Most community-based institutions of higher learning offer flexible options for students who work full-time and pursue their degrees on a part-time basis.
At Indiana University Northwest - where the School of Business and Economics is accredited by AACSB International, a benchmark of quality attained by only 5 percent of business schools worldwide - the Weekend MBA for Professionals is an intense 18-month program designed specifically to meet the needs of local business leaders, executives and working professionals.
Students attend classes every other Saturday and work online throughout the 18-month cohort-style program. Since Weekend MBA students attend all of their classes together and work on projects in small groups, they build strong bonds while establishing new business networks and relationships with their classmates.
As a result, it was decided that this unique group of students would be ideal candidates for an actual field-based International Business Experience instead of the traditional classroom-based course. Following successful outings to Chile and Israel, the cohort preparing for graduation this spring just returned from Thailand. The next group, which is about halfway through the program, can look forward to India, China or possibly Brazil, according to John Gibson, director of Graduate and Undergraduate programs for the IU Northwest School of Business and Economics.
“We have to start planning the next trip right away, determining a budget and securing dates so students can request the time off from work,” he explained. “After three trips, I can honestly say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The International Business Experience was officially added to our program a few years ago. We’re one of just a handful of universities that includes it as part of their program. Everything, from airfare to hotels and most meals, is included with the IU Northwest Weekend MBA program. Passports and visas are about the only expenses not covered.”
In Chile, students saw firsthand how the country’s market-oriented economy with a high level of foreign trade, strong financial institutions and sound policy was better positioned to weather the international economic crisis than other emerging economies.
Last year, students spent a week discovering how Israel - a country of 7.1 million that’s just 60-some years old with no natural resources and surrounded by enemies so it’s in a constant state of war - fosters high-growth entrepreneurship with start-ups that wind up transforming entire global industries.
In Thailand, the focus was on the complete Asian perspective – business, government, trade relations and culture, according to Ranjan Kini, PhD, who has been teaching management information systems to undergraduate and graduate students at IU Northwest since 1991 and was the trip coordinator.
“Each cohort has a new person to give the International Business Experience a new flavor,” he said. “When I was asked to do it, I chose Thailand because of the many contacts I have from teaching so many summers at (Bangkok University). With my connections through other faculty and students, as well as business people, we had many unique opportunities.”
“Everywhere we went, the hospitality was wonderful,” student Kate DeMik, a Supply Chain Analyst for NiSource said. “I was a little nervous going so far from home, but everyone went out of their way to welcome us and treated us all so well. It was amazing to get that international experience, that flavor from a developing country where you can compare their challenges to our challenges. I learned so much.”
“We’ve learned to pace ourselves a little better in terms of business meetings, adding in some time for culture and people,” Gibson said. “We try and keep the trip to one week, but in this case we added a day due to the amount of travel time. Getting started at the Chamber of Commerce really set the tone for the week, giving us a great perspective on what it’s like to do business in Thailand, from the eyes of an American.”
In addition to business meetings and the Chamber office, the group visited Parliament and Bangkok University. They also found time to tour three prestigious temples and spent a day at the beach in Pattaya.
The scheduled visit to Parliament became a special highlight of the week, as a bill was being debated when the group arrived. Along with the opportunity to see the Parliament of Thailand in action, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Charoen Chankomon spent an hour and a half with them answering questions before returning to count the votes. The students watched as the bill, which provides greater opportunities for public and private universities to collaborate, passed. That’s something many of us will never experience in our own country let alone a foreign land.
Throughout the week, the students toured a pineapple farm that exports 97% of its product to the US, a seafood processing plant that ships the bulk of its canned tuna to the US, a Thai jewelry company that manufacturers Asia’s top brand and supplies QVC, a Hanes plant that manufacturers Playtex and Bali brand bras for the US market and the Asian headquarters of CISCO, which is the only 100% US owned company in the country.
“They have a law that all businesses must be 51% locally owned, so there’s usually a Thai partner with the US owning 49%,” Kini said. “But in CISCO’s case, they made a special exception since the company is helping them grow their broadband penetration from 10 percent to 80 percent.”
“I think I enjoyed visiting the pineapple plant the best,” DeMik said. “It was really interesting to see how much of the work is done manually. Some things done by machine in the US are still being done by hand there. I also really enjoyed going to the University. It was as if I were sitting back at IUN. They were from all over the world so they spoke English, and the mixture of people was amazing. The professor was Lebanese, and they were working on a scenario that involved currency and the selling of a product, something we did in our classes as well.”
Thrilled to be completing her degree, DeMik looks forward to restarting her hobby of ballroom dancing after graduation in May.
“I’ve been out of school for ten years so this was quite an adjustment,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go back to school, and IUN’s weekend program appealed to me. I knew about the trip and was really looking forward to it. I honestly think it will help me get promoted within NIPSCO. I love what I do and would like to move up the ladder and become a manager in my department.”
“The trip is a nice way to cap off the MBA experience,” Gibson added. “With just three groups through so far, there’s already talk of putting together an alumni trip. That says a lot.”