By Kate Hoving
"Beth Comstock was a biology major!”
Dawn Edmiston, Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, wants the world to know that Comstock ’82, the Vice Chair of General Electric and the first Chief Marketing Officer to be named by Fortune as one of the “Most Powerful Women in Business,” was a liberal arts major at William & Mary. So why does a business school professor make that fact her rallying cry? Because to Edmiston, Comstock is a role model for all liberal arts majors, in that they not only don’t need to avoid the business world, but that they just might be able to thrive there.
And even if they don’t become the CEO of a multinational corporation, any undergraduate, regardless of major, could profit from learning the basics of business and personal branding (a.k.a. showing yourself in your best light in order to be hired). Unfortunately, it’s often not possible for liberal arts students to find time during the academic year for business courses that do not interfere with their major studies, which is why Edmiston proposed the creation of the Global Business Minor program, offered during the summer. Thanks to the vision and skill of several Mason faculty and staff, the Global Education Office at the Reves Center and University College Dublin (UCD), a diverse group of thirty-five non-business majors completed the 18 credits required for a Global Business Minor over twelve weeks from May to August, without taking any time away from their regular studies. They also fulfilled their COLL 300 cross-cultural requirements. What’s more, they got to do it in one of the most international cities in the world.
Why “Global” was not optional
Edmiston is unequivocal in her belief in study abroad: “It changed my life.”
As an undergraduate in 1987, she studied marine biology at Gerace Research Centre in San Salvador, The Bahamas. It was a small education center, not many luxuries, but she learned more than just science. “I learned what a privilege it was to live, and be educated, in the U.S.”
As a graduate student at Columbia Business School, she was one of only two students selected to attend the international exchange programme at London Business School. In fact she had chosen Columbia – it was her only application – because of its international MBA program.
Edmiston also spent significant time working abroad and taught in China before coming to Mason, and she realized the value of international teaching experiences not just for students. She was determined to create the kind of program that would provide new experiences and opportunities for professional growth for Mason faculty as well.
Developing a new academic program
The planning for the inaugural summer program in Dublin began in spring 2016. Edmiston coordinated the proposal with Mason colleagues Todd Mooradian, at that time Associate Dean, Jennifer Dahnke, Assistant Dean, and professors Don Rahtz and Brent Allred.
They wanted a program that wouldn’t be too taxing on the faculty during the summer, so while the full program would be 12 weeks, each of the four Mason faculty members would only be required to spend two weeks in Ireland. The final curriculum proposal consisted of one week at W&M, three weeks online and eight weeks abroad with company visits and weekend excursions. The initial faculty selected to teach in the program included: Inga Carboni (Management); Michael Luchs (Customer Insights for Innovation and Design Thinking); Hugh Marble (Finance); and, Edmiston (Marketing). Kathy O’Reilly, Assistant Professor at UCD’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, taught Global Business Immersion.
Including the faculty in the design of the program aided in the buy-in. When they presented the proposal to the Mason faculty, it received 100% approval. “Unanimous faculty approval with no questions! That never happens,” Edmiston notes with pride.
James Joyce said, “If Ireland is to become a new Ireland she must first become European.”
The Mason faculty knew from the start that the program should be located in Dublin.
It may not be exactly as Joyce envisioned, but they chose the Dublin of today because, in addition to being a beautiful and welcoming city, it’s home to multiple European headquarters including: Accenture, Airbnb, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Guinness, Microsoft, Oracle and Twitter. And, Dublin has a tradition of innovation, most recently with the Designing Dublin initiative, an example of Design Thinking in action.
It’s also the home of three world-class universities from which to choose as a partner institution for the program: National University of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin (UCD).
Finding the right host
The Reves Center was involved from the start of the planning efforts, and the selection of a site is where they were indispensable. Ebony Majeed, Global Education Special Programs Advisor in the Global Education Office (GEO) at Reves, recalls the first meeting in August 2016. The Mason team had the academic vision, but it was the GEO that would make the idea a reality as a program. “We handle the nitty gritty of program development, from deciding on a partner institution, to contract negotiation and financing,” Julie Hummel, Director of Student Engagement and Services at Mason, was Majeed’s counterpart, serving as the Business Program Director.
