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Sales competitions, international research prepare grad for future business career

| Judy Berthiaume

It was the university’s stellar nursing programs that first brought Amanda Bower to UW-Eau Claire.

However, it’s a professional sales marketing major and Chinese minor that will take her to Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, this summer to begin her business career with a respected global company.

“My whole life, I always thought I wanted to be in the medical field because of the people aspect and the problem-solving perspective that goes into the day-to-day work,” says Amanda, who will graduate Saturday and then begin a job with Schlumberger, an oilfield services company based in Texas. “I wasn’t truly convinced that I wanted to be a nurse, so I shadowed a nurse anesthetist, and that’s where I figured out what a surgical sales rep was.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is perfect. I get to help people, be creative and problem solve for doctors who are busy with their patients.’ Luckily, just like Eau Claire had the perfect nursing program, they also had the perfect sales program.”

Her sophomore year, after switching her major from nursing to marketing with an emphasis in sales, Amanda quickly discovered that her new major opens many more doors than she’d ever imagined.

“I realized the possibilities and opportunities are endless,” says Amanda of a career in sales. “I realized I didn’t have to stay in the medical industry; there were so many more industries I could be involved in. I realized that marketing really had all of the aspects I create my life around: creating, communicating, delivering and building relationships.”

After joining the American Marketing Association, she found even more opportunities, including a marketing strategies competition for Leinenkugel’s.

“We had 20 minutes to come up with a creative solution and campaign to the business problem they provided us,” Amanda says of her first marketing competition. “We ended up taking first place. It sparked the competitive side of me and it was the beginning of my participating in competitions at UWEC.”

By the time she graduates, she will have participated in three marketing strategy competitions; one semesterlong case competition for Mary Kay; and a sales competition with Schlumberger, her soon-to-be employer.

For the Schlumberger competition, Amanda and her partner won the first round of the sales competition at UW-Eau Claire, earning them a trip to Houston to compete in the final rounds.

In Texas, the Blugolds placed first, beating teams from universities throughout the United States.

“This competition sparked my interest in the company since I was able to use my analytical side to understand the case, but was also able to be creative in how we presented it to the buyer,” Amanda says. “After the competition, I had an interview to learn a bit more about the company and to tell them a little bit more about myself.”

The company soon offered Amanda a job, which she will begin after graduation. (Amanda talks about how her UW-Eau Claire experience led to her job offer in the May 2018 "Hired Before Graduation" video series.)

“I remember getting the job offer on Christmas Eve day, and it was my first one,” Amanda says. “Most people say, “it felt like Christmas,’ but for me it really was.”

While it was her marketing and sales expertise that landed her the job, her minor in Chinese also caught the attention of the international company.

The Mosinee native began studying Chinese in high school, and quickly found the language interesting and challenging.

However, when she began her studies at UW-Eau Claire, there was no Chinese language program so she assumed she couldn’t continue with it in college.

Happily, it turns out she was wrong.

“It just happened that a Chinese professor, Dr. Kaishan Kong, came to UW-Eau Claire the same time I did,” Amanda says. “I was so excited and immediately signed up for her class. After meeting Kaishan, I knew I was going to take as many Chinese classes as she could teach because her positive energy lit up the room and made UW-Eau Claire feel like home to me. “

Under Kong’s leadership, UW-Eau Claire did establish a Chinese minor, and Amanda will be among the first Blugolds to graduate from the program.

Among the highlights of her Chinese studies were opportunities to engage in international research, Amanda says.

As part of the faculty-student research project “Globalization in China: Developing language and cultural understanding through study abroad,” Amanda and her research partner traveled to China to track UW-Eau Claire business students’ perspectives on China’s culture and business processes.

“This project was a breakthrough for me on understanding how important it is to not only learn about other cultures but reflect back on your own,” Amanda says. “Does it make sense the way we do things? We published our full academic paper on our project and the importance of short-term immersion programs.”

Their research was selected to be presented at the Center for Languages and Intercultural Communications conference in Houston, Texas; the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Memphis, Tennessee; and UW-Eau Claire’s Provost’s Honors Symposium.

The research team later expanded its project, this time looking at how Chinese international students’ perspectives of the American culture are developed on UW-Eau Claire’s campus.

They are just now finishing that project, which they recently presented at a conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

One of the exciting things about beginning her career with Schlumberger is that it’s possible she may eventually transfer to a part of the world where she could put her Chinese language skills to use.

“There is some talk about after I learn the business better, being able to move to a Chinese-speaking country like Malaysia to use my language skills and what I have learned in the job,” Amanda says.

And if that doesn’t happen?

She’s still grateful to have learned a language.

“I think having a language in my back pocket will always be useful,” Amanda says. “Maybe it will help me make one great relationship or one really cool learning experience and, to me, that’s just what I need it for.

“I think language and culture is something that I will always have a passion for and will be something I never stop learning.”

Already, she says, she finds herself looking for opportunities to meet new people and immerse herself in different cultures.

“After learning so much about the Chinese culture, it’s hard not to be curious about other cultures,” Amanda says. “It kind of got my wheels turning. This winter, I realized my senior winter break was five weeks long but I have always worked over my breaks to pay for school. So I decided, not this one.”

Instead of working, she bought a 60-liter backpack, packed five weeks’ worth of stuff in it, and signed up for a short-term immersion program, this one in Italy.

“I cooked every day in a market and learned how Italy’s culture was cultivated by their food,” says Amanda, who also spent time exploring the Netherlands and Switzerland during her time abroad.

When her immersion ended, she flew to London, England, where she met with the sales director from Schlumberger to discuss what the company could offer her in terms of her career and what she could offer them in terms of being a Chinese language and culture learner.

It was the high-quality, diverse experiences she found inside and outside UW-Eau Claire’s classrooms that prepared her to have those kinds of conversations about her future, she says.

“The competitions, internships, research projects and immersion programs really enhanced my college experience in many ways,” Amanda says. “Learning in a classroom can only teach me so much. Going out and getting experiences is really what stuck with me and is really what is important to me.

“I am thankful Eau Claire taught me in the classroom but also encouraged me to go out and try new things.”

She also is thankful for parents, professors and friends who encouraged and supported her throughout her college career, she says.

Now, days away from graduation, she’s ready to start her next journey.

“Just like the competitions, learning Chinese, traveling across the world and all of the other challenges I have faced as a Blugold, this is just one more of those and I know I will be OK,” Amanda says of beginning her career in Texas. “Picking up and moving across the country might be scary, but it’s the adventure and challenge in it that excites me. It’s the adventure I am ready for.”

Photo caption: Sales competitions, study abroad, international research and languages all helped prepare Amanda Bower for her future business career.