In an increasingly global economy, business education keeps pace with rapid changes in practices from all corners of the globe. The Carlson Global Institute involves faculty, alumni and corporate partners to design coursework with experiential global learning that engages and educates students on important emerging issues.
Two new courses, offered for the first time earlier this year, set the stage for students to work with issues of global importance, in a manner that couldn't have been achieved solely in a classroom.
Practicing Business Communications in India
Fundamental differences in communication styles can emerge in cross-border business. While U.S. professionals are groomed to be concise, direct, and linear, their counterparts from India are more likely to be subtle, imply their points discretely, and use storytelling to convey an idea. When joining businesspeople accustomed to these divergent communication styles, misunderstandings can ensue.
This cultural roadblock is one of many factors that students consider as part of Business Communications in India, a course taught in partnership with Target. The overseas program design emerged from an on-campus course partnership with Target leaders who, for the first time, shared a case specific to Indian communication principles for evaluation. Undergraduate students studied business communications in spring semester before spending two weeks in India visiting companies and meeting with local faculty to understand more about the local Indian context. The students, working in small teams, developed proposals for an organizational structure in support of Target's global merchandising team
"To Indians, Americans are seen as abrupt, superficial, and sometimes rude. To Americans, Indians seem opaque, unclear, and taking way too long to get to the point," says Holly Littlefield, Carlson School senior lecturer and course leader. "There's always a middle ground, and by strengthening the students' understanding of the other culture, they can find that compromise."
Littlefield commends the students who chose to study in India, as the cultural differences can seem more pronounced for first-time travelers. She believes India is an increasingly important business location, especially for students pursuing studies in supply chain and management information systems.
"My colleagues in the professional world agree there is no more valuable experience students can get than the perspectives they gain in India," she says.
Exploring Sustainability in Costa Rica
Minnesota-based Caribou Coffee was the first coffee purveyor in North America to achieve 100 percent Rainforest Alliance certification on all its products. The company is run by self-described "do-gooders," who demonstrate sustainability best practices throughout the supply chain. This year, Caribou initiated an important conversation with Carlson School undergraduate students centered on sustainability.
Participants in the Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility course taught in Costa Rica explored Caribou's coffee supply chain, examined its partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, and contributed insights to the company's annual sustainability report.
"This experience reintroduced the human element of business to these students - they saw the faces of the stakeholders that are involved in a complex global supply chain," says Robert Strand, program instructor and Assistant Professor of Leadership and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School, a Carlson School partner. "Students saw how the beans go all the way from the ground to our coffee cups. That human element in business can sometimes get lost when we talk about global supply chains in the classroom."
Strand supports the Carlson School's requirement that all students participate in an international experience. As he argues, and some students well know, it can be easy to get too comfortable in Minnesota.
"A student could grow up in the area, attend the Carlson School, and take a job at one of the wonderful companies we have," he says. "They could miss the opportunity to engage with issues of international importance, to the detriment of our community."
Strand hopes the program will make a lasting impression on students, who can then bring their lessons in sustainability to future employers, be they in the University of Minnesota's backyard, or on the other side of the planet.
For more international stories, check out the CGI Year in Review