Alum Is Researching Strategies for Employing Disadvantaged Workers

Larry Gebhardt, PhD

Fielding alum Laurence P. Gebhardt, PhD, has been awarded the 2019 Dianne Kipnes Fund for Social Innovation to support his research on the effects of employment mentoring for disadvantaged and marginalized individuals. Dr. Gebhardt, who graduated from Fielding in 2000 with a doctorate in Human & Organizational Systems, will be presented with the award during Convocation at Summer Session on July 20.

The Dianne Kipnes Endowed Fund for Social Innovation was established in 2016 by Clinical Psychology alum Dianne Kipnes, PhD, ’98, to support alumni research and projects that lead to lasting change across a variety of sectors and social issues. Dr. Gebhardt plans to gather case studies of how mentors have created employment success working with disabled, homeless, veterans, LGBTQ, refugees, immigrants, former felons, addiction recovered, and/or non-Christian individuals in Idaho, where he lives, and then develop tools and methods with repeatability and broader application — and to eventually modify Idaho state law to more clearly define the disadvantaged status and develop strategies to include disadvantaged people more fully in the economy.

“A person with a felony conviction has real trouble getting a good job,” he says. “But once that person is allowed to come to work and performs well, the attitude of the company owner shifts.”

Dr. Gebhardt has seen it with his own eyes. After 27 years in the US Navy, he started a shipyard business and set aside 10 percent of the jobs “for people who needed a second or third chance in life,” recruiting graduates from drug-and-alcohol clinics, parents on the Welfare-to-Work program, and other disadvantaged community members. “Some of these people found a home and friends and acceptance and good pay,” he says. “When I go back to visit, they’re running across the yard to give me a hug and telling me they bought their first house ever in their lives.”

Pocatello, Idaho (Chamber of Commerce photo)

Beyond the humanitarian reasons, there’s an economic reason for this project, he says. “In our region, there’s a concern that our labor force, our talent base, is low. And that’s holding back investment,” he says. “If we can figure out tools and methods to help them go from underemployment to more full participating in the economy, they’ll do better for themselves and their families, and the economy will improve, as well.”

Dr. Gebhardt is President of BRIDGES, an Idaho refugee support organization, and president of CC Metrology LLC, an applied research firm. He is a retired Navy Captain, member of the Idaho State Use Council for disabled and disadvantaged people, past President of the Pocatello Centennial Rotary Club, and former adjunct faculty member at Idaho State University. He also helped start and expand three commercial shipyards, one of which, the Rhode Island Shipyard, became the focus of his dissertation on how to build and manage complex adaptive organizations.

He came to Fielding looking for a multidisciplinary understanding of how businesses operate. He found it here, but found something else he was glad to discover, as well: “a tremendous opportunity to help make change.”