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Teaching Outside the Classroom Box

Dietrich von Biedenfeld Heads Off Campus to Make Lessons Come to Life


By Laura Wagner

Networking is often explained using the cliché, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

A better definition, says Assistant Professor at the Marilyn Davies College of Business (MDCOB) Dietrich von Biedenfeld, J.D., comes from legendary author Ken Blanchard: “No one of us is as smart as all of us.” But helping students internalize that concept sometimes requires venturing off campus.

“One of the major challenges for our students is appreciating and applying the role of networking not only in advancing their careers, but in making classroom theory come to life,” von Biedenfeld said. “My goal is to demonstrate to them that getting off campus, meeting people, and learning about what’s happening in the business world adds distinctive value to their UHD learning experience.”

On a mission to provide that value, von Biedenfeld orchestrated three learning and networking events off campus last Fall to reinforce in-class concepts with real-life examples, give students a chance to practice their networking skills, and allow von Biedenfeld to set the example.

1. Making Connections

International Business Law seniors joined von Biedenfeld and Henry Chambers, Program Administrator of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Fletcher, the graduate school of global affairs at Tufts University. The group met at Platypus Brewing along with Jeff Shokrian, CEO of 791 Purchasing Cooperative and a leader in the public procurement and economic development industry, for a conversation about the nuances of creating a successful global procurement function.International Business Law Seniors

Accounting senior George Farhat described the value of the event: “Meeting outside the classroom for an informal conversation provided me with opportunities to connect with individuals [in] impressive national and international careers.” 

Farhat noted that the conversation also illuminated crucial aspects of diplomacy and foreign trade acts and their role in national security and the economy, placing classroom topics in a real-life context. “I look forward to future similar events,” he said.

International Business senior Seth Hackett agreed. “I truly benefited from the Platypus event by being able to take advantage of speaking one-on-one with Henry Chambers and Jeff Shokrian in a small, casual environment.” 

Chambers provided Hackett with advice about graduate school in his field, while Shokrian offered a view from someone in the industry. “Jeff has achieved and experienced a lot, so getting insight into how he made it to where he is today was eye-opening,” Hackett noted.

In addition to receiving “priceless” advice and tips, Hackett added, “Thanks to Professor von Biedenfeld, I have made a connection to someone who has gone through the path that I hope to follow – an opportunity I would not have otherwise had. I will be able to reach out with questions and advice that are key to becoming successful in the business world.”

2. Linking Knowledge to Practice

Von Biedenfeld invited students from his MBA class on Law, Contracts, and Ethics for the Supply Chain to an educational tour at Equal Parts Brewing, another local brewery. “The goal was to ground classroom theory in a working enterprise that’s affected by supply chain issues,” said von Biedenfeld. “The students were able to see topics we’d discussed in class come to life in the context of an actual business’s operations and profitability.” And meet new business contacts in the process. “You never know which connections will result in internship or job opportunities,” said von Biedenfeld.

3. Walking the Walk

The third event in von Biedenfeld’s networking tour was a supply chain conference hosted by Houston-based Daikin, an air-conditioning, filtration, refrigeration-transport, and oil-hydraulics company with more than 20,000 employees worldwide. This time, it was von Biedenfeld’s turn to network. As an invited guest on a panel of supply chain experts, he spoke on the challenges faced by Daikin and others in the industry post-COVID and met a number of supply chain industry leaders.

“My role in participating in the conference and networking with speakers and attendees is primarily to contribute to important industry conversations and elevate issues and solutions,” von Biedenfeld noted. “But a close second is to showcase our dynamic student body and lay the groundwork for connections that could potentially benefit our students.”

von Biedenfeld and MBA candidate Jess Love (BBA '21)

At least three UHD students work at Daikin, including undergraduate Tamara Twiner (BBA ’23), who noted, “Without networking, I would not be an employee at Daikin.” 

MBA candidate Jess Love (BBA ’21, shown in photo) and alum Kervin Tran (MBA ’22) are also Daikin employees. 

“Networking opens up opportunities to connect with world-class professionals, entrepreneurs, and businesses. With mentors such as Professor von Biedenfeld, networking has become seamless, and I have had myriad opportunities to build relationships that last a lifetime,” said Love. She added, “It’s also inspiring to have one of my professors be considered an expert on a panel in my industry. I know that UHD is great, but it’s nice when peers in your industry get to see just how great.” 

Tran  agreed: “UHD has been a great resource for preparing students for their careers. The education provided from the professors and the leadership from being an officer in the Student Supply Chain Management Association prepared me for the opportunities that presented themselves while networking at school. Everything I learned from UHD prepared me for this position.”

“These students are the best advertisement for the value of a UHD degree,” von Biedenfeld said. “Through their hard work, they’re showing employers what UHD students bring to the table while they’re creating a path for other students to follow. It’s another facet of networking.”

In the end, von Biedenfeld believes these experiences offer multi-level benefits: “The students who participate in the events recognize their value. I hope other students will read about these opportunities and realize this level of care and investment in their future is what we at MDCOB aim to provide to each of them.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.