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girl with tuna

For Christine Liu, one of the joys of studying abroad was getting up close and personal with a tuna in a Tokyo fish market.

Stretching the bounds of business

International experience and a new nonprofit major expand horizons for Carlson School students

By Deane Morrison

It may not affect Minnesota's balance of trade, but the U's Carlson School of Management is about to double exports of its most valuable commodity: undergraduates. Currently, about 46 percent of Carlson School undergrads study abroad, but a new requirement for an international experience will send nearly all of them to the far corners of the world in pursuit of a four-year degree. On top of that, they'll have one more choice of major: public/nonprofit management, offered in conjunction with the U's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Brought about through the diligence of students, the nonprofit major fills a need for expertise in a sector that now, according to news reports, employs 10 percent of Minnesotans. The two innovations are bound to raise the profile of the Carlson School, already one of the top 20 public business schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Students without borders

It's not hard to find globetrotting students who rave about their experiences. Take Mark McCullough, an international business major who waltzed over to the Vienna School of Economics and Business Administration for a spring semester. "I love being pulled out of the bubble in which I live and forced to view my own culture from the outside," he says. "During my semester in Vienna, I learned a lot about the ways in which the new laws and regulations of the European Union affect the daily lives of EU nationals. "[This] helped further my interest in the law and inspired me to attend law school after finishing my undergraduate work. I feel that I now have a good command of the German language, and my skills have helped me obtain an internship for this coming summer." By interning abroad, students immerse themselves in the business and culture of another country and get a taste of what it takes to compete in the global economy. That sits well with Michael Houston, the Carlson School's associate dean of international programs. "I think recruiters are looking for individuals with the mindset that motivates them to want to be part of different cultures and who understand how to make that happen," he says. "Some students may say, 'I don't need international experience. I want to take over mom and pop's furniture store.' My response is: 'What if IKEA moves in next door?' If you have an understanding of how the global economy works, then you are better able to deal with foreign competition even if you never again set foot outside the state."

"Some students may say, 'I don't need international experience. I want to take over mom and pop's furniture store.' My response is: 'What if IKEA moves in next door?'"

For senior Christine Liu, born in China and raised in the United States, a semester at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology opened up a world of self-discovery. "Minnesota is for the most part a rather homogeneous place," she notes. "By going to Hong Kong, I realized the importance of diversity. Over there, I interacted with people from my own background and from Europe. "Also, it taught me how to deal with ambiguity. I was just thrown into things over there--I didn't know about public transportation, how to get to classes, or anything. We all had to deal with everything ourselves for four months. But I want to do consulting after graduation, and a big part of it is dealing with ambiguity. In consulting, we often don't know the business [we're helping]." The Carlson School is gearing up to expand its already numerous and varied offerings for both undergrads and graduate students who want to study or work abroad. The school is working on the nuts and bolts of the new requirement, including the question of whether it will apply to foreign students, according to Anne D'Angelo King, assistant dean of international programs. "Our goal is a menu of options to meet the needs of a variety of students," she says. "We have students from small towns, ones who've traveled abroad, and others who have worked with immigrant communities. The Carlson School already has and is meeting a global mission. This [requirement] solidifies it." "What you want in a great university is one that is bold, visionary, and creative," says Carlson School dean Alison Davis-Blake, who spent eighth grade at a French-speaking school in Belgium "I hope that in 10 years, high schools will see Carlson as a place where we prepare global citizens."

Doing well by doing good

He didn't know it at the time, but Brian Peterson was creating a nonprofit organization while still a Carlson School undergrad. He and three other students founded Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF) as a student group; today, it's a nonprofit youth service organization with 13 chapters in the Midwest. Every spring break, STLF sponsors the Pay It Forward tour, which takes students to perform service projects around the country. But as a nonprofit, it operates by different rules than the businesses that most Carlson School students study. "Here we were developing a nonprofit and didn't know about how to do it," Peterson recalls. "Nonprofits have different accounting, fund-raising--a different way of doing business. "We saw the value of nonprofit leaders having a business education as well as nonprofit-specific skills. For the University to take a corrective step to make that happen is encouraging." Peterson and fellow student Eric Larsen got the ball rolling by sitting down with Bob Ruekert, associate dean for undergraduate programs, and asking what an official nonprofit major would look like. They soon saw that the best course was a joint program with the Humphrey Institute, which teaches nonprofit-related topics such as how the philanthropy system works. After meeting with more than two dozen faculty from both schools and receiving "a ton of support and feedback," the students put together a formal proposal, and the University's Board of Regents approved the major in July. Now working as co-director of STLF, Peterson is gratified to see some of his friends who are still students signing up for the nonprofit major and getting enthused about it. But he'll never forget the thrill of watching the academic birth process. "It was really exciting that faculty and administrators would listen to students' ideas and develop them into a living, breathing program," he says. Nonprofit majors will have a capstone project in which they help local nonprofit organizations, says Ruekert. "In this case, doing good is a byproduct of learning," he says. "Companies know that doing good is more than writing checks. The payoffs are greater through direct involvement. We're training leaders who know how to become directly engaged in meeting community needs."