Developing Global Leaders Here and Abroad

College of Business celebrates 25 years of international business education

In the early 1990s, Japanese manufacturing and economic prowess captivated the business world. Paul Kraft, an undergraduate at St. Thomas, found himself drawn to this phenomenon. But as a double major in finance and economics, Kraft thought it was unlikely he would have an opportunity for long-term study in Japan and still graduate in four years.

Instead, like many St. Thomas students, Kraft looked to January Term study abroad programs. In January 1991, he studied the Japanese economic structure by immersion in the culture and economy.

After graduation, Kraft returned to Japan to teach English, honing his students’ language skills at  their places of business – factories, corporate headquarters, offices, etc. This experience gave him additional insight into the Japanese business model. Kraft later enrolled in the St. Thomas Master in International Management program, taking advantage of the exchange relationship at Osaka Gakuin  University to finish his degree. An internship at a Japanese food company paved the way to his current career at Minnesota-based Schwan Food Co.

Like other St. Thomas undergraduate and graduate students, Kraft began his study-abroad experience with a single conversation, idea or classroom moment. For Kraft, business classes at St. Thomas led to an initial 24 days in Japan, which eventually changed his life.

The history of St. Thomas international business education mirrors closely the major trends in international education. Just as the international marketplace has undergone dramatic changes in the last 20 years, so too have College of Business students, as well as faculty members and the curriculum they teach.

The 1980s: Blending classic liberal arts with comparative business educationStudying abroad traditionally meant that students would spend their junior year overseas, enroll directly at a foreign university, and focus on the liberal arts. This began to change with the introduction of the 4-1-4 academic calendar, and many colleges (including St. Thomas) began to offer short-term programs in January during the academic year. These programs were offered through a consortium of Midwest colleges and consisted of one or two professors and a group of eager students traveling abroad for one course.

In January 1979, St. Thomas professors Robert Veverka and Shirley Polejewski developed the first business program overseas, the Business Grand Tour. Polejewski recalls how they based the course on the classic model. “A tour of the capitals of Europe was once considered to be an appropriate capstone to a British liberal arts education,” she said. “We felt our students should have the same opportunity by concentrating on European business and cultural sites, with people who were involved in international business affairs.”

The class journeyed through London, Amsterdam, The Hague, Brussels and Paris, meeting with international business representatives, accountants and lawyers. Students explored the differences in laws, regulations and business practices in each country and took in a healthy number of cultural sites. The study tour, blending comparative business education with the liberal arts, was offered several more times during the decade, adding new faculty, cities and subjects.

The origin of this faculty-directed, short-term program falls right in step with national trends during the 1980s. Student participation increased, but for a shorter duration overseas. Currently, nearly half of all students who study abroad do so for less than a full academic term.

One conversation, many contactsOngoing faculty and student exchange agreements between St. Thomas and foreign universities signaled another important international education trend. China, for example, was actively pursuing international contacts by the mid-1980s, and Minnesota welcomed delegations from several different cities. Tom Holloran, professor emeritus of management, found himself at the dinner table with one such group from Shanxi Province in China. The dinner was hosted by then St. Thomas president Monsignor Murphy and Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich.

As a partial result of that dinner, Holloran was invited to China in 1986 to lecture on market economies to business faculty at Northwest University in Xi’an. Holloran’s visit inaugurated more than 15 years of St. Thomas and Northwest University faculty exchanging knowledge, pedagogy and students.

In the mid-1980s, many international students endured Minnesota’s weather to study under a new business program. As an outcome of his conversations with Chinese delegates, Perpich asked Minnesota colleges to consider offering an international management degree. His request was answered by St. Thomas.

The Master in International Management (MIM) program was launched in September 1984,  integrating international perspectives into core business courses with required foreign language, intercultural communication and management classes.

Exchange agreements with the MIM and MBA programs also led to the development of additional short-term programs in Asia and Europe. After serving as a visiting faculty member, Holloran and sociology professor Jack Gessner developed the first Asia-based study-abroad program in January 1989. China and Change: Implications for the West included treks to Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming and Hong Kong, as well as Northwest University in Xi’an.

Accounting instructor Joe Schramer used the contacts and experience developed in the China and Change class as the basis for his graduate class, Asian Political Economy. Schramer then turned the program over to other College of Business faculty.

Phil Schechter, former director of the MBA in Human Resources Management program and the most recent faculty member to teach the Asian Political Economy class, emphasizes the importance of these relationships. “The exchanges are critical to a quality academic program because they give us entrée into political, economic and business communities that we could not access, such as the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, from which many top Chinese government and business officials have graduated.”

In return, St. Thomas welcomes international students from China and other exchange institutions from around the world. These students often bring new perspectives to the classroom on politics, business, culture and society.

Today there is a flourishing exchange of students, ideas, faculty and friendships between Asia and St. Thomas.

The 1990s: Entrepreneurship across EuropeIn business terms, entrepreneurship is creating ideas, determining their feasibility and planning initiatives. In the mid-1990s, following a national trend in business schools, entrepreneurial professors used the same process to develop programs for working students that could be integrated into their MBA concentrations.

Finance professor Ameeta Jaiswal-Dale was the first to open the short-term program door for graduate business students. After arriving at St. Thomas in 1990, she quickly realized that her students lacked exposure to continental Europe, especially elements of economics and business in the European Community. With a program based at the Centre Franco-American de Management International at the University of Caen, France, MBA students gained access to public and private industry within a developed business model.

