Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

FALL 2015

“All that growth and learning would never have been possible without that first leap.”



By Marilyn Sherman

As the CEO of an employment training company, Kevin Schnieders has a recipe for lifelong learning: “Put yourself in a situation where you’re uncomfortable.” Two years ago, he followed his own advice and took the plunge to enroll in the Master of Science in Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC) program. What he has learned as a student has mattered—for his company, his employees and himself.

“It all began with taking a chance, finding a program that made sense for me. It has led to so many things!” says Schnieders, who had been away from school for 19 years when he started at SESP. “All that growth and learning would never have been possible without that first leap.”

Schnieders’s interest in MSLOC came about because he was looking for his “next challenge in learning.” A lifelong learner, he is determined not only to keep learning himself but also to keep his employees learning too.

As a CEO, Schnieders is responsible for the vision of his company, Michigan-based Educational Data Systems Inc. The company, which has 500 employees in seven states, specializes in customized technical training for corporations as well as job training for unemployed people. “We like to help people,” he notes.

Schnieders subscribes to the philosophy of “servant leadership,” the type of leadership that involves sharing power and helping people to develop and perform as highly as possible. Consequently, as he balances his desire for both learning and execution in his company, he asks, “How are we organized as a company to learn?”

The MSLOC program has offered Schnieders a number of ways to make advances for his company. For example, in his first MSLOC course he liked the tactic of leaderless teams, which he has adopted for his company as “functional improvement teams.” Teams of emerging leaders from across the country meet via video to address a problem, following the MSLOC model of team charters, rotating roles, weekly videoconferencing and reflection blogs. Schnieders has been pleased with the results, such as a new app for a business solution.

In addition, Schnieders applies a strategy he learned in MSLOC called “immunity maps” as a way for leaders to figure out why they are challenged by something. His company also developed an electronic system of knowledge sharing similar to MSLOC’s innovative system. “We’re always looking for new and creative ways for knowledge sharing to occur across the enterprise,” he says.

Since Schnieders lives in Michigan, like many other MSLOC students he attends classes primarily online. His first course in this format spurred him to start virtual town hall meetings with his employees. Over 45 days he met with all 500 of them. “If I hadn’t gone to MSLOC, I never would have believed we could have substantive meetings via video. Video reinforces the quality of relationships,” he says.

With a sincere smile, Schnieders describes his long-term goals for his company: “I want to grow, grow, grow!” he says. “Continued aggressive growth provides opportunities for people in the company.”

As his comment suggests, those who know him well say Schnieders exemplifies commitment to others. According to fellow student Suzanne Etherington, “Kevin doesn’t just say he is committed to servant leadership; he lives it—at work, at play, at MSLOC. Everyone who works with him respects his passion for creating collaborative, inclusive environments.”

MSLOC director Kimberly Scott sees Schnieders as “the model ‘leader as learner’ in that his contributions—both in class and out of class—show that he is never too busy to learn. His openness to learning is remarkable,” she says.

As Schnieders continues his formal learning, his next step will be to pursue a coaching certificate through the MSLOC program. He says, “I want to spend more time one on one with emerging leaders in the company. The program has made me a better listener and a better coach.”