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  Spring 2004

 
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Also in this issue -- Midnight Mentor: Nancy Cathcart

Champlain's international business program puts students on
the road to success

By Sara Caldwell


Jeremy Quinn ’03, with friends, in Honduras. Quinn spent part of his internship last summer working as an ophthalmology technician with a group of American doctors and later helped a small town create a marketing plan for tourism.
 

  Riding in the back of a pickup truck through the remote mountains of Honduras, slogging over rivers and fighting mud bogs in the intense humid heat of the rainy season, Jeremy Quinn ’03 did some of the most valuable work he would do at Champlain. There are more glamorous internships, but Quinn likes a challenge. In fact, his passion for international business and knowledge of Spanish, along with his innate independent spirit, led him to Latin America with little more than a plan to make a plan.
   
 
 



 

“I love to travel and meet new people,” says Quinn, who graduated in December. “I’m not intimidated by a strange environment.”

In the first phase of the three-part adventure that was his international internship last summer, Quinn joined a brigade of American doctors traveling under the auspices of the International Rotary Club, delivering medical supplies and care to rural villages. Because of the high demand -- they treated over 5,000 people in two weeks -- Quinn was trained under fire and put in charge of ophthalmology, giving eye exams and handing out prescription glasses. Outstanding in his memory is helping a tiny 93-year-old woman who couldn’t make out even the largest letters of an eye chart until he fit her with her first pair of glasses and the world became suddenly sharp. “To see the smile is just amazing,” he says.

During the remainder of his six-week stay, Quinn worked with the municipality of Comayagua to establish a marketing plan for tourism and he helped devise a preliminary plan to export coffee to the United States as a means of funding Rotary Club projects relating to housing, education and medical care.

“I never envisioned being rewarded so much,” says Quinn, who is now considering using his international business skills in the nonprofit arena. “I can look back and say I really made a difference on a group of people rather than just my immediate family or myself.”

GOING GLOBAL

During their intensive 240-hour internships last year, which are part of the program’s requirements, students worked as far away as Ghana. They made business trips to New York, Canada and Bermuda, immersed themselves in multinational operations from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to Polhemus, Inc., a 3-D imaging company that has won an Academy Award for technical achievement. Thanks to worldwide Internet cafes, interns kept connected with each other via computer, sharing their experiences in the global arena. It’s work they’ve been preparing for since they got to Champlain.

The international business program was started just four years ago, but with the help of a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, it has taken off, providing increasing numbers of students with unique study opportunities as well as work abroad. Champlain has the only IB program in the state, so the College is drawing students from other local schools who are looking to combine an education in marketing, finance and sales with their interest in other cultures, travel and foreign language. Two semesters of Spanish or French are currently required in the major, but work is under way to offer upper-level language courses as well. A reciprocal arrangement with Saint Michael’s College allows students to study languages not available at Champlain—some are currently taking Japanese and German.

What students -- and their future employers -- find most appealing about international business studies is that textbook lessons come to life because they’re constantly being applied to real-world situations. “I was an economics major and I never had any interaction with an actual business until after I graduated,” says program director Tom Myers. “I feel it’s imperative that students get this experience now.”

In Myers’s international marketing class, working out solutions to real-world problems is a serious business that amounts to 25 percent of the course grade. Working in teams, students act as consultants to help a Vermont company solve a marketing need. They meet with corporate executives, perform research and analysis, then write a report and make a PowerPoint presentation before company representatives and classmates. “It’s just like you’re in a work setting and your boss says, ‘I need this presentation in a month and you need to make that happen,’” Myers says.

For Christina Senechal ’04, the extra pressure of working for a live client was a powerful incentive to do her best work. Her team, working for Shelburne Farms, was asked to create an international marketing plan for a new residential learning center that’s currently under development. As part of the presentation, Senechal built a website for the center with professional images and content to demonstrate her strategy for marketing to Japanese clients.

“When you have somebody who’s looking at this because it’s their job and they’re actually hoping to derive something from it,” Senechal says, “you really want to impress them.” And apparently they did. A Shelburne Farms representative, speaking to the team after the presentation, seemed genuinely taken with their ideas. “It’s a great asset to be able to come in and take advantage of your hard work,” she said.