Study-abroad alumna and May 1996 MBA graduate Barbara Hill recalls, “I doubt I would have even considered traveling to France had I not been in the MBA program. The overwhelming confluence of academic study and practical experience – interaction with French students, lecturers from local educators – exceeded my expectations.” Hill credits this experience in influencing her decision to pursue a doctorate in organizational development.

With a precedent set and support from the College of Business (then known as the Graduate School of Business), E.W. Blanch Sr. Chair in Risk Management Peter Young created a Risk Management and Insurance Seminar in London. The seminar molded the study-abroad opportunity into a shorter, more intense academic experience structured around site visits and lectures by onsite experts.

The seminar started in January 1997 and the objectives have remained constant: To provide students with a technical introduction to global financial services; an intense international exposure; and an awareness of the limits of their knowledge, thus encouraging them to learn more. And London provides the perfect environment for responding to the topical issues of the day.

Michael Ramme, a London 2004 seminar participant said, “Throughout the duration of the course I gained more than just an understanding of global markets and the risk and impact of insurance on world affairs. I acquired a broader knowledge of how the world functions as a whole, how other cultures view the world we live in, and how the beliefs and values flourishing in other cultures help fuel the global economic and social arenas.”

A specific area in which St. Thomas has shown its entrepreneurial energy is its nationally recognized teaching in business ethics. Building on programs created over the last 10 years, Ken Goodpaster and Tom Holloran have created a summer seminar, Ethics, Culture and Business.

Taking the ethics and business formula one step further, legal studies professor Susan Marsnik and Center for Ethical Business Cultures manager, Doug Jondle, have developed a 2005 summer seminar, Business Law and Ethics. This course, in cooperation with professor Michael Hakenberg  from Fachhochschule Trier, Germany, will explore ethics and corporate social responsibility from a comparative European and UnitedStates perspective, as well as the opportunity to negotiate contracts alongside German students.

Undergraduate business: Curriculum designed for study abroadTen years ago, universities that could not find business and science coursework to fit their  curriculum overseas considered creating their own semester programs, ensuring that students could both meet the criteria for their major and include a study-abroad experience in their education.

Each fall since 1995, St. Thomas business majors and minors have had the opportunity to enroll in the London Business Semester program. As of fall 2004, more than 500 students have done so. This program has expanded the undergraduate business program, and faculty have been transformed as well.

The influence on one professor or student who studies overseas grows exponentially when he or she returns to campus. Phil Anderson, chair of Management Department, explains, “As more  College of Business faculty have become directly involved in teaching in the London Business  Semester, they have brought back with them a broader comprehension of world events and how  they impact business in the United States and Minnesota.” Anderson also finds that “faculty with international experience routinely incorporate a global perspective in their courses, regardless of the nature of the course.”

Anderson filled another curricular gap after returning from his experience as the first London  Business Semester faculty director. He was the first St. Thomas professor to re-engineer a required  course for a degree into a study-abroad program. Strategic Management in London and Ireland combines strategic planning from a global perspective, with firsthand witness of how non-U.S.  businesses operate. This course asks students to develop a personal outlook on business and society that is more sensitive to intercultural differences.

Erin Reinhardt, a 2002 participate who now works for BT Syntegra, writes from London, “The program specifically impacted my view on other cultures and countries. Rather than seeing Europe as one country and one culture, I had the ability to experience a wider range of diversity in London and Ireland.” By reworking a required course into a study-abroad program, St. Thomas has ensured that its business students have vital, global business experience.

The 21st century: Integration and intercultural growthMore than 10 years ago, Paul Kraft was one of the few business students to study abroad. In May 2004, nearly 50 percent of all graduating seniors with business majors studied off campus during college. The benefits of this experience remain the same: The opportunity to learn a second language, experience cross-cultural growth and gain confidence in personal skills, qualities and assets for a lifetime.

What’s in store for international business education at St. Thomas? Georgia Stavig Fisher, director of undergraduate business, points out that unlike 10 years ago, universities overseas are offering more programs that fit with St. Thomas’ business curricula. Fisher explains, “These wide-ranging programs are based in countries that complement foreign language learning, including the international business major that requires study abroad in a foreign language. It is now a goal of the College of Business to identify language opportunities that tie in with business coursework for the international business major as well as others who want to include international perspectives in their business education.”

More than ever before, faculty also are busy expanding their areas of expertise, research and scholarship. Rich Rexeisen, who has directed the London Business Semester twice, Phil Anderson and Ann Hubbard, associate director of international education, are currently researching the intercultural development of students studying abroad.

Study-abroad programs also have lead to faculty opportunities around the world. For example, Susan Marsnik recently participated in a faculty development seminar, The European Union, Politics and Religion in Turkey, where she met Turkish entrepreneurs, explored family businesses and examined the impact of Islamic law on business practices.

The College of Business has expanded its vision of international programs through more than 20 years of curriculum and program development, and overseas and on-campus activity. Peter Young reiterates that the college is very serious about integrating international perspectives throughout the curricula by offering all students a chance to study overseas. As he notes, “The challenge of internationalizing the College of Business experience will require us to offer more experiences like our London course; but equally importantly, we need to assure that we are fully injecting the international perspective into everything we do.”

The College of Business is well poised to fulfill the words of its new mission statement: to offer “excellence in educating highly principled global business leaders.”

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