UTEP MBA’s International Research Course Turns 10

Rolando Nuñez held various roles in the dairy industry for 13 years. The self-described “milkman” enjoyed his job, but he knew his upward mobility was limited.

After watching others in his circle stung by layoffs and the economic downturn of 2007, he sought ways to enhance his skills to stay competitive in his field. Nuñez, who earned an undergraduate business degree online, believed an MBA from The University of Texas at El Paso would set him apart.

The first-generation college student attended a summer 2007 information session and was intrigued by a discussion about a new International Research Course (IRC) that would be created for the upcoming Accelerated MBA (AMBA) cohort. Whether or not excitement about the new course contributed to the high number of applications for the AMBA that year, officials decided to launch a second cohort that fall.

Nuñez enrolled, and those two years in the AMBA program flew by. He credits the IRC with opening his eyes to the world and his own potential. He was among the 25 students who spent nine days in Prague, Czech Republic, and Frankfurt, Germany – two hubs of European commerce. His research focus was on the differences between U.S. and European labor unions.

“I was excited, and a little nervous,” said Nuñez, who earned his MBA in 2009 and stayed in the dairy business for a year until UTEP hired him to manage its AMBA and Executive MBA programs. Four years later, he was put in charge of all MBA programs and UTEP’s Graduate Business Center at 201 E. Main Drive, Suite 110. Before his IRC trip, his only goal was to earn an MBA and be a better milkman in El Paso. “Afterward, you have a different perspective of the world. You understand the value of stepping outside your comfort zone.”

In the past 10 years, scores of UTEP MBA students have experienced similar revelations after IRC visits to major cities in France, Spain, China, Hong Kong, Germany, Switzerland and Argentina. College of Business Administration (COBA) faculty and staff have streamlined and enhanced the course, which includes a written paper and a team presentation, but its core mission remains to reinforce that the world is a global marketplace.

Robert Nachtmann, DBA, dean of the college, is credited with starting the IRC, which is modeled after a similar program he was part of at the University of Pittsburgh. His goal was to provide students with a global comparative reference in different aspects of business such as finance, marketing and management with a cultural perspective.

Nachtmann, who led the first IRC in 2008, said the course helps students recognize the importance of understanding one’s work environment before proposing changes. To do otherwise would be counterproductive, he said.

“This experience helps students observe and realize a simple fact,” he said. “Everyone is dealing with the same problems, but the mechanics of solving those problems are either made easier or harder based on the system or the environment in which they’re operating.”

Nachtmann noted that IRC students often end up with a better understanding of their work objectives, and develop a deeper understanding of how to apply their skills and knowledge to be successful in any environment.

Stephane Blanchet came to UTEP with international business management experience from Canada, Austria, Mexico and the United States. The BRP, Inc., supplier quality coordinator in Juárez, Mexico, earned his MBA from UTEP and participated in a Hong Kong/China IRC in 2014.

“It’s all about people,” said Blanchet, a native of Quebec, Canada, who said he appreciated learning from the market dynamic, the industries and the people. “Sharing a meal with students from Hong Kong University was a good way to exchange ideas about culture and aspirations, coming from different generations and different countries.”

Valeria Fernandez, a human resources supervisor for the County of El Paso, raved about her “incredible” spring 2015 trip to the Chinese cities of Bejing and Shanghai, where her group toured multiple public and private sector companies involved in manufacturing and technological services.

“We had the opportunity to see some of the concepts that we learned about in class actually in practice,” said the UTEP alumna, who earned her bachelor’s in finance and management in 2010 and her MBA five years later. “The trip broadened my view of the world.”

Laura Uribarri, COBA assistant dean for academic programs, said she and a staff member developed the IRC plan based on Nachtmann’s directive. She said IRC feedback through the years has been overwhelmingly positive. Students have called it life changing. Hosts have lauded the UTEP cohorts as prepared, engaged and impressive.

“It’s how you network,” Uribarri said. “MBAs should think globally. The IRC puts our students in international settings so it is no longer an unknown. It becomes an asset.”

Today there are about 10 COBA administrators and faculty members who lead these specialized research courses. While some time is set aside for cultural outings, the vast majority of the time is spent in lectures, tours of plants and discussions with business leaders.

College leaders are studying how to create a similar short-term study abroad option for COBA upperclassmen as part of its implementation of the UTEP Edge, a campus quality enhancement plan where students combine their existing body of assets with professional development and career advancement opportunities. Among the issues that need to be analyzed are schedules, logistics so all juniors can participate, and ways to minimize the financial burden on the students.

A pilot program could be launched as early as the fall 2017 semester, Nachtmann said.

Author:  Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications