MA-HRIR Alum Embraces Global Career in Lagos, Nigeria

f72dfe41-0a3c-45fa-ac54-ac2d2cddb55fRuss Lee, ’14 MA-HRIR, joined Chevron immediately after graduation and recently began a six-month rotation in Lagos, Nigeria.  Read on to find out what life is like so far for him in Lagos.

Why Lagos?

-I am in Lagos, Nigeria for six months as part of the Chevron HR Development Program (HRDP). Chevron sees value in sending all their development program members on an international rotation sometime within their first two years at the company. Other alums have rotated through Nigeria while on HRDP with Chevron. They have all done great things here, and I hope to carry on their legacy.

How long have you lived in Lagos?

-1.5 months.

What has been the most interesting experience for you so far?

– My most interesting experience was flying on a helicopter for the first time. This one held 18+ people and it was a smooth ride to and from an off-shore platform on the Atlantic Ocean. I spent the time looking out at the vast ocean and writing in my journal to self-reflect about my experience here, my family and life goals.

What does working in a city like Lagos entail?

-I mainly work in Lagos at the Chevron office buildings.  I recently did a two-day trip to one of our off-shore platforms. There, I was involved in supervisor engagement sessions, new leader assimilations and other HR meetings. My next business trip will be to our Escravos gas-to-liquids plant located near the Niger Delta. I am able to learn and understand much more about our business and our workforce when I can physically be at the location. I appreciate these opportunities and try to make the most out of each experience.

What’s a benefit and challenge of living or working in Lagos?

-We love it here. I am accompanied by my wife, Adri, and two daughters, Sophia and Grace. We live in a company expatriate neighborhood where over a dozen different nationalities are represented. We spend time participating in community events around Lagos and car traffic can be really heavy at times. My most difficult challenge: the main language spoken here is “Pigeon” English. At first, I struggled to understand the English words spoken by locals. One Nigerian co-worker remarked, “Russ, you really need to learn our English language here.”. We both laughed. I am getting better.

Were you nervous or excited to move to such a foreign place?

-No matter where you live in this world, you will find differing opinions. When we first told my side of the family about moving to Nigeria, they reacted with concerns for our safety. When we told my wife’s family, their response was, “Wow! We have never been there, when can we come visit you?” Overall, we were excited to come, but we also tried to be realistic in what to expect when we arrived because it is very different than the U.S. and very much still a developing country. By the time we boarded the airplane, we felt prepared for what was next, and so far so good. I hope to see more HRIR graduates join Chevron and carry-on

Jing Liao, ’97 MA-HRIR, Named President and Chief Commercial Officer of Viridis Learning

Jing_Liao-214x3002Jing Liao, ’97 MA-HRIR, has been named President and Chief Commercial Officer of Viridis Learning Inc., a leading provider of algorithm-based software for college student career placement.

Felix Ortiz, Chairman and CEO of Viridis commented, “We are very excited to invite Jing to join our team. We have an unprecedented opportunity to capture the higher education placement market and impact millions of people’s lives globally. Jing’s passion and her remarkable experience and success in providing enterprise-class human capital solutions is just what we need to take Viridis to the next level. We are looking forward to a bright future with Jing coming on board to spearhead our sales efforts!”

“I am thrilled to work with Viridis’ highly reputable board and investors, our passionate and fearless leader Felix, and our committed leadership team and staff, and critical college and corporate partners to extend our impact in connecting students, schools and employment,” said Liao. “Time to fill, cost of hire, and quality of hire have always been the front and center of corporations’ talent concerns. Viridis Learning provides a unique solution with access to validated school records and systematic job match. I am honored to be considered for this ideal leadership opportunity to marry my passion for higher education and talent development with my track record of successful enterprise talent management. Our vision to build stronger career path for millions of college students will have a real impact of the whole world. I’m excited to be a part of the journey.”

Liao comes to Viridis Learning from TriNet HR Corporation, the leading bundled HR service provider for small to mid-sized companies as their Senior Vice President of Human Resources. Under Liao’s leadership, TriNet won the Elite Award of the Best and Brightest Company in San Francisco in 2014, and the National Award of Best and Brightest Company in 2015, and National Award of Best and Brightest Wellness Practice in 2015. Her team filled more than a thousand positions in 2015 and created one of the largest sales organizations in the Professional Employer Organization industry.

