cape of good hope

A Difference-Making Decade

Friday, October 25, 2019

The 2019–2020 academic year marks 10 years since Carlson School faculty decided to incorporate an International Experience for all undergraduate students into the curriculum. Today, that initiative is a key reason the Carlson School stands out as a worldwide leader in global education.

The roots leading to that decision reach back more than 25 years. At that time, Carlson School faculty began collaborating with the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH) after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Through a grant from the United States Agency for International Development awarded to the Humphrey School, Carlson faculty worked with SGH to revise its curriculum to reflect the country’s move into a market-based economy.

This collaboration led to the establishment of an Executive MBA program between the Carlson School and SGH. Later, Carlson branched out with similar Executive MBA programs in Vienna (VEMBA) with the Vienna University of Economics and Business and China (CHEMBA) with Lingnan (University) College of Sun Yat-sen University. Based on their experience teaching in these programs along with the collaborative international research many of them engage in, faculty led the charge to build an international component into the Carlson undergraduate curriculum.

cgi year in review

It was a bold experiment, and a decade later, the wisdom of that decision is evident.

“There are very few business schools in the world doing what we’re doing,” says Michael Houston, associate dean of global initiatives and Ecolab-Pierson M. Grieve Chair in International Marketing. “The work we’ve accomplished over the past decade is something everybody at the Carlson School and the University of Minnesota should be very proud of.”

In the 10 years since an International Experience was incorporated for undergraduates (the MBA program added it a year later), the number of students, programs, corporations and partners around campus and around the world that the Carlson School works with has grown considerably. Today, more than 750 Carlson School students study abroad annually at top universities in nearly 40 countries worldwide. These once-in-a-lifetime experiences have proven to be profoundly impactful on students based on their own testimony and on their career trajectories.

“For some students, the impact is immediate,” says Undergraduate Program Associate Dean and Arthur Upgren Chair in Investment Management Raj Singh. “They come back from a short experience and start inquiring about the possibility of spending a semester abroad. For others the impact of their experience becomes obvious later in their careers. These students are more likely to raise their hand when an opportunity to take a global assignment is offered. They will have the confidence and the cultural competence to take the leap.”


Finding Experiences for Every Student


After the initial launch of the international initiative, CGI leadership quickly realized there was no one-size-fits-all solution for students looking to complete their overseas experience. Since then, the Carlson School has more than doubled its experiential learning opportunities and continues to collaborate with the University’s Learning Abroad Center to co-sponsor and develop new programs.

Today, there are even more ways for students to complete their International Experience other than semester exchange programs. One of the areas that has seen the most significant growth is in faculty-led, shorter term programs. In many of these courses, students begin with a class taught on campus and then travel with their peers overseas. Each year, CGI collaborates with more than 30 faculty members from every Carlson School academic department to deliver a robust educational experience. Their classes run the gamut from “‘Made in Italy’ Brand Management” in Rome and Florence to “Economic Diversification: Moving Beyond Oil” in UAE and Oman.

“Our program to the Middle East is packed with both business and cultural visits,” says Senior Lecturer Helen Moser, who instructs the course. “We get an inside look at multi-national and local businesses that students could not access otherwise. We also learn about culture through interaction with locals and, of course, visiting the amazing mosques in the region.”

Moser says in two short weeks, students are exposed to ideas, cultures, languages, and climates different than their own. They go through a range of emotions and experiences that can be scary, strange, exciting, draining, and thought-provoking. They build lifelong relationships with other students. “In two short weeks, their lives are changed forever,” she says.

International experiences like these make students more employable and more effective employees, Moser says. “Most of our students will, at some point in their career, work for a company that sources or sells to other countries or for a multi-national company,” she says. “International programs allow students to more fully develop their cultural awareness and knowledge of different ways of conducting business. This understanding allows them to be more effective in their interactions in international business and opens doors to new career possibilities.”

cgi year in review

In addition, CGI offers self-designed programs for undergraduate students. In these unique programs, students customize their own international experience under the supervision of Carlson School faculty and staff.