TRADING PLACES

Beginning this fall, with the completion of the Center for Global Business and Technology, international business students will have substantial new resources for projects like these. And with its sophisticated design and state-of-the-art technology, the Center is attracting interest from outside organizations that could increase students’ insider access to global business dealings. The College is currently negotiating a collaborative project with an international trade organization that would co-locate within the new facility. “It will be a beneficial situation for both us,” says Myers.

With this partnership -- and hopefully a new $160,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education -- Myers envisions Champlain as a hot spot for global business activity. He sees companies coming to the Center to do pre-trade mission launchings; he wants to do reverse trade missions, inviting foreign companies to the U.S. to meet with their Vermont counterparts in an effort to facilitate trade; and he has plans for an international trade summit, possibly on China, in the summer of 2005. Not only will students have a chance to play a role in these activities, but Myers expects the collaboraton to create expanded possibilities for research projects and, ultimately, to present students with career opportunities.

A couple of top international business students have already benefited from the close relationship that Champlain has with the state. Elizabeth Claflin ’03, who went to Asia with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce early last year to attend educational fairs, and Laura Herrema ’03 joined the VCC on a trade mission to China and Taiwan in October. Along with representatives from Vermont businesses, Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie and Secretary of Commerce Kevin Dorn were on the mission, which VCC Vice President of International Trade Curtis Picard says was highly rewarding both in terms of deals done and behind-thescenes networking.

“The interns were key partners in helping make this trip a success,” says Picard. In the summer, Herrema did her internship helping prepare for the mission, recruiting businesses, doing research and assisting with event management details. While in Asia, Claflin and Herrema helped with logistics, took notes and learned a lot about how business is really done in a foreign culture.

The students found themselves in some intimidating positions -- telling state officials and high-powered CEOs where they needed to be and when (“like herding cats,” Picard says) and attending a private dinner hosted by the Taiwanese government. “I was meeting people that an intern has no business meeting, just because of who we were with,” says Claflin. But according to Picard, they rose to the occasion. “It’s a joy to work with [Champlain] students,” he says. “They’re not only very capable, but have skills that are immediately applicable to the business community.”

It’s hands-on opportunities like these that give them that edge. “This kind of experience is invaluable,” adds Picard. “Anytime students are able to work overseas it gives them skills that a person who’s been in the workforce for the last ten years doesn’t necessarily possess. It really gives them a leg up in their future careers.”

Which is exactly what Claflin has discovered. Deep into her job search, she had people calling the lieutenant governor for a reference. “He’s on my side, batting for me. A lot of companies that I’m looking at are saying, ‘We don’t normally hire grads right out of college, but we’re interested in you,’” she says. “It’s a tremendous advantage.”

   
 

FIT FOR LEADERSHIP

Tom Myers, director of the international business program, has a resume that stretches his perspective on what it takes to make an effective leader. He’s founded his own company, served as director of international trade and investment for the state of Vermont, and he’s a ski racing coach and a certified personal fitness instructor. For Myers, success is achieved through both physical and mental discipline.

As part of an applied research project for an advanced degree in positive psychology, Myers started a pilot program this spring that he hopes will be a permanent feature of Champlain’s IB program, one that will further differentiate it from those at other institutions. Myers invited 15 of the College’s most promising IB students to join the International Leadership Initiative, an extracurricular activity that will bring the group together to consider various aspects of leadership, including communication, ethics, creativity and the “mind-body connection,” that is, the role of fitness and nutrition.

“So much of leadership is demonstrative, showing that you

 

walk the walk,” Myers says. “If you take care of yourself, people will see that. If you respect yourself, you’ll respect others too.”

The group will meet weekly, to hear guest speakers or to literally exercise leadership skills—a session at Petra Cliffs Climbing Center (below and right) used a series of games and rope work to foster communication and teamwork. Students are expected to keep a personal “leadership journal” to track the effectiveness of the program in their lives and, Myers hopes, they’ll initiate their own special projects. It’s his vision that this first group will serve as mentors for freshman IB students starting in the fall.

With his innovative approach to leadership training, Myers is almost as excited about the new Student Life Complex with its gym and fitness center as he is about the new business building. “I see this as a tangible, life-learning experience, knowing how to take care of yourself physically as well as mentally,” he says. “I think employers will look at this and say, ‘That’s really exciting stuff. I want you on my team.’”

 


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