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Gerstacker Students, French School Collaborate on Business Plans
What better way to prepare American students for the globalized marketplace than to work with students from other countries to develop a business plan? Caroline Dobbins, '12, was one of eight students in Albion College's Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management who had the chance to do that through a partnership between the institute and École supérieure de Vente (SDV), an international business school sponsored by the Versailles, France, Chamber of Commerce.
The Albion students traveled to St. Germain, France, with Vicki Baker, associate professor of economics and management, and Karen Erlandson, associate professor of communication studies, in January 2012 for a week of learning, work, and fun with students from the French school. During the week at SDV, bi-national teams were asked to develop a business plan that would incorporate resources and the culture of each country.
Students from SDV traveled to Albion the week of April 16 as the teams presented their business plans during the college's Elkin Isaac Student Research Symposium.
"We had the names [of the French students we would be working with], and we knew they were upper-class business students who were finishing their degrees," Dobbins said when asked about the amount of information she had going into the project.
"[The first meeting was spent] familiarizing ourselves with what was expected of us, what the end product was," Dobbins added. "We found out what needed to be done by the end of the week when we got there. It was unnerving at times, and the Americans struggled with the lack of structure of not knowing what we had to be responsible for. We like to check things off a list while they look more at the big picture, and they don't worry about the details as much. We did a good job of blending our styles, and everyone worked really well together."
Dobbins and Albion classmate Alex Pierson, '12, along with SDV students Nouara Chemaa, Antoine Corré, Nicolas Lavialle, and Benoit Smetko, were tasked with creating a plan for a business specializing in mobile automotive services, with car maintenance performed at the workplace preventing the loss of employee work time.
Plans developed by other teams include retailing a form of alternative energy that generates power from pedestrian foot traffic using flooring systems capable of capturing kinetic energy; providing depolluting plants to clients; and creating high-end entertainment that could feature light shows, pictures, and underwater music.
During the week in France, Dobbins said students attended a morning class with an English-speaking professor about the material that needed to be included in the business plan, leaving the afternoon for work time in the group and sightseeing in the evening.
Dobbins' group was able to complete the feasibility study in France, leaving general pieces of the business plan to be developed via e-mail messages or meetings via Skype. She said much of the additional work was completed on the weekend, meaning that for the months of January and February the team had to work around her activity with Albion's swimming and diving team.
"You have to manage eight different things at one time in real life, and this was a test in time management," Dobbins said. "I would let my teammates know that I would be gone for the weekend but that I would have access to e-mail, and they were understanding about it. They thought it was cool that we were so involved."
The partnership between Gerstacker and SDV is not confined to the classroom. With time allocated to seeing the Paris landmarks and dining at the French students' favorite restaurants, Dobbins said she gained an appreciation for the cultural differences after work.
"In France we were done working at 4 o'clock and we didn't talk about the project after work," Dobbins said. "The French are accustomed to eating dinner late. We were given time after school to freshen up before going out on the town and then we would eat. We are used to eating and then going out on the town."
The Gerstacker students returned the favor as SDV students were introduced to American culture by attending a performance by comedian Seth Myers, a tour of Comerica Park prior to a Detroit Tigers baseball game, and a two-day trip to Chicago.
Dobbins, who is pursuing a career in Internet marketing and social media, says the quality of Gerstacker students selected to participate in the partnership with SDV is what sets the international business experience apart from other programs that may be in existence.
"I feel proud that Albion has given us such an opportunity," Dobbins said. "Gerstacker selects individuals it feels will be great ambassadors for the College while in Paris and who are willing to go out of their comfort zone and try new things."