MBA students help develop new immersion course
By Travis Cornejo | Student reporter
Six Quinlan MBA students went south for spring break—to the South American country of Colombia, to be exact.
But their spring break wasn’t a vacation. Instead, they crafted their own immersion trip to study Colombia’s developing economy, with the guidance of Professor Cliff Shultz, Kellstadt Chair of Marketing. And following the success of the trip, they’ve opened the door for future Quinlan students to participate in the development of immersion-style courses.
“Our tagline here is ‘Preparing students to lead extraordinary lives,’” Shultz said. “Well, I thought, why don’t we actually give students the opportunity to co-create the class and to actually go lead an extraordinary life.”
A Class from Scratch
The six students—Aggeliki Gikas, Sarah Haque, Katherine Kasch, Gregory Lizak, Lisa Marks, and Justine Petcoff—first got a taste for immersion-style learning after taking Shultz’s class, MARK 561, Comparative Consumer Behavior and Marketing in Southeast Asia, in 2014.
In the class, the students learned about the emerging and developing economies of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Following their time abroad, a subset of those students asked Shultz to develop another immersive learning course to continue their studies.
Soon, Shultz was meeting with the students on a regular basis for discussions on developing and emerging economies. While back in Chicago, the students met more than two dozen times to discuss related books, journal articles, and government documents.
“We assembled readings, links and other materials, organized guest lectures, and discussed various challenges, opportunities, commonalities and differences pertaining to emerging economies,” he said. “Eventually I said, ‘You know what? You’ve impressed me with your commitment to this. If we can collectively decide on a country, we’ll go there.’”
They looked at countries from Myanmar to Kenya, before eventually agreeing on Colombia, for a number of reasons. One such reason was classmate Pedro Navas, a Colombian national enrolled in the Quinlan MBA program, and his professional connections within the country.
“Pedro was a real champion for Colombia,” Shultz said. “He had a good network on the ground. And I felt to go to this place, we would want some reliable contacts, some network on the ground, to make our time there efficient and productive.”
Shultz also had contacts in the country that helped facilitate a successful trip. Haque said once the pair put word out that they were interested in researching Colombia’s economy, they received an “incredible, overwhelming” response.
“I think the idea that a group of six MBA students wanted to visit and to study their country, somehow incited a great amount of excitement from everybody,” she said.
And for Marks, she said the content of the course they created was amazing.
“But the other thing that was a fantastic experience was how we truly created this from scratch,” she said.
A Full Agenda
The students wanted to choose a country in the Western Hemisphere so they wouldn’t lose any research time to jet lag. Once they arrived in Colombia, they hit the ground running, often scheduling themselves from 5 a.m. until midnight.
According to Marks, the group met with scholars from universities including Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, leading economists in the Colombian National Federation of Coffee Growers, and Colombia’s official brand manager.
“We were able to be upfront and talk to everybody about what changes are taking place and how things need to improve,” Haque said. “We also talked about what kinds of things Colombians would like to see for their country and what their existing struggles are.”
According to Marks, visiting Colombia and learning directly from its people was a fantastic opportunity. After working throughout their entire spring break, the group presented Shultz with a synthesis of their trip, discussing what moved them personally, intellectually, and emotionally.
Further, the group presented their findings for the Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy and at the international Macromarketing Conference in June.
A Blueprint for Success
“In its current form the ‘course’ is entered into the students’ records as ‘Independent Study,’ Shultz said. “We want to go forward based on this general model of giving our best and brightest the opportunity to create, to design, and to conceptualize another immersion-type course; the location could be Colombia, or it could be someplace else, based on the interests among faculty, students, and people on the ground.”
“It’s the kind of course, or honors seminar, that not many people or institutions could pull off,” Shultz said. “But because we’re a Jesuit university, with some exceptionally talented students, and we’re part of a strong international network of Jesuit universities, we think we have that network in place and a set of shared values that could enable similar transformative experiences to happen regularly and very well.”