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As students return to a cold and blustery campus, one group at the University of Cincinnati is still motivated by the warm feelings from their Canadian study abroad last semester.
Fifteen undergraduates from UC’s Honors Program teamed up with students from the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) to design business practices that address societal needs in underdeveloped nations around the globe.
Without actually stepping foot in such regions as Africa, India, Southeast Asia or South America, the interdisciplinary students from both UC and UQAM studied current global challenges with the environment, health, education, sanitation, agriculture and poverty.
The experience is part of UC’s Social Entrepreneurship honors seminar in which UC students worked in cross-national and cross-discipline teams via video conferences and direct meetings in Montréal and Cincinnati. The goal is to learn how to develop a product that would be responsive to a societal need and to produce a social benefit.
“The interdisciplinary nature of this course is what I love most,” says Neil Choudhury, assistant director of UC’s Honors Program and co-instructor of the course. “Students from any major can take this class, which really helps diversify the solutions to our projects. Even though this class is run out of the business school, we have several nonbusiness engineering and medical science students who bring a nice, creative diversity to thinking outside the box.”
In one example, students theorized a tough-terrain transport vehicle for delivering vaccinations from hospitals to remote clinics in undeveloped countries. They branded their product LiftRover.
“Our goal was to decrease the number of vaccines and cell cultures that go to waste because of high temperatures,” says Venkat Suru, third-year UC medical sciences student. “The social entrepreneurship class is one that I truly recommend to people who want to make a difference in the world because it urges you to think deeper about the problems present in our surroundings.”
Suru says he picked up skills he couldn’t have imagined prior to the seminar.
“Throughout the course, I learned how to effectively communicate with people whose primary language is not English and studied all the factors that must thoroughly be considered before entering the product market," says Suru.
But co-instructor Constantine Polychroniou, UC professor of international marketing, says the students learn about successful international collaboration.
Polychroniou credits this course for giving students a real-world look and feel for global problems by forcing them to address questions with no easy answer:
When one group designed a project to go into Africa to sell a new type of food product, Choudhury was able to shed light on possible legal obstacles they may have to clear for importing groceries in certain areas.
“Or, we open their eyes to critical geographical problems of reaching people in regions such as Angola, the most heavily land-mined country in the world,” he adds.
When the students engage in these interpersonal exchanges, they learn through steps not formally taught to them about cultural awareness, knowledge and competence and especially cultural empathy — a critical skill Polychroniou says they need in order to succeed in any international exchange.
As the semester wrapped up, UQAM students made their way to Cincinnati to give their final presentations with their Bearcat counterparts in UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub. But not before spending a few days touring UC’s campus, enjoying the local food and taking in a winning basketball game in the newly remodeled Fifth Third Arena.
UC students were candid about the impact the course had on their team-work skills, especially around international collaboration.
"There were many challenges we faced as a team but the feedback we received allowed us to tweak our perspectives to come up with the most ideal product,” one team shares.
Initially created 13 years ago as a senior capstone class by UC international vice provost Raj Mehta, Social Entrepreneurship: Sustainable Solutions to Global Challenges was later redesigned with the help of Polychroniou and Choudhury. As the need for economic sustainability evolves, the instructors aim for new course content and new ways to teach it.
Polychroniou says the course is designed to mold the next generation of leaders, so they become aware of the challenges they will face in a new global environment.
“They learn much more about building interpersonal relationships, respect for diversity and international entrepreneurship skills that will last a lifetime,” he adds.
Feature image at top: Students from UC Honors Program "Social Entrepreneurship: Sustainable Solutions to Global Challenges" study abroad course collaborate with their Canadian colleagues in Montreal, Quebec, via video conferencing under the direction of UC’s Neil Choudhury (front left) and Constantine Polychroniou (front right). Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services