With input from Don Rahtz, who had been in Dublin on a conference, and GEO’s Sarah Mullen, who had also been there recently while on a site visit to W&M’s Galway program, Majeed began to benchmark the universities for this particular program.
“We’re responsible for all elements of program development, so I look at location, accommodations, pricing and level of support,” says Majeed. UCD’s campus is not right in the middle of town so it is both lovely and safe for the students. “As I did my research, I also consider things like how it is to work with the staff.” In the case of UCD, in addition to the high marks from Rahtz and Mullen, Majeed found working with her UCD counterparts, Suzanne Shorten and Lisa Kehoe, made UCD the perfect choice on the administrative side.
UCD’s academic credentials are also impeccable. “UCD has a tremendous reputation, comparable to the high ranking of W&M, which was important for the quality of the educational experience,” Edmiston explains. UCD boasts several prime ministers among its alumni, in addition to star athletes, scientists, actors and writers. James Joyce, one of most famous Dubliners, was an alumnus.
UCD is Ireland’s most international university with over 6,000 international students, drawn from over 120 countries. The university emphasizes the “internationalisation of the Irish student experience – preparing all UCD students for future employment and life that crosses borders and cultures.”
But perhaps most important to a successful undergraduate study abroad program, UCD has an extremely supportive culture and is experienced hosting international students. As Edmiston notes, “UCD does summer programs better than anyone else.”
The Student Experience
While in Dublin, the students were able to meet with high-level business executives, and several students cited a meeting with the Global Brand Ambassador at Jameson as a highlight. They also worked on projects that were relevant to today’s global economy. One assignment from Edmiston was to make a pitch for a U.S. company thinking of expanding to Ireland and an Irish company thinking of expanding to the U.S. The students who pitched Chick-fil-A’s introduction to Ireland went so far as to sew their own cow costumes.
Majeed visited the class in Dublin about ten days into their program. She says she wasn’t surprised to see they were energetic and fully engaged. She credits that in large part to the work that the Mason team did in the eight weeks between the time the student participants were selected and the time the program started – from about mid-March to the Monday after graduation. “Mason was very intentional and strategic in preparing these students – not just for what they were going to learn but also for the rigor of the program,” Majeed remarked. Mason hosted several events with alumni and other professionals, and even had a photographer take head shots for the LinkedIn profiles they would create as part of the program. “This is what makes the program so impressive – how hard Mason worked.” Students were already making valuable LinkedIn connections during the program.
Majeed also credits the program director, Sarah Van Kirk ’15, M.Ed. ‘17 who had been the graduate assistant for GEO and had studied in Italy. “She was one of the main reasons the students had such a good experience, as she offered a healthy and necessary balance between staff member and supporter.”
Board of Visitor member Will Payne ’01 was in Dublin at the end of the students’ first week, and met with them for a presidential search listening session. “We have been serious about the presidential search listening sessions, so it was a real treat to hold one with students in Dublin. They had a lot to say and offered very constructive feedback about what they want to see in the next president and what aspirational goals they have for the university,” Payne recalls. “I know from speaking with many of them that they enjoyed their classroom experience and the cultural exposure while traveling around Europe. I hope W&M continues to offer the program in the future.”
Edmiston sees this as just the beginning: “My dream for this program is to be a bridge between the liberal arts and business at W&M.”
The program is already in the planning stages for 2018, and judging from the enthusiasm of everyone on the team, it promises to be another success.
Brian Clarke ’18 is proving to be an excellent “Brand Ambassador” himself: “I am a history major and have always had an interest in learning business as well and found this to be a wonderful opportunity to do so. We were able to get a solid foundation on business concepts and apply that knowledge to the real world through our fieldwork and integrative projects. Being in Ireland, we also gained a great sense of how businesses operate in different places. All of our weekend excursions were incredible and we experienced some of the most beautiful places in the world. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn about business, but prefers another subject as their major – and I have already done so to a few students.”
The students’ gift to Edmiston at the end of the program was a silver pendant made by an Irish artist. It’s a tree – a tree of learning, the students explained – and the crown of the tree is in the shape of Ireland.
Edmiston wears it with pride as she walks the halls of the Mason School, bastion of business acumen, inspiring students and visitors: “Remember, Beth Comstock was a biology major!”