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Blugold international business students invited to symposium in Italy

| Denise Olson

Global business team member. International researcher. Italian symposium presenter. 

These sorts of impressive titles have become commonplace among the world-class faculty at UW-Eau Claire. But this story is not about faculty — it's about two students. 

International business students Shauna Parish and Brittany Haubner are among a select pool of students worldwide accepted to participate in the Global X-Culture Conference and Symposium this summer in Macerata, Italy. The pair were the first Blugolds ever accepted to the symposium, an invite based on scores from a semesterlong project for a cross-cultural leadership course in the international business program.

Dr. Longzhu Dong, assistant professor of marketing and management at UW-Eau Claire, requires participation in the X-Culture project for all students in his management course, "Cross-Cultural Leadership," a program elective. Hundreds of students have taken the course and completed X-Culture projects over Dong's tenure on faculty.

Longzhu Dong

Longzhu Dong, assistant professor of management and marketing

"This is the first time that any of my students have been accepted to the symposium, although others have been invited to apply in the past. Remarkably, these two students each scored in the top 0.3 percent for the semester project, among 5,000-plus participating students around the world," Dong said. "This year, they invited 500 students to apply to the symposium, and my two students were among the 150 finalists selected to attend."

Dong became involved with the X-Culture organization five years ago as a data analysis assistant. He finds tremendous merit in the program, which combines the efforts of international business students, instructors from 140 universities in 40 countries, and global businesses interested in harnessing the budding expertise of students in solving their real-life business concerns.

The X-Culture organization was designed to create a real global workplace that gives students inimitable hands-on experience. Each semester, participating students are assigned to international teams of five or six members charged with solving a real-life challenge facing one of 12-14 participating global businesses. Teams must collaborate across time zones and language barriers to find an answer to the challenge in the time allowed, and present a cohesive and complete business plan for implementation. Through the course of the semester, each individual team member's contribution to the plan is scored by a committee of international business leaders, and invitations to attend the culminating symposium are based on those scores.  

"The companies benefit from what is essentially free consulting services from the students, and the students gain work and cross-cultural collaboration experience that cannot be replicated in the classroom," Dong described.

Brittany Haubner, an international business major from Hartland, will graduate May 19, and takes with her into the workforce the experience of two international business collaborations. 

Brittany Haubner

Brittany Haubner, senior international business major

"The semester project that earned my invitation to Italy involved solving a challenge from a Peruvian tourism company called Vertical Endeavor," Haubner said. "They needed help expanding into the northern region of Peru, much less saturated than the heavy tourism in the south near Machu Pichu. My team consisted of students from Malaysia, Grenada, and the U.S., and we focused on expanding tourism to areas with natural attractions like the rain forest and waterfalls of the region."

"The X-Culture project was demanding in class, and I expect nothing less at the symposium," she said. "With hard work, communication and dedication, my new team can overcome the barriers, like language, time zone and communication style. We will bring together a well-written and thorough report and presentation to address our challenge."

For her part, Shauna Parish, a junior human resources management major from Hillsboro, led her project team's efforts to the other side of the globe, tackling a challenge posed by an Eastern European tech company.

Shauna Parish

Shauna Parish, junior human resource management major, minoring in international business

"The challenge we chose was Unicheck, a plagiarism detection software based out of Ukraine, that was in need of a market expansion plan," Parish said. After testing market viability, we decided to expand Unicheck into Japan and proceeded with our report." 

As a semester project team leader, Parish is confident that the symposium experience will further expand her skill set and provide a career boost that she is looking forward to.

"I hope to provide a leadership role to my new group, as I did throughout the semester project," Parish said. "My problem-solving skills will be crucial this time around — we will have only eight weeks, not an entire semester to complete our project. I look forward to gaining real-world, face-to-face collaboration experience from this symposium that I can bring to job interviews and to my remaining international business classes at UWEC." 

In contrast to the semesterlong projects, the symposium format follows a theme — this year, "Culture & The Arts" — and takes collaborators out of the purely virtual realm and into an in-person, fast-paced collaboration experience even more akin to current realities of international business. After seven weeks of virtual communication, teams work together in Italy for one week, fine-tuning their reports and preparing presentations.

UW-Eau Claire has made it a priority to offer and support high-impact experiences to Blugolds, so when the exceptional invite came to these two students, several departments and programs stepped up to provide funding to support this trip.

The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs was able to offer a portion of the funds, and the College of Business was pleased to be able to supplement that amount with additional funding toward the international costs.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for Shauna and Brittany, which originated in required components of professor Longzhu Dong’s cultural leadership course, and I want to thank him for making that unique opportunity available," said Dr. Timothy Vaughan, interim dean of the College of Business. "We congratulate Shauna and Brittany for the project performance that earned their invitations to the 2018 X-Culture Global Symposium." 

Haubner was quick to recognize the mentoring and support from Dong, and for campus funding, for which both students are grateful.

"We would not be able to attend this prestigious event without the faculty guidance and financial support from UWEC," she said. 

Both Haubner and Parish feel exceptionally prepared by international business program at UW-Eau Claire, both in terms of this summer symposium challenge and their business career goals.

"Interested students should know that international business is something that you can add to nearly any field," Parish said. "I'm an HR major with an IB minor, which has and will continue to open the doors to many opportunities."