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Program History

During the 1950s, Dr. Gerald G. Somers, professor of economics in WVU College of Commerce was quickly establishing a national reputation for himself and WVU in the growing field of industrial and labor relations. Dr. Somers had a very active research agenda on a variety of labor issues including work stoppages and wage agreements in the WV coal and chemical industries as well as unemployment, mobility and retraining of WV workers.

1956: Dr. Somers founded and became Director of the Institute of Industrial Relations. It was around this time that Dr. Somers began to conceive of creating a graduate program of study in industrial and labor relations such as had been started at Cornell and other northeastern and upper mid-western universities during the previous decade.

1958: The Master of Science in Industrial Relations degree, housed within the Institute of Industrial Relations first appeared in the 1957-1958 graduate catalog, and the program was fully operational by 1958.

Dr. Somers left WVU shortly after starting the MSIR program to go to the University of Wisconsin. Throughout the years following Dr. Somers’ departure, several individuals including Fred Zeller, Wil Smith, Robert Miller, and Owen Trapper stepped forward to help nurture the MSIR program through various growing pains.

Dr. Robert Decker, a professor of psychology, subsequently became the MSIR program director and the program, which was truly interdisciplinary in the early days, was offered in a cooperative arrangement among the Psychology Department, the College of Commerce and the Institute for Labor Studies.

1959: The degree requirements became more defined and structured. A thesis was required and the courses offerings were still diverse but much more extensive. The degree also established a GPA requirement of 3.0 to be eligible for graduation.

The program saw many curricular changes over its first decade.

1971: The MSIR program moved entirely into the College of Business and Economics accompanied by Dr. Decker, who transitioned to the business school from the psychology department.

1973: Dr. Randy Elkin joined the MSIR faculty and two years later became the program’s director and held that title for more than 30 years.

Mid-1970s: A Manpower Planning and Evaluation option was offered in conjunction with the School of Social Work.

The program continued to grow. The 1980s saw the program expand its curriculum to 42 credit hours.

Mid-1980s: The Industrial Relations Student Association (IRSA), the Industrial Relations Honor Society and the MSIR Alumni Executive Board (AEB) were all formed.

For a period of time, there was a separate Department of Industrial Relations with Dr. Elkin serving as department chair. Dr. Deiter Schaupp taught within the program and served as program director while Dr. Elkin was on sabbatical.

The late 80s and early 90s also saw some serious attempts to eliminate the MSIR program. In each case alumni of the program rose up en masse to effectively argue for the importance of this program.

Over the years, the MSIR program has continued to refine its curriculum on the basis of input from the AEB and feedback from employers. Today, the MSIR program is a cutting-edge HR/IR program with a national reputation for excellence. The program is highly experimental and relies heavily upon the expertise of alumni who return to campus as guest speakers in classes and presenters in the Industrial Relations practicum series.

Early 2000s: 

  • Started the Global Track
  • Created the GE mock interview competition and linked it with the UG program.
  • Revitalized the Executive Council
  • Created the MSIR Young Professional Advisory Council
  • Aligned the curriculum with SHRM
  • Offered the first SHRM certifications courses at the B&E
  • Held the first SHRM Advisors workshop
  • Launched a major recruiting plan that included visiting SHRM chapters around the Southeast
  • Held the 50th Anniversary Celebration
  • Launched the 2 year program with required internship in the summer

2016: MSIR graduate Cris DeBord returned to his alma mater as vice president of talent and culture.

2016: Senior Vice President of HR for PepsiCo – Frito Lay North America, Tina Bigalke returned to campus to present as part of the B&E Distinguished Speaker Series.

2017: WVU MSIR student team placed first in the Society for Human Resources Management competition . The team won the graduate student division of the 2017 SHRM Case Competition and Career Summit in Philadelphia, placing first in a field of eight teams.

2017: A 2009 WVU MSIR graduate, Kellyn Smith assumed the role of director for the Center for Career Development in the WVU College of Business and Economics.

2017: Dr. Tom Zeni assumed role as MSIR Program Coordinator

2017: MSIR students Jennifer Feaster and Tyler Matthews continue to positively impact the Morgantown Community by creating and facilitating a resume-building workshop for rehabilitating inmates at the Morgantown Federal Corrections Institute – in conjunction, MSIR students volunteered to participate in FCI’s Mock Interview Day

2017: MSIR students were invited to participate in Ohio State’s invitational Case Competition, acknowledging the Program’s reputation among competitor institutions, this was followed by MSIR’s inaugural in-house Case Competition in partnership with PepsiCo.

2018: MSIR students led by Dr. Zeni, and WVU SHRM and other undergraduate students led by Dr. Suzanne Kitchen visited the State Capitol in Charleston to promote engagement between state legislators and HR professionals in West Virginia and students in HR classes. During the event, the West Virginia Senate voted to adopt a Senate Resolution designating January 26th as HR Day at the Capitol.

2018: MSIR students enrolled in IRL 509: Talent Acquisition course served as consultants to the HR team at Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, Inc., located in Buffalo, West Virginia, to help improve their Leadership Development Program.

2018: WVU Talent & Culture Fellowship program created giving MSIR students the opportunity to work on cross-functional HR projects that directly impact the University while being mentored by Senior Leadership within WVU Talent & Culture

Today’s students get practical experience through programs such as the GE Interview Competition and the Collective Bargaining Simulation.

The program has also take on a more global focus in recent years. Students now have the opportunity to study abroad in France, Germany, and Switzerland.