chasing college students. Utilizing more than 1,500 faculty experts across UD, the program blends the University’s service mission with immediate community application.

We are nimble, we are flexible, and we are responsive. And we can make [employee training] Delaware-specific." -Monica Browne


“We are nimble, we are flexible, we are responsive. And we can make it Delaware-specific, something that bigger outside consultants can’t offer,” says Monica Browne, program coordinator for Customized Learning, one of many open-to-the-public educational opportunities offered by UD's Division of Professional and Continuing Studies.

Deep resources, nimble response

The list of clients tapping into UD’s Customized Learning services includes some of the state’s elite bodies: financial powerhouse JPMorgan Chase, health provider ChristianaCare, the Wilmington VA Medical Center.

As they juggle shifting workforce dynamics and evolving needs, UD’s teams take a deep dive into their individual priorities, weaving together a course of instruction that can be customized at a near-cellular organizational level.

“We try to approach it in a team fashion and think of ourselves as being a thought partner to these organizations,” says Laura Valadakis, UD’s Customized Learning solutions manager. “We don’t just go in and sell a product, we try to identify their needs and work together."

Some Customized Learning courses serve up the meat-and-potato topics that are perennial concerns to any organization—leadership skills, DEI, intro-level Excel. Other courses have evolved as global needs evolve: There’s now a Design Thinking course, Data Analysis programming and Advanced Telehealth Coordinator training.

No matter the need or goal, UD can swiftly tap resources across its 10 colleges and schools to design practically any course, in any format: in person or online; recorded or live. In some cases, the program enlists external industry experts who bring an even sharper “real world” practicality to coursework.

Two of the program’s core offerings are the PocketMBA (a 9-month mini-course in business leadership) and the Patient Experience Academy (which applies hospitality practices to hospitals, helping providers view patients as “guests”). Multiple instructors from inside and outside of campus are often required for such extended training, and UD’s team sometimes works for months in advance to align course material with company needs.

We think of ourselves as a thought partner. We don’t just go in and sell a product, we try to identify needs and work together.” -Laura Valadakis


At other times, speed and agility are paramount. Just this year, UD’s team received a training request on the 5th of April from the International Fresh Produce Association to develop an Executive Presence and Extemporaneous Speaking program. By April 25, the plan was ready.

More than facts

At Incyte, a boundary-pushing biopharmaceutical firm with headquarters in Wilmington, managers were aiming to support their up-and-coming leaders, but recognized that few had time to take on a full Master of Business Administration degree.

UD’s Pocket MBA fit Incyte’s need, especially since the training had to be delivered on opposite sides of the country, in distant time zones. Once delivered, it became clear that some of the most significant takeaways weren’t just “textbook” facts, but the soft skills that typically take years to foster.

“Our employees really valued the business acumen and the management skills they could leverage from day to day,” says Danette Conley, Incyte’s director for employee development. “The one thing that was universal was how it helped them connect to each other. As a result of that they felt confident reaching out to other employees to collaborate.”

Expertise in teaching those interpersonal skills runs deep at UD, where associate professor Dustin Sleesman is a leading scholar in organizational behavior at the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. Sleesman prides himself on giving his Customized Learning students an experience every bit as rigorous and memorable as the one his undergraduates get. 

It’s hard for people to articulate what the challenges are, what the pain points are, and often they merely say there’s a ‘communication’ problem.' When I hear that, I want to dig deeper.” -Dustin Sleesman


Where teachers learn

Rita Landgraf is surely no stranger to the byzantine complexities of healthcare policies, but the former Delaware Health and Social Services secretary says she ends up learning a lot herself while teaching the topic to industry pros.

“It gives me insight into the diversity of thought within the industry,” says Landgraf, a professor in UD’s Health Behavior and Nutrition Sciences department. “I love my undergraduate work, but it’s great being with the professionals who can translate this into practice.”

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