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Penn State Smeal project underscores possibilities of social responsibility

Max Saltzman, a junior supply chain and information systems major, created The Appreciation Challenge as part of his BA 342 'Change Our World' assignment. Image: Penn State
Max Saltzman, a junior supply chain and information systems major, created The Appreciation Challenge as part of his BA 342 'Change Our World' assignment. Image: Penn State
January 3, 2017

Ron Johnson, senior instructor of management and organization at the Penn State Smeal College of Business, wanted to find a way to illustrate to undergraduate students in his Business Administration 342 (socially responsible, sustainable, and ethical business practices) class the collective power that companies can marshal when they engage employees with embracing social impact.

He cited as examples of corporate social responsibility initiatives making a difference:

  • Since 2003, IBM has reported that 275,000 employees in more than 120 countries have volunteered 20 million hours.
  • PepsiCo employees donated more than 120,000 hours to a host of initiatives in 2015 alone.
  • Walmart reports that its employees have donated 1.25 million volunteer hours and $1.42 billion in global giving in 10 years.
  • The Big Four accounting firms — EY, KPMG, PwC, and Deloitte —donate millions of combined volunteer hours to the communities in which they worked last year.

Johnson tasked his students with taking the “BA 342 Change Our World Challenge.” As part of the assignment, students were asked simply to find a way to positively impact or improve someone’s life in a direct way. They were allowed to spend no more than $20 and no fewer than three hours each to do it.

What the 1,200 students in the multiple sections of the class produced stunned even Johnson.

“I told them that BA 342 is 1,200 students strong and that makes us a powerful group.  If all of us engage we can make a difference in the world,” he said. “But the ingenuity that many of these students displayed blew me away. Not only were they selfless in their actions, they were clever and creative in their execution.”

Students came up with myriad of projects to fulfill the assignment, including delivering baked goods to local police as a thank you for their service, sending cards to active military personnel stationed overseas, sending inspirational messages to pediatric cancer patients, cleaning up downtown State College, empowering and inspiring women, to name just a few.

One student, junior supply chain and information systems major Max Saltzman, went above and beyond the basic requirements of the assignment. Saltzman, who transitioned to University Park from Penn State Altoona this fall, interviewed dozens of students, and faculty, and produced a video chronicling the positive thoughts and student perceptions of Smeal and its faculty. He called it The Appreciation Challenge: Project Professor. Saltzman chose four Smeal professors to show what students had said while filming them.

“I wanted to show that we have students and professors that truly care about each other,” said Saltzman, who recently posted a final version of the video on YouTube. “The main goal of the Appreciation Challenge is to get others to do an appreciation activity themselves.”

BA 342 is a leadership competencies course for aspiring business professionals that all Smeal undergraduate students must complete — typically in their junior year. These competencies are ethical decision-making, corporate social responsibility, sustainability and diversity.

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