Prior to that, she was the Vice President of Global Human Resources for Atmel Corporation, a leading semiconductor company. Atmel was called the “King of Touch Controller outside of Apple” in 2011. Liao has been co-chair of the San Francisco CHRO Forum since 2011, and serves on the advisory board of the MA-HRIR program for the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. She also serves on the Board Executive Compensation Committee for El Camino Hospital. She was named a winner of the 2013 Top 10 Breakaway Leader Awards – Influence the Future of Work – Talent, Strategy, Leadership by Evanta.

HRIR Alumna Remain Connected through Book Club

book club

 Trading in their textbooks for the latest best-selling novels, a group of MA-HRIR alumni began a book club more than five years ago as a way to keep in touch after graduation.

The group, which has close to 15 members, first met while enrolled in the Part-Time MA-HRIR program. After graduating between 2009 and 2011, these former classmates now bond over books as part of this longstanding and enjoyable get-together. Two of the original members have moved away from the Twin Cities, but join the gatherings when they find themselves back in town.

The group meets roughly every six weeks to socialize, network, and discuss the most recent book selection. The host for each gathering suggests several book options and the group discusses and votes on the next reading assignment, which has included a mix of fiction and nonfiction selections.

“We’ve read a lot of great books and ended up not liking quite a few, too. But that’s OK,” says Heidi Meyer.

They’ve built genuine friendships among their fellow HR practitioners. In between discussing the current book, they talk about family and friends, share photos of recent vacations, and bounce work-related ideas and questions off each other.

“I’ll often ask the group if anyone has run into a particular HR issue. I find it’s just become a great network for all of us, both personally and professionally,” says Tara Miller-Hochhalter.

They’re also never too far from their HR roots: while reviewing the most recent book, members discussed the lack of strong leadership one of the main characters displayed and the negative consequences the rest of his team experienced because of it.

Their paths first crossed as graduate students in the MA-HRIR program and their shared experiences keep them in touch today. But the program is never far from their hearts: even while focused on their current lives and careers, they still talk about “school stuff,” and reminisce about their days in the program.

Pictured above: Christine (Wagenknecht) Gast, Sarah Cheever, Tara Miller-Hochhalter, Kara Zetzman, Debbie Holzgraefe, Heidi Meyer, and Michelle (Willey) Hemming

Partners in Class, Partners in Life

While earning an MA-HRIR degree at the Carlson School certainly provides many professional benefits, the program has also changed the course of many students’ personal lives. Throughout the program, students spend plenty of time together in class, working on group projects, and studying, which often results in lifelong friendships—and as these stories highlight, sometimes classmates become partners beyond their classwork.

Teaching assistants turned life partners


Ian Charpentier,’93 MA-IR, and Kathy Megarry, ’92 MA-IR, met at the Carlson School in 1992, where they both worked for Professor John Budd. Twenty three years later, they’re still working in the field of human resources and industrial relations.

Ian has spent the past several years working in HR at Accenture. Prior to this role, he held numerous positions in the retail and software industries. Kathy works in labor relations. She recently departed from her role at Macy’s to return to the public sector as the chief negotiator for Hennepin County.


Campus tour sparks immediate connection


Olivier Vankerk, ’00 MA-HRIR, and Brye (Paetznick) Vankerk, ’00 MA-HRIR, met in the program on the night of orientation in 2000. Olivier first noticed Brye that night while she was talking to a group of friends. During orientation introductions, Olivier made sure to note that he was new to Minnesota and didn’t know his way around campus yet. When it was Brye’s turn to introduce herself she mentioned that she had lived in Minnesota for five years and she would be happy to act as a tour guide. The pair introduced themselves to one another. Although Brye was in a relationship at the time, the two did end up spending time together both in and outside classes, and routinely met at a table on the ground floor of the Carlson School. It only took a few months to realize they were meant for each other.

Today, Brye works at Cargill and previously held positions at Briystol-Meyers Squibb, IBM, and St. Jude Medical. Olivier, formerly employed by IBM, now works at United Health Group. The two have lived in communities around the world, from New York, Connecticut, and Arizona, to China. They are now back in Minnesota to reconnect with family and friends.


Making a date in the library


Robert Smith, ‘06 MA-HRIR, and Luise Monda, ’06 MA-HRIR, were in the same class in the MA-HRIR program. One day when class let out early, they both happened to head to the Herman Library where Robert mustered up his courage and asked Luise out to coffee. The first date went well and the two started seeing each other. Luise got a job out of state and Robert went on to pursue his PhD but they always stayed in touch. Three years later, they got married.

