The Institute for International Business (IIB), a part of the college since the mid-1990s, began reporting to the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) in 2014. Its new focus: Providing students with international business experiences through real-world projects and trips abroad.
Through experiential learning, IIB is the hub that connects students to Iowa businesses involved in global commerce and microenterprises in developing countries.
“My goal is to help students cultivate a global mindset and understand the intricacies that exist in conducting business outside of the U.S.”
“Before I started, the IIB was more focused on international business research and language programs,” says Dimy Doresca, IIB director. “We shifted the mission so students have opportunities to do real work in international business.”
That shift was a game changer for the college. The IIB now promotes Iowa’s economic interests by increasing international skills and entrepreneurship in UI students while strengthening the links among the college, Iowa businesses and the world.
“My goal is to help students cultivate a global mindset and understand the intricacies that exist in conducting business outside of the U.S.” Doresca says.
Helping Iowa Companies Go Global
The IIB offers several ways students can connect to international business endeavors. One way brings small- and medium-sized Iowa companies together with students through a JPEC course or independent study.
When Doresca speaks to civic, service and economic development organizations around the state, he learns about companies who are considering entry into international markets. This provides him with the business connections to create projects in which the students can perform strategic research and present it to the company.
“We work as a consulting firm,” Doresca says. “The students learn great project management skills as well as how to formulate strategies for companies, analyze risks and identify tools to mitigate those risks. They are accomplishing something for real; something that has their handprints on it.”
Hassan Alsaeed, an interdepartmental studies and health science major from Saudia Arabia, was involved in researching health care-related signage markets in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for a project with ASI Signage in Grinnell, Iowa. Alsaeed says it was one of the best classes he’s taken at Iowa.
“I was hungry to apply what I have learned to real life and have a real experience to help me for my future,” he says.
“I had to put in the effort and go outside my comfort zone. We all put our work together and came out with something really good for the company.”
Over the past school year, IIB students assisted six Iowa companies with research into opportunities in the Middle East, Singapore, China, Germany and South Africa. Doresca mentored the 20 students. While the majority are from Tippie, some are earning degrees in the Colleges of Engineering, Liberal Arts & Sciences and Public Health.
International Consultants in Belize
The IIB also offers the course, International Entrepreneurship & Culture, which includes classroom learning about another country and a trip abroad. Doresca works with fellow lecturer, Bob Walker, to plan up to four trips per year.
“We make connections with the countries and put together a project plan. The students research the business culture and more so we can maximize the use of our time while in country,” Walker says.
Walker and three teams of three students traveled to San Pedro Columbia in steamy southern Belize over spring break to help two microenterprises and the community’s primary school. One team worked with a group of Mayan artisans who sell their work to tourists going to and from the village’s Lubaantun Mayan ruins.
Another team helped Marciana and Richard with their Mayan and Creole restaurant, which consists of three tables on their front porch. The team created a logo, tagline and sign to help draw in tourists.
International relations major Mary Elizabeth Snell appreciated getting the Belizeans’ perspective on Americans. “It was great to do meaningful work and come back to reflect intellectually on it.”
The trip was the first outside of the U.S. for Connor Welvaert, an enterprise leadership and economics major who graduated in May. To create a more sustainable food source, Connor worked to build an irrigation system and planned the garden inside a greenhouse. The intention is to produce enough vegetables to feed the school’s students; surplus vegetables will be sold to the community and the funds will be used for educational purposes.
Doresca and Walker look forward to the trips planned for 2016-17 to Cuba, Belize, South Africa and Senegal. They will adapt the projects to the unique business needs and cultural environments of the destination countries.
Bringing the International Experience to Campus
While IIB programs find students reaching out to businesses and different countries, one very special opportunity is bringing international visitors to the UI campus. The Mandela/Washington Fellowship is a grant from the U.S. State Department that enables universities and colleges across the U.S. to host 25 young African leaders for six weeks. Doresca received a $150,000 grant award for the first time in the UI’s history.
“Relationships, relationships. This is what matters in international business.”
“This brings cross-cultural diversity to Iowa, where our students, faculty and staff will have a chance to interact with people from 25 countries in Africa,” he says. “At the same time, they will learn what we do in Iowa through meetings with Iowa business leaders, and when they return to Africa, they will be the best ambassadors for the University of Iowa, the state of Iowa and especially the businesses, who can use those key contacts to penetrate markets in Africa.”
On campus in June, the fellows will participate in the award- winning JPEC Venture School. They will attend workshops on technology and innovation, global health, entrepreneurship, social justice and international law. Company and community visits will further broaden the fellows’ views of Eastern and Central Iowa, including visits to local businesses, the Amana Colonies, the Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids and an Amish community.
Cultures and people separated by 8,000 miles will come together in ways that can benefit their companies and countries.
“Relationships, relationships. This is what matters in international business,” says Doresca. “It’s about knowing someone who can connect you with someone when you go to the country. You can get things done.”