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BBAs Make Spring Break Work for Them

5/30/2013 --

Hands-on strategy class brings project to life by taking students to Ireland.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Global Projects strategy class, taught by Professor Len Middleton, takes students out of the classroom and gives them the opportunity to travel and work with companies located abroad.

Teams of students are assigned a company to work with to provide goal-focused market research and analysis. Harry Eun, BBA '13, Laura Katsnelson, BA /BBA '14, Brad Kowalk, BBA '13, and Vikram Sridhar, BA/BBA '13, made up one of two BBA teams that worked with Middleton this semester. Their team worked to create a business model with a new venture capital company being started by three entrepreneurs in Ireland.

The students flew to Ireland to meet with company leaders over spring break. Before signing up, Middleton warned his students they'd have to "sacrifice" their spring breaks, but the team saw it as a perk and an opportunity.

"I'm interested in globalization, and I think it's awesome that I get to travel while I'm in school instead of having to wait until I get into the work field," says Eun, a senior who upon graduation will move into a consulting job at IBM.

"I think stressing the benefits of intercultural competency is valuable. It's one of the strengths that people really need to be able to build," says Sridhar, a senior graduating with a second degree in international studies.

Katsnelson agrees, saying, "What makes business a business at its core is relationships. Business is becoming more global and you need people who are well-versed in other cultures if you want to be successful."

Middleton sees this course as a step toward creating such well-versed business leaders, and says the course is about furthering his students' education, not just adding a stamp to their passports.

"The course gives students a chance to learn in a real-life setting. This is not a case study , but a great opportunity to be part of setting up a business model for a startup and learning what it takes to start a company," says Middleton. "Companies say, 'I want to do that, I want to go in this direction, that direction,' and the students learn how to handle it and work through the objectives."

This learn-as-you-go approach is just what the students were looking for. "Business is a practical field of study. You can study all you want, but at the end of the day, success is only attained by getting up and doing it," says Kowalk, a senior who upon graduation will start a job at Boston Consulting.

This translation from class to the real world puts things in a new perspective. "This class was like a workplace assignment where you have a goal and you're not just doing it for yourself to get a good grade," says Katsnelson, a junior embarking on her first internship this summer.

In addition to action, there's something to be said for face-to-face communication. The team agreed meeting their sponsors in person greatly impacted the project. Without such interaction, the students say they would have missed out on several learning opportunities.

"I think without meeting them, we wouldn't have gotten the same sense of what they wanted in their business model," says Katsnelson.

"It made the project more real to us. If you use the Internet to do research and write about venture capital firms, it feels very abstract," says Kowalk.

The "realness" of the project is the experience Middleton tried to design for his BBAs.

"You can't do great plans and programs without meeting the sponsors and understanding their history and culture, where they come from, where the project is at, and the limitations as well as the capabilities of the country," says Middleton. "You can't get that through Skype."

His design succeeded. The team discovered that learning about the company and the market sometimes requires a physical understanding to be truly effective.

"I understand what Ireland is like now, and that's not something you learn from Google," says Eun.

Kowalk agrees the team's firsthand experience was invaluable. "Without our trip, we would have been much more likely to base our recommendations off U.S. market research, which would have resulted in less effective recommendations," he says.

Sridhar added, "You can't really understand the culture or the country over the phone. That's underestimated at times, and I think that was the number one thing we got out of the trip."

— Melissa Syapin

For more information, contact:
Melissa Syapin, (734) 936-2150,