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International Business Initiative Creates New Opportunities for Faculty, Students

RELEASED: April 28, 2008

Peter Chresanthakes
Peter Chresanthakes, lecturer of accounting and finance at American College of Thessaloniki in Greece, speaks to a UW-Eau Claire finance class April 29. Chresanthakes visited campus April 28-May 2 as part of UW-Eau Claire's Partnerships in International Education initiative, which is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Title VIB Business and International program. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Rick Mickelson)

EAU CLAIRE — Senior Eric Becker will take a big step toward making his dream career a reality when he begins an internship this summer with H&T International Transportation Ltd. in Guangzhou, China.

"I am interested in doing business at a global level when I graduate, but I've been told by many people that working for a company in a foreign country is hard to do right out of college," said Becker, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire management major from North Mankato, Minn. "This internship is an unbelievable opportunity. I am excited to explore my opportunities in China; I hope it leads to a career in international business."

Becker's internship is possible because of a year-old initiative that's goal is to globalize the content of the curriculum within the College of Business.

"I'm thrilled with the way things have worked out," said Dr. Rama Yelkur, project director and author of the "Partnerships in International Education" program. "Everything is falling into place. We've created international faculty exchanges, established international internships and have begun to support area businesses as they compete in a global economy."

Business faculty and students will experience greater success if they have an understanding of and appreciation for how the United States fits into the global economy, said Yelkur, international business programs coordinator for the College of Business. PIE helps create awareness for faculty and students by providing them with opportunities to experience the education systems, business operations and cultures of other countries, she said.

This year, four UW-Eau Claire faculty have taught at universities and made contacts with businesses in Ireland and Greece through the program, and two professors from universities in those countries will visit campus this spring, Yelkur said, noting she also traveled to China to establish contacts with businesses there.

It benefits everyone if faculty spend time abroad learning about different economies and business practices, as well as making contacts with professors and businesses in those regions, said Dr. Matt Germonprez, an assistant professor of information systems who spent two weeks this spring in Limerick, Ireland, as part of the program.

"My time in Ireland was life changing," said Germonprez. "I've never spent that much time in another country before. I've traveled a lot but it's always been conference related so my interactions were limited. This was different. It was amazing to have the time and means to make contacts on the campus and in the businesses."

Germonprez said he's already incorporated information gathered in Ireland into his classes. And the connections he made with businesses there will likely result in ongoing research, he said.

"I fully expect I'll go back to Ireland within the year and probably regularly in future years," Germonprez said. "I see a lot of opportunities for me to contribute to their campus. And I'm very excited about research possibilities that involve businesses there."

LaNette Flunker, a senior lecturer in management and marketing who spent two weeks in Greece through the PIE program, said she also has altered her curriculum and teaching as a result of her experience.

"I can think of several times when I could relate to similarities or differences to our way of doing business or education that I've discussed in class," said Flunker. "This experience has given me more specifics to include in my classes."

The program will now bring faculty from partner universities in Greece and Ireland to UW-Eau Claire, Yelkur said. Two professors from those institutions will be on campus this spring, meeting with faculty, students and business leaders in the community, she said.

Peter Chresanthakes, a lecturer of accounting and finance at the American College of Thessaloniki in Greece, will be on campus April 28-May 2. Fergal McGrath, professor of information & knowledge management at the University of Limerick in Ireland, will be here May 14-25.

Seeing faculty make international travel a priority and interacting with visiting faculty here may inspire students to be more globally aware, Germonprez said.

"If students see us excited and thinking more globally because we've spent time in other places, that can be powerful," Germonprez said. "They may think differently about their own opportunities. In the College of Business, everything we do has an international component. And there is no better way to better understand it than to go some place to experience it. If our students see us doing this, it may seem more doable to them."

Faculty making connections in other countries also can create opportunities for students that otherwise would not exist, Yelkur said. For example, she shared Becker's resume with businesses during her China trip, which led to his internship, she said, noting PIE will pay Becker's airfare and a stipend.

PIE also supports students who are interested in domestic internships with an international component, Yelkur said. For example, senior Adri Neitzke, a management major from Menomonee Falls, will intern with Minnesota Wire and Cable to help with its international endeavors, she said. The program will pay Neitzke a stipend during her internship.

The "Partnerships in International Education" program also includes a component that supports businesses in northern Wisconsin and surrounding regions, Yelkur said.

In fall of 2007, the program helped to establish the Northern Wisconsin International Trade Association to assist and mentor area businesses in their international endeavors through consulting, speaker events, online resources and a newsletter on global issues. The umbrella organization — housed on campus — is a partnership among the College of Business, the Wisconsin Department of Commerce Division of Investment and Export, the university's Center for International Education and the student organization-AIESEC.

"Businesses are benefiting from the support they're receiving through the NWITA partnership," Yelkur said. "And they'll benefit in the future by hiring interns and graduates who have an understanding of international issues and an appreciation for new opportunities found in the global economy."

The "Partnerships in International Education" program, which will run through June 2009, is funded by a $174,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Title VIB Business and International program.

For more information about the program or opportunities to meet with the visiting faculty from Greece and Ireland during their visits, contact Dr. Rama Yelkur at 715-836-4674 or yelkurr@uwec.edu.

-30-

JB

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