Helena Knorr, Ph.D. has been a photographer, basketball coach, consultant and archaeologist. Life has taken her from her birthplace in Mozambique, to residences in Spain and Portugal, to travels in Asia, Africa and beyond. She speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Basque and English.
An associate professor in the School of Business, Knorr now brings her diverse experience to the Organizational Leadership program she founded in 2006. The two-year graduate program helps develop students as leaders and change agents in their communities. “I bring the global perspective and a wish that all of us realize the interconnectedness of our world.”
More a facilitator than a lecturer, Knorr has an interactive style that enables students to share their life experiences. “I don’t just talk about case studies,” she said. “We explain theory, but it has to be connected to their own lives.”
Education Transforms Lives
Just as education opened up her world, Knorr uses it to help change the lives of her students. Many are women of nontraditional college age who are doing social work in their communities as they return to the classroom. “They are already leaders, they just need the credentials. It is about finding their own voice and finding self confidence,” she said.
After taking Women in Leadership and other classes taught by Knorr, Deirdre Kane felt confident enough to start drafting a proposal for a new corner store in her Lawrenceville neighborhood. Kane wants to sell produce sourced from a community organic farm where she volunteers. The market will serve a community need and support the gardens, which also enable local children to learn how to plant and eat wholesome produce. “I am more of a fearless leader because of her influence,” said Kane, who earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership in 2013. Knorr’s worldview is refreshing, she said. “We are not just a part of our city, state or country. We are part of a bigger picture.”
Director of the organizational leadership program from 2006 to 2007, Knorr also teaches several courses in the M.B.A. program. The M.A. in organizational leadership differs from an M.B.A. in that it focuses more on leadership, has a strong emphasis on business ethics, and does not require courses in economics and finance. “Some think it is a soft version of an M.B.A. It isn’t,” said Knorr, who teaches students that they cannot function in life without math and analytical skills.
Making an Impact
Some class projects turn into nonprofits that make a big impact in the community. Rachel Otieno, a former student, created a nonprofit organization to empower women in her native Kenya. Her brainchild, The Female Assistance Project, provides feminine products and hygiene education to preteen and teenage girls in Nairobi. George Githiaka, also from Kenya, said Knorr’s classes allow students to learn from each other. “She truly wants you to do well, not just in your classes but in your life.”
Knorr received similar guidance and inspiration from her family. She hails from a long line of strong women. Her mother Isabel Knorr (a social worker and photographer), grandmother Maria Blanca de las Heras, and great grandmother Isabel Elorza emphasized service, social justice and education. Her father Dr. Armando Estrocio and late grandfather Jose Maria Knorr Elorza, an entrepreneur and inventor of Kas (a popular soft drink in Spain) also encouraged her. “They helped me to see that education transforms people’s lives.” Knorr became the first woman in her big extended family to earn a doctorate (a Ph.D. in human resources from the University of Minnesota).
While inspiring women in western Pennsylvania, Knorr does the same as director of the Global Entrepreneurship Masters Degree for Women program at the University of Salamanca in Spain. Her students hail from more than 20 countries and include community leaders, government officials, ministers, lawyers, politicians, economists, sociologists and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Of all her varied jobs, Knorr said considers teaching her true calling. “I think I have it in my blood to empower people.”
Text by Cristina Rouvalis
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University