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Washburn Shops, 203
Phone: +1-508-831-5182
Fax: +1-508-831-5720

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Michael B. Elmes

Since arriving at WPI in 1990, I have framed my role in the classroom as helping technically-minded students to become more cognizant and mindful of the complex human and behavioral dimensions of life in organizations. I have done this in a variety of ways from experiential exercises to digital storytelling to classroom-as-organization designs. In all cases I have encouraged students to engage in a variety of experiential methods and reflective activities including journaling, case-in-point listening activities, immunity maps, and learning memos to help them make sense of challenging workplace issues like defensiveness, the use and misuse of power, communication, and leading adaptive change. Because I experiment with new course designs every term, each class feels fresh and different and I believe challenges students (and myself) to learn about themselves and others in complex organizations. Consistent with my commitment to teaching, I am an Associate Editor for the Essays section of the Journal of Management Education, a top business-education journal. 

With regard to my research I have published over 50 papers in top journals, conference proceedings, and books on a range of topics including organizational learning, dissent in organizations, high altitude mountaineering (the May ’96 Everest climbing disaster), discourse and narrative in environmental management and strategy, enterprise system implementation, and social entrepreneurship. These papers have generally assumed a non-realist ontological perspective including critical, critical realist, narrative, aesthetic, dramaturgical, and communications frameworks.  Consistent with a social-constructionist research orientation I was selected to be a Taos Associate in 2011. Most recently, I have been engaged in research that focuses on social innovation and ethical sensemaking at food banks and other food related enterprises; inequality and the industrial food system; sensemaking and identity in organizational change; and the role of place in social innovation and environmental management.   I was a Fulbright Senior Scholar to New Zealand in 2005 and have been a co-author for 2 Best Paper awards at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting (1996 and 2005). I was also the lead author for a paper on social innovation and place which won the 2012 Best Paper award in the Academy of Management Learning and Education.

My roles as project advisor and project center administrator are equally important to me. As founder and co-director of the New Zealand Project Center in Wellington, I have developed sponsor relationships and projects that focus on conservation education, wildlife-human interaction, climate change and flooding, earthquake and tsunami issues, alternative energy innovations, diabetes and other food-related diseases in New Zealand, and Maori issues. In 2007 I founded the Nantucket Project Center on Nantucket Island, and for over 25 years have served as a project advisor at other WPI Global Project Centers including London (4), Costa Rica (1), and Nantucket (1), and the Center for Sustainable Food Systems (2) in Worcester.

Research Interests

  • Social innovation and food systems
  • Place and organization studies
  • Food justice and organization studies
  • Organizational sensemaking and identity


  • B.S., Union College, 1975
  • M.S., Colgate University, 1979
  • Ph.D., Syracuse University, 1989

Featured Publications

  • Guthey, G., Whiteman, G. and Elmes, M. 2014. Place and sense of place: Implications for organizational studies of sustainability. Journal of Management Inquiry, Vol. 23(3), pp. 254-265.
  • Elmes, M. and King, K. 2012. Moral sensemaking through digital storytelling. Journal of Business Ethics Education, Vol. 9, pp. 259-280.
  • Elmes, M. Jiusto, S., Whiteman, G., Hersh, R. and Guthey, G. 2012. Social entrepreneurship and innovation from the perspective of place and place making. Academy of Management Learning and Education, Vol. 11(3), pp. 533-554. (Awarded Outstanding Article in AMLE for 2012).
  • Elmes, M. and Loiacono, E. 2009. Project-based service learning for an unscripted world: The WPI IQP experience. Journal of Organizational Analysis, Vol. 17(1), pp. 23-39.
  • Elmes, M. and Frame, B. 2008. Into hot air: A critical perspective on Everest. Human Relations, Vol. 61 (2), pp. 2013-241.
  • Volkoff, O., Strong, D. and Elmes, M. 2007. Technological embeddedness and organizational change. Organization Science, Vol. 18(5), pp. 832-848.

Professional Highlights

  • Fulbright Senior Scholar, New Zealand, 2005
  • Lead Author for Best Paper in the Academy of Management Learning and Education for 2012
  • Co-Author on 2 Best Paper awards at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting (1996 and 2005)
  • Selected as a Taos Associate in 2012
  • Associate Editor for the Essays Section of Journal of Management Education (2014-present)
  • Associate Editor for First Person Research on the Organization Management Journal (2005-2014)
  • Certified as Immunity to Change Coach, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, Harvard University, 2012-13
  • Co-PI for NSF Research Grant on ERP implementation and organizational change, $299,987, 2001
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