Brian Beckmann, Reynolds Graduate School of Business ’14, had begun the University of Richmond MBA in the fall of 2012 with the expectation to earn his degree part-time while working as an analyst for the Virginia State Corporation Commission. However, he later left his job and bought a plane ticket for Beijing when he was given the opportunity to study abroad for a semester at Tsinghua University.
“Many business leaders, writers and college professors spend a lot of time discussing the importance of innovation and globalization. It is rare to come to a place where these forces meet,” Beckmann said. “I encourage anyone, especially MBA students, who have the chance to study abroad, particularly in China.”
To support such international business education for students in the MBA program, the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation will donate $250,000 over five years to Richmond’s Richard S. Reynolds Graduate School of Business.
The endowment gift is expected to enhance the school’s focus on international business by providing funds to support student travel for international residencies, student participation in international competitions, faculty travel to partner schools or international conferences and visiting international scholars traveling to Richmond.
“Since 2001, every one of our MBA students has completed a consulting project in a foreign country as part of the international residency,” said Richard Coughlan, senior associate dean and director of the graduate school and MBA program.
“The Reynolds Foundation’s support of international initiatives means the impact of future students’ work will be felt for years to come,” he said.
Students have completed residencies in the Czech Republic, Mexico, France, Brazil, Argentina and Hungary. In addition, some students have studied abroad for extended periods like Beckmann. His strong interests in innovation and technology were well stimulated during his time there, even as he did mundane activities such as standing in the subway.
“You will notice that nearly every young- or working-aged adult owns a smartphone,” he said. “Most of these consumers are not rich in the Western sense and do not have access to traditional desktop or laptop computers with high speed Internet.”
Nancy Bagranoff, dean of the Robins School of Business, said the business school appreciated the importance of a global perspective on business and the value of experiential learning.
“This gift enhances our ability to provide MBA students with opportunities to see the world and experience cultural differences and business practices first-hand,” Bagranoff said.
For Beckmann, taking the time to live in Beijing and learn about cultural differences was rewarding both personally and professionally.
“Many Americans find it easier to generalize about Chinese culture than taking the time to learn and understand how complex China really is,” he said.
Coughlan, who was in the faculty and taskforce that revised the MBA curriculum 15 years ago, said it had become clear that having real-life international experience in a 21st-century MBA program was imperative.
“There was a debate on whether we should make this particular aspect mandatory or voluntary, and there are a lot of MBA programs that have optional opportunities to travel or study abroad,” he said. “We just felt that it should be a normal part of it.”
Since 2001, every MBA student at Richmond has been required to complete a semester-long course called MBA 570 that is meant to educate them about global issues and business, and it requires seven to 10 days abroad.
Throughout the semester, students work in teams as consultants for a foreign company. While abroad, they visit the company that has hosted their particular project.
“During the residency period, the class engages in a variety of cultural activities and meets with MBAs at our host university,” said Thomas Cosse, associate dean for the international business programs and professor of marketing and international business studies.
The MBA program’s emphasis on international studies also fulfills a key role in the university’s strategic plan, “The Richmond Promise,” which states that the university will prepare students “to live lives of purpose, thoughtful inquiry and responsible leadership in a global and pluralistic society.”
“The Reynolds Foundation obviously believes in the importance of graduate education generally and also very specifically with respect to what international opportunities can arise in an MBA program like ours,” Coughlan said.
Contact reporter Sabrina Islam at firstname.lastname@example.org