One year and three continents later, 58 newly minted University of Virginia graduates have earned a degree from UVA and recognition from top universities in Spain and China.
On Friday, UVA’s new Master of Science in Global Commerce program feted its first graduating class – which included students from 14 countries – in Barcelona, Spain, where students completed the final third of the program at ESADE Business School. UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce offers the program in partnership with ESADE and Lingnan (University) College at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China. Students spent 15 weeks apiece at UVA and ESADE, earning a M.S. in Global Commerce and a M.S. in Global Strategic Management, respectively, and nine weeks at Lingnan, earning a certificate in international management.
“This program and our first graduates should serve as a true global model,” Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School, told the graduates last week. “As educators, we have a responsibility, particularly in today’s world, to help students understand and work with people throughout the world. Commerce can be a tremendous catalyst for bringing people together in positive, productive ways. I truly believe that, through programs that create real, thoughtful and meaningful engagement with other people, we can build not only better businesses, but a better world.”
Graduate Sierra Prochna said the M.S. in Global Commerce program felt tailor-made for her, a perfect fit for combining her business education with her longstanding passion for traveling and learning about different cultures.
“I have always been extremely interested in using my business degree abroad,” said Prochna, who previously earned her undergraduate degree from McIntire.
Prochna said earning master’s degrees while living on three continents taught her a lot about how to conduct business in different cultures and quickly adapt to new situations.
“For me, moving to China was the biggest learning experience, because it was so different from what I have known,” she said. “I learned so much about the little cultural differences that can make a big difference as we enter the business world after this program.”
Like many of her classmates, Prochna secured a job offer as she was completing the program. She will join Rolls-Royce in a rotational program that will take her around the U.S. and abroad.
“They were looking for people with a global orientation who could work well in global teams,” she said. “When I was interviewing, I was able to tell them about all of the group projects I had worked on with people from 14 different countries, as we traveled around the world.”
Fellow graduate Alexander Abi-Najm, whose family manages a Lebanese Taverna restaurant chain, said the program fostered an open, global perspective that he believes is critical in the business world.
“I believe that globalization is unstoppable and it will be imperative that students today learn global skillsets,” said Abi-Najm, who also earned his undergraduate degree from McIntire. “An open mindset is also crucial, in order to learn and adapt to the forever-changing global environment that we live in.”
Both said that their class became a close-knit group and that getting to know classmates from around the world was one of the best parts of the experience.
“We really did become like one huge family,” Prochna said. “I believe those relationships are different than what you would normally get in a graduate program, because we have moved to three continents together.”
In addition to completing coursework at each university, students met with companies and government organizations in the United States, the European Union and China. While in Spain, for example, they toured the European offices of companies like Google and Bloomberg. In China, they met with companies like DJI Technologies – one of the leading companies commercializing aerial drones – and Tencent Holdings, China’s top corporate investor in Silicon Valley.
At UVA, students completed case studies on companies like Vastly, the U.S.-based subsidiary of one of China’s major paper companies, and presented their findings to the company’s senior executives. They also visited federal agencies in Washington, D.C., including the Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as state agencies and business organizations in Richmond.
Chinese student Zhuoyun Zheng, a graduate of Sun Yat-sen University, said those visits helped her understand how the U.S. government interacts with both domestic and international businesses.
“It gave us an overview of how U.S. government organizations work,” she said.
Armed with a new understanding of cultures beyond their own, Zheng and her fellow graduates are now more prepared to do business wherever their careers might take them, and to become the “adventurers and pioneers” that Zeithaml charged them to be in his opening address to the students last September.
“The connections that each of these schools pulled through for us, and the meetings they arranged, have just been fantastic,” Prochna said. “That is exactly why I did this program, to get an entirely different experience from what I would normally do.”