Robert is now a strategy manager at Accenture and Luise is an HR business partner at Surescripts. The two live in Silver Spring, MD, just outside of Washington D.C., with their two sons.


Study group leads to marriage proposal


Joey Martin, ’08 MA-HRIR, and Roxana (Lopez) Martin, ’09 MA-HRIR, met through their involvement in an international student study group.  Joey has recently returned from a semester exchange at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and had joined a study group of international students that included Roxana. During an ice skating trip Joey conceived of as a study break, Roxana needed help staying upright and Joey was there to help her. That winter, Joey met Roxana’s family, and by New Year’s Eve, he had proposed.

Both Joey and Roxana now work at General Mills: Roxana is an HR business business Partner partner supporting the information technology team, and Joey is a marketing associate supporting the Snacks Club channel.


If you met your partner while in the HRIR program and you’d like to share your story, please drop us a line

Career Advice from Alumni

Recently alumni Theresa Nyberg, ’88 MA-IR and Frank Deutsch, ’12 MA-HRIR sat down in the Georgianna E. Herman Library for Alumni Office Hours, an event where current MA-HRIR students have the opportunity to chat and receive advice from alumni. When asked what their top three advice to students were this is what they said…


Theresa Nyberg, ’88 MA-IR

Theresa Nyberg for Alumni Office HoursConnect:  Connect with other students, teachers, and professionals, both inside the HR profession and outside. These relationships will become “priceless” in both your professional and personal life.

“End Game”: Know who you are and what you are looking for, both in the short and long term. When choosing your internship or accepting any offer throughout your career, ensure your choice of organization and position is aligned with your goals and values. To be a successful HR business partner, learning the business is one success factor, another is having the passion or belief in the organization’s mission. This will drive you to excel.

Carlson School of Management:  Take advantage of all of the resources, services and education Carlson has to offer. Then remember Carlson when you are in a position to do so…Give Back.


Frank Deutsch, ’12 MA-HRIR

Frank Deutsch for Alumni Office Hours1. Purposefully step out of your comfort zone. That is when your greatest growth and development will take place.

2. Take as many of the MBA courses as possible for your electives. Specially, take the MBA Accounting course. You may be working in HR, but these students will one day be your fellow colleagues and you need to be able to speak their language.

  1. Try to touch as facets of HR as possible early on in your career. You may discover hidden talents and passions you never knew you had.

Catching Up with Igor Stanceric

Igor StancericIgor Stanceric graduated from the MA-HRIR program in 2014 and joined General Mills as an associate HR manager.  Stanceric is originally from Croatia but has spent time working in Sweden, attended Macalester College in St. Paul, and then the Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis, and is now based out of Buffalo, New York. We checked in with Stanceric to see how his career has been unfolding since graduation.

What kind of work are you doing currently?

  • Stanceric: As an associate HR manager I am currently in a business-partner role doing HR generalist work. From supporting our production and salaried employees as they work through their benefits questions, to FMLA, payroll, yearly processes such as respectful workplace policy training, working through performance management steps such as end of year performance appraisals, IDP process, team building and team development, coaching employees, etc.

How are you applying what you learned from your studies in the MA-HRIR program to your new position?

  • Stanceric: I am essentially putting into practice all of the theoretical concepts talked about in various classes. These range from strategic recruiting and succession planning to tactical assessments, administration, and interpretation. Another great example would be the motivational theories we learned about in one of the classes and applying that knowledge while coaching employees or working on their development. Managerial Communications class was yet another class I use on a day-to day-basis, whether while leading meetings, presenting trainings, or coaching employees.

Has there been anything surprising about the field or the work you’re doing?

  • Stanceric: One thing comes to mind immediately: the level and amount of people-influencing I do every day. Most everything I work on involves working with others, which translates into having to influence people to accomplish what you need to.

What is the most impactful thing you took away from the program that will help you in your career?

  • Stanceric: Never stop learning. Seeing theory put into practice is where personal development and growth come from. There is so much to learn, no matter the specific field or industry a person is in. The other piece of the puzzle here is making sure you share the learnings with others. Being competitive and wanting to succeed are great qualities–something that all MA-HRIR students have — but much like the collaboration that happened with classmates while interviewing for the same jobs, we need to continue to collaborate and share our learnings across companies and industries.