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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Dean's forum From: American Journal of Business, Volume 31, Issue 1.
This matters: developing globally-minded business graduates
I often meet with students and alumni and hear about their academic and professional experiences abroad. As they return from their travels, I am impressed by their increased engagement and development – they readily share experiences and have a new understanding of the world and of themselves. I also travel throughout the world meeting with potential educational partners and continue to learn just how important these global travel experiences are to both students and professionals.
It is hard to overstate the importance of study abroad for business students, and yet the Institute of International Education reports that only two percent of the total higher education student population is studying abroad at any given point in time; that number increases when looking at just four-year undergraduate programs, ranging from about 10 to 15 percent. Most of us in higher education know that studying abroad, even for short periods of time, significantly impacts students’ global mindset – we might organize the impact into four main areas:
1. Confidence: managing the logistics of living or working abroad develops problem solving skills and requires flexibility and the ability to remain calm. Students, required to solve problems on their own and in a new environment, quickly learn to communicate even when language barriers exist, negotiate complex public transportation systems and make important decisions. Needing to solve problems quickly and communicate builds confidence.
2. Independence: removed from families and friends, students in particular learn about themselves and develop a sense of independence that will help them in the world of work. This independence and experiencing something completely new helps develop an important skill for succeeding in business – the ability to relate to others and solve problems.
3. Cultural appreciation: spending time in another country not only exposes students to the local culture, but also lets them see their own culture through someone else’s perspective, increasing their understanding of the world and improving their ability to work in teams and across boundaries.
4. Increased interest in global events: having traveled throughout new regions of the world, students return to school with a renewed interest in the events that shape those parts of the world they have explored as well as others. This interest allows students to understand the implications of global events and to understand that not everyone thinks the same way about what is happening in the world.
When students return from their international experiences, I witness a new maturity and engagement in their courses and in the community. They develop the transferable skills that employers cite as essential when evaluating new talent.
It is equally difficult to overstate the importance of global understanding for business professionals. The US Travel Association reports that in 2012 "for every dollar invested in business travel, businesses benefit from an average of $9.50 in increased revenue and $2.90 in new profits." Significant professional and personal travel takes place every year; "In 2014, US travel exports (travel and passenger fare receipts) totaled $220.8 billion and US travel imports totaled $145.7 billion, creating a trade surplus of $75.1 billion in favor of US exports." Professionals who travel for work not only benefit their careers and their companies’ bottom line, but they often face similar challenges as students and develop similar skills because, all too often, their first experience abroad may be a business trip to a country for which they have basic tourist knowledge at best. Not surprisingly, to address this lack of international experience among current employees, more and more companies actively recruit students with study abroad experiences.
Knowing all of this, our global business center and our faculty develop relationships with universities across the world to find existing programs that provide a solid business education with unique experiences. We encourage our students to seek opportunities to study abroad at one of our partners or any of the many programs that are available to any of our students. We are a member of a consortium of schools that offers both undergraduate and graduate courses in Italy – many of our students opt to study there for either a semester or a month during the summer. In addition, we routinely offer and develop at least four business college-specific study abroad programs each year.
What kinds of programs do we offer through the college? We offer two programs every summer that are very popular with our students, one to Germany, and one to Thailand and Japan. In addition to these two staples, in 2014-2015, our students joined business college study abroad programs to the Dominican Republic, Chile, and India, and in 2015-2016, Ghana was added along with the prior three programs. The programs range in length from two-three weeks to one month. We find that students increasingly prefer study abroad programs with shorter durations, which leaves them time during summer to take courses, do internships, or work. Usually the programs are offered in late spring/early summer, but we have begun to offer a program just after the end of fall semester. Student involvement in the programs increases when we develop programs that provide the flexibility students need.
All of the study abroad programs we offer, of course, are focussed on business in some way, and all are offered for credit to meet students’ major requirements. However, each of the programs has different foci of interest and scope, and some are offered in conjunction with a global partner. The Germany trip, for example, is partnered with a university in Germany and primarily focusses on sales and marketing. The Dominican Republic program focussed on advertising and communications. The India trip combined our business students with social work students from Australia to focus on social responsibility issues. Usually one of the summer programs is comprised primarily of graduate students and focusses on various topics related to conducting business in a foreign country. All of the programs require some kind preparation before travel. This might take the form of a coursework component, mandatory seminars, and extensive reading.
Our international business education committee, under the auspices of our global business center, manages our study abroad programs. Faculty interested in developing a program must submit a proposal to the committee, which then reviews and recommends approval (or not). Successful proposals clearly articulate purpose and scope and the value-added nature of program. The successful proposal further demonstrates the ability and knowledge to put together a program that will deliver on its promises. Approved programs are not rotated into the offerings for about two years, allowing ample time for development and program promotion. Moreover, we encourage faculty who are considering leading a study abroad program to accompany another study abroad trip to see first-hand the work invested to deliver a successful program.
Like many of you, we want our students to study abroad, and we put our money behind it, providing scholarships to assist any student who wants to travel. While students who participate in semester- or year-long study abroad programs reap the greatest benefits, those who can only manage a short course – say two or three weeks – still have significant experiences that impact their lives, increase their ability to adapt in the workplace and give them a global perspective.
But what about all those students who choose not to study abroad? How do we effectively develop global awareness and sensitivity, an understanding of the world beyond us? For us, the obvious answer is to bring more international students into the business school. Only about 5 percent of our undergraduate students hail from other countries; that number jumps to just over 15 percent for graduate students. We are focussed particularly on increasing the percentage of undergraduate international students, and we are tackling that goal by collaborating with international partners who have the potential to deliver significant numbers of students to our halls. One of these partnerships involves developing a joint institute with a university in China: when fully developed and implemented, this collaboration has the potential to bring approximately 200-300 students per year into our business school.
Significantly increasing international students brings great potential, but not without risk. To achieve our goal of developing globally minded students, we need to have a truly inclusive environment where integration between our international and American students is a cultural norm, something that automatically happens. To this end, we are experimenting with a variety of mechanisms to enable this. One promising effort is matching each incoming international student with an American peer at the time of their arrival. We are talking about having an annual international cultural festival within the business school, providing an opportunity for all of us to learn more and appreciate the many cultures represented here. Strategies for integrating students within the classroom are also being reviewed, for example, making sure that international students are assigned equally across teams for group projects.
Global engagement is one of Western Michigan University’s three strategic pillars, and I am proud of the work of our faculty and staff do to help prepare our students for future business careers. Preparing students, our future business leaders, for a career that will no doubt be influenced by global decisions is one of the best ways we can prepare them for success.
Kay M. Palan
Haworth College of Business, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA
1. www.iie.org/ (accessed February 26, 2016).
2. US Travel Answer Sheet, www.ustravel.org/answersheet (accessed February 26, 2016).
About the author
Kay M. Palan is the Dean of the Haworth College of Business, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI. Palan earned her PhD from the Texas Tech University in 1994. Prior to joining WMU as Dean in 2010, she served as Associate Dean for undergraduate programs at Iowa State University. Palan has an extensive background in marketing, the health care industry and managing collegiate entrepreneurial programs and her professional research and presentations reflect her expertise in the areas of gender, youth-based marketing issues, and marketing strategy. Palan becomes the Dean of the Culverhouse College of Commerce at the University of Alabama in July 2016. This paper was prepared with the assistance of Cindy Wagner, Haworth College of Business Communications. Kay M. Palan can be contacted at: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org..