Matt Rohde has presented research findings at national conferences and had papers accepted for publication by academic journals, giving him the kind of credentials that would make any graduate student proud. But Rohde is no graduate student. He is an Elmhurst senior from Arlington Heights, majoring in economics and management.
Now Rohde has collected another honor to add to his already remarkable resume. Rohde won the award for Outstanding Student Paper in Operations Management and Entrepreneurship at the annual MBAA International Conference, a gathering of scholars and students from various business disciplines, in Chicago in early March. His paper, “The Importance of Feedback and Follow-Through to Innovation,” co-authored with Bruce Fischer, an associate professor of business administration at Elmhurst, is based on two years of research at two area companies, a manufacturer and a public utility.
Using interviews and questionnaires, Fischer and Rohde surveyed management and employees at the two companies about strategies they used to encourage innovation. Rohde said that his research suggested that following through on employees’ suggestions and providing feedback to employees who generate innovations create an environment conducive to innovation.
“People need to know that their ideas have been received and that their suggestions are being reviewed,” he said. “Those were the two important points. You don’t want ideas sitting there in limbo.”
Rohde said that one company’s efforts to offer small financial incentives for innovation were less effective. Employees who suggested innovations were entered in a monthly raffle with a $50 prize, according to Rohde. He said that the raffles produced an initial increase in suggested innovations, but that the stream of innovations slowed soon after.
“The data confirmed that financial incentives don’t motivate over the long term,” Rohde said.
Rohde’s presentation at the MBAA International Conference was his second appearance there in two years. He presented another paper at the conference as a junior, and he admitted that what he recalled most vividly about that experience was his feeling of trepidation at speaking in front of a room filled with business and management experts. He felt more confident about making his most recent presentation, he said, but was still surprised to be honored with an award.
“I knew we had interesting findings, but I wasn’t thinking about winning an award. It’s the best feeling in the world, after all the work you’ve put in, all the late nights reading and writing,” he said. “The award just makes you feel great for pouring your heart and soul into something you love.”
Fischer and Rohde each received financial support to complete their research from an Elmhurst College Faculty-Student Collaboration Grant. They spent parts of the last two summers collaborating on the project. Fischer, who has written widely on innovation and teaches an undergraduate seminar on the management of innovation, said that Rohde has become a seasoned researcher.
“It’s like working with a Ph.D. student. He’s done so much more of this than most undergraduates,” Fischer said. “He has learned the essence of doing research. I don’t have to give him too much guidance now.”
Rohde credits Fischer with helping him grow as a student.
“He has been a great mentor. He has given me an appreciation for learning and for finding the truth,” Rohde said.
One paper based on their research has already been accepted for publication by the American Journal of Management. Another is being readied for submission. Rohde admits that not so long ago, the idea of writing a research paper for publication would have seemed beyond his abilities. That has changed.
“You wonder, ‘Am I good enough to do that?’” he said. “But one of the things you learn is that you’re capable of more than you think.”
One of Rohde’s challenges this spring may be finding time to accept some of the honors coming his way. In addition to the award for his conference paper, he will be named the Outstanding Senior in Elmhurst’s Department of Business and Outstanding Student in management at the College’s annual end-of-semester awards ceremony.
After he graduates in June, Rohde hopes to work with the national service organization AmeriCorps. Rohde has been involved in service activities throughout his time at Elmhurst, and has served as president of the student chapter of Habitat for Humanity. As part of a Habitat for Humanity service trip in January, he helped lead a group of 12 Elmhurst students in El Salvador, where they built housing for families in need. He is now completing an internship at the DuPage County affiliate of Habitat.
Rohde, who calls his innovation research “a labor of love,” said he has a passion for serving others.
“It’s important to me that I do something I believe in,” he said.