“Our standard program portfolio fits the needs of most students through a wide array of models, destinations, and topics,” says CGI’s Education Abroad Director Kirsten Canterbury. “The self-designed International Experience is for those students who have identified an interesting opportunity overseas or whose personal circumstances will not allow them to participate in an existing program. This is one of the ways we ensure that all Carlson students can complete their International Experience.”

For graduate students, the Carlson School continues to offer more unique learning opportunities than ever before, including the Global Business Practicum and the Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI) Valuation Lab. With the Global Business Practicum, students work on live case projects with partner companies around the world. This experience gives students the opportunity to strengthen their intercultural skills and apply their business knowledge while working in close collaboration with peers from Carlson’s international partner network. In the MILI Valuation Lab, students conduct market assessments for new medical innovations, which encompass more than 30 analyses a year. The Stockholm School for Entrepreneurship and the Swedish medical school Karolinska Institute have an agreement with MILI through CGI.

“The type of offerings continue to grow each and every year,” Houston says. “We’re constantly adding project-based work and cutting-edge programs that will encourage our students to be more successful, especially when they begin their careers.”


Partnerships that Span the Globe

As the number of academic offerings grow, so does the number of partnerships that CGI has forged both on campus and around the world. From the faculty and staff who work with CGI to coordinate abroad programs to safety and security personnel who keep students safe on their experiences, it has taken a village to accomplish all of this over the past decade.

On campus, CGI partners with the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance (GPS Alliance), the Learning Abroad Center (LAC), and the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office. The GPS Alliance is the central international office for the University system. Under its purview is the LAC, which helps coordinate and advise all University undergraduate students on education abroad opportunities, and ISSS, which supports international students and scholars during their time in the Twin Cities.

“The GPS Alliance is a proud partner of CGI and is grateful for the shared expertise and enthusiasm with which we provide academic and support services to all of our students,” says Meredith McQuaid, associate vice president and dean of international programs for the University of Minnesota system. “The Carlson School’s International Experience is a model for other colleges at the University to study and emulate. Providing high-quality experiences beyond our geographical borders challenges students to be curious and to explore opportunities that may have once seemed out of reach.”

cgi year in review

The benefits extend both ways in partnerships with international schools and businesses. At the school level, the University and the Carlson School benefit from having a diverse student body in their classrooms, just as the partner schools enjoy having Carlson School students on their campuses. Through experiential and project-based learning opportunities, students can work on business challenges in real-world settings. The partnering businesses not only receive proposed solutions to their challenges, but also are introduced to top students—good to know when hiring future talent.

Ben Irby, chief marketing and strategy officer for Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW), a General Mills and Nestlé partnership, says inviting Carlson School students to site visits and collaborating with them on campus has taught the company a lot about itself. “It’s for sure a two-way relationship,” says Irby, who also serves on CGI’s Advisory Council. “We get a lot from the Carlson School, and we see this not only as an opportunity to give back but also as an opportunity to further that partnership and extend it beyond just the Carlson School here in Minnesota.” In the 2019- 20 academic year, CPW is sponsoring a Global Business Practicum, engaging Carlson MBA and SGH Warsaw School of Economics students on a consulting project in Switzerland and Poland.


An Inspiring Future

Thanks to an initial faculty push and subsequent learning partnerships formed over the last 10 years, the Carlson School’s forward-thinking decision to incorporate an International Experience into its curriculum has had a tremendous impact. The University is looked upon as a leader in international education and a major reason for the accolade is the Carlson School’s focus on business education on a global scale.

As the Carlson School continues to grow its international offerings, its students will continue to reap the benefits. Every day, they are using the knowledge they developed during their International Experience to shape how global business is done and bringing with them the cultural skills necessary to thrive in today’s work environment.