When You're Good at Taking Business Students Around the Globe, What Do You During a Pandemic? Bring in Tech, and Keep Delivering
October 6, 2020
Contact: Office of Government and Public Affairs
For years now, students in the University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business could take advantage of opportunities to learn their trade by traveling to countries around the world. Every semester, Merrick faculty and staff arranged for groups of students to journey to places like Brazil, Ghana, China, and dozens of other destinations, to meet with business leaders and gain important insights into how things work over there—trade, innovation, production, marketing, etc. For their efforts, which included writing reports and keeping journals, they also received academic credit.
Then, starting last spring, the pandemic hit. Along with it came travel restrictions, a deep global recession, and serious disruptions to everyday life for hundreds of millions.
But when COVID-19 compelled UB to cancel its traditional Global Field Studies program for 2021, Eusebio Scornavacca, UB's Parsons Professor of Digital Innovation and Thompson Chair of Management Information Systems in the Merrick School of Business, did not give up. Instead, he figured out how to continue providing immersive cross-cultural learning opportunities for UB students—albeit virtually.
For the past four years, as part of the school's learn-abroad offerings, Prof. Scornavacca has organized an annual "Global Business Challenge," in which he partners with colleagues from his global network to bring students a truly immersive experience: travel to another country, take a dive into the local culture, and work on real-life business challenges presented by entrepreneurs who are making a difference in their communities. Some examples of recent trips include Ghana in 2020 and 2017, Finland in 2019 and France in 2018. Scholarship funding for student participation in these experiences has been made possible through the generosity of Vernon H.C. Wright, B.S. '69, and Lucy B. Wright, and their creation of the Wright Global Business Scholars Fund.
The underlying theme of the Global Business Challenge is to "advance digital entrepreneurship for a smart, equitable and sustainable future." The business partners joining this project are developing and using digital innovations to creating positive socioeconomic and environmental impact in their communities—directly contributing to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.
But how to keep up this impressive track record when travel is not exactly advisable? Prof. Scornavacca, a renowned expert in the life-changing potential of technology, had the answer: a "virtual global business challenge," to be offered to UB students in January 2021.
This fully online program will provide a hands-on, immersive international business experience, featuring in-depth interactions with companies as well as students from other universities around the world. The opportunity to discuss real business issues in a multi-national setting will spark significant learning, Scornavacca says, and will allow the participants to gain privileged access to real-world business problems from companies in unique entrepreneurial ecosystems. The experience, he believes, will be unforgettable.
The initiative will connect universities and businesses across four continents. In addition to UB, students and faculty from the American University in Cairo in Egypt, Fundação Getulio Vargas in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and LUISS Business School in Rome, Italy, will set up and collaborate.
Scornavacca pointed out that in light of the digital transformation revolution and the global pandemic, this course will take students directly into the reality of businesses in the post-COVID-19 business world. Increasingly, it's common for teams to work in virtual spaces, creating viable work product in real time, separated by thousands of miles, languages, cultures, markets and time zones. What they have in common—business—far outweighs these hurdles. And what used to present impenetrable barriers is now just another work-around.
While putting together this project wasn't a snap, Scornavacca is already focused on outcomes.
"So far, we have confirmed the participation of incredibly innovative companies that working in areas such as energy, sustainable consumption and blockchain-based solutions for social and environmental issues," he says. "In order to address the real-world business challenges presented by the partner companies, students will work in multi-national teams of four in a blend of online synchronous and asynchronous activities. These global teams will be coached and tutored by a team of professors with vast international and business experience."
Hands-on, experiential learning in the online environment is not a novelty for Prof. Scornavacca. Since he joined UB in 2013, he has offered, in his regular face-to-face and online courses, more than a dozen live case competitions. What these actual business problems provide, he says, is a way for UB students to learn and directly connect with the Baltimore business community. The firms he has collaborated with are as diverse as the UB student body, and all had a defined digital-business challenge for the students to solve. The results, he says, have been enormously gratifying for both the students and their professor.
"The reason for choosing this experiential-learning approach is that it provides a useful laboratory for the application of some of the conceptual, theoretical, and other thinking examined as part of the courses," Scornavacca says. "It allows students to interact with industry, clearly linking theory to practice. The real-life case studies also expose students to and prepare them for genuine business questions—challenging them to identify the issues, learn how to do research, and make sense of unstructured information."
Remember 2014? Seems like a lifetime ago, right? That's when Prof. Scornavacca first brought his learning and teaching approach to his fully-online IT for Business Transformation MBA course. His students worked together in an online environment and develop an in-depth analysis and solution for a business problem presented by the partner company via video streaming technology.
"At that time, any type of 'real-live' interactive cases were exclusively within face-to-face classes. This innovative approach, of delivery via an asynchronous digital platform, allowed us to provide a similar learning experience and outcome to our online students," he says. "So when COVID-19 disrupted everything this year, we were well-prepared and equipped to respond to the challenge. We could leverage past experiences, such as the online real-life case competitions and our global field studies, to present exciting new opportunities for our students. The virtual global business challenge is just the latest way to show that we can keep growing and learning in the online world. And it really is a world!"
Learn more about Prof. Eusebio Scornavacca.