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Wisconsin MBA Students Consult on Global Projects, Gaining Skills Employers Seek

By Wisconsin School of Business

October 1, 2019

A group of MBA students hold a WSB flag in Vietnam
Wisconsin Full-Time MBA students and faculty instructors visit Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

It’s one thing for students to tackle a consulting project for a Fortune 500 company from the comfort of the classroom. It’s quite another thing to take that project across the world. But that’s exactly what Wisconsin MBA students do through their global project course.

Destinations for the global project course offered by the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have included South Africa, Brazil, Peru, Spain, and Vietnam, among others. The project component, sponsored primarily by an American multinational conglomerate with a significant global footprint, allows students to tackle a project of international scale in industries like healthcare, consumer product goods, technology, and power.

Blair Sanford, assistant dean of the Wisconsin Full-Time MBA and Master's Programs
Blair Nelson Sanford, Assistant Dean of the Full-Time MBA and Master’s Programs

As one of the teachers of this course, I have been rewarded both personally and professionally to see how our students navigate these projects and gain a more robust understanding of today’s global economy. But even more importantly, it is clear that the global project—paired with the skills developed during global travel—provide an employment edge to participating students.

In navigating the global consulting project, our students hone their problem solving skills and their ability to work with others—both of which are key skills highlighted by corporate recruiters in the latest corporate recruiters survey produced by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC).

To succeed in the Wisconsin MBA global course, students must demonstrate an ability to work with others in cross-functional teams consisting of both first- and second-year MBA students from a variety of states and countries. Project teams need to work cooperatively to share responsibilities with an eye toward meeting common goals. This skill is a valuable asset in and of itself, but the global scope of the consulting project adds additional pressures.

For instance, last year a student team studied major health problems in Peru, examining how these problems might affect the future of health equipment sales in that country. The team had to understand the current issues, infrastructure, and technological gaps facing the healthcare system; research future projections for significant diseases of concern; and provide recommendations to the sponsoring company to better position itself to address future issues in Peruvian healthcare.

“The global trip to Peru provided a unique experience for me to engage in cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural business with my fellow MBA students,” says Stephanie Seymour (MBA ’20). “With expertise in our group ranging from healthcare in China and India to the politics of global healthcare, we were able to provide a nuanced and useful business solution to our Peruvian clients. Unlike many of the U.S.-based projects I’ve worked on in the past, our group was forced to leave our comfort zone and dive into a country and industry we had little experience with. In doing this, we not only provided a valuable business solution, but also expanded our perspectives as future global business leaders.”

Students begin working on the project deliverables prior to their time in-country, so it’s critical that they communicate well with overseas executives and ensure their own understanding of the provided data. Teams make presentations via WebEx, establishing valuable rapport in advance of the company visit. Through all of this, students tend to deepen their listening, oral communication, and empathy. I’ve heard from corporate partners that the students in this course consistently demonstrate a strong command of the challenge presented and are able to navigate through the many complex facets of each project.

Unlike many of the U.S.-based projects I’ve worked on in the past, our group was forced to leave our comfort zone and dive into a country and industry we had little experience with. In doing this, we not only provided a valuable business solution, but also expanded our perspectives as future global business leaders.

—Stephanie Seymour (MBA ’20)

For many Wisconsin MBA students, they are undertaking a global project in a market they’re learning about for the first time—and this can be overwhelming. Our students embrace cultural challenges and learn to navigate around language barriers. Their problem-solving skills are quickly challenged and developed. They must confront unconscious bias toward familiar solutions because proposals that are too U.S.-centric may not work in developing markets. The global component pushes students to adjust to unique and different perspectives.

Wisconsin MBA students visit GE in Peru.
GE hosted Wisconsin MBA students in Peru for a site visit and discussion about consulting projects.

“Participating in the global course was one of the highlights of my MBA experience thus far,” says Andrew Lamers (MBA ’20), who traveled to Peru last year and is taking the global course again this year to Croatia and Germany. “Meeting with companies in Lima, visiting world-renowned economist Hernando de Soto, and interacting with native Peruvians gave me real insights into some of the challenges and opportunities in a developing economy.”

For as much as they gain on their global trek, Wisconsin MBA students also make a point to give back. In Vietnam, for example, students visited a resource center for the blind. Though the center does not receive government funding, it has many creative avenues of revenue generation that our students learned about. In turn, the students developed a proposal for new products, distribution, and fundraising to assist the center.

I am a tenacious advocate for Wisconsin’s approach toward global learning. It is clear that global travel, especially with the project component, provides an opportunity to improve problem-solving abilities and cross-functional collaboration skills that are valued by employers. Our students grow in creativity and empathy, while gaining an appreciation for cultural differences and new perspectives.

Global travel for graduate business students should be viewed as an investment, not an expense. The experience directly translates into a competitive advantage in today’s workplace—one that Wisconsin MBA graduates take with them as they launch successful careers both in the United States and across the world.