CSB/SJU students gain a global business perspective


March 9, 2021

By Frank Rajkowski

A number of senior global business leadership majors at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University are getting the chance to cooperate with undergraduate peers at Ulster University in Belfast when it comes to helping develop business strategies for companies based in Minnesota or Northern Ireland.

As part of the global business leadership capstone course – Advanced Global Strategy, taught by Margrette Newhouse (CSB ’88), the John and Elizabeth Myers Chair in Management at CSB/SJU, 20 seniors are collaborating with 21 students in a course at Ulster taught by Dr. Andrea Reid.

“With the COVID pivot (at CSB/SJU) to having courses designed in a compressed, four-week block model, while also knowing that for many seniors their spring 2020 semester abroad had come to an abrupt halt, creativity has been key for faculty to provide for opportunities for experiential learning in a global context,” Newhouse said.

“(This) really is a true collaboration and it’s giving our students the chance to see what it’s like to work with individuals from a different place with different ideas about things.”

The students are divided into five groups, three of whom are working on projects with Version1, a multi-property esports organization based in Eagan, Minnesota. It is co-owned by the Wilf family – owners of the Minnesota Vikings – and entrepreneur and investor Gary Vaynerchuk.

That partnership came together thanks to Brett Zallek, a 2019 SJU graduate and a Partnership Coordinator at Version1. He was a member of Newhouse’s Spring 2019 Capstone class.

The other two projects involve Northern Ireland-based companies – Bella Moon, which produces products designed to make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable for new mothers, and Indigo, a smart home electrical design company.

Both companies hope to expand into the U.S. market.

From a business perspective, CSB/SJU students will be conducting research on target segments, analysis of industry and market trends, as well as competitive analysis to provide “directional recommendations” by the conclusion of Block B ending March 18.

The Ulster students, meanwhile, are scheduled to complete their final client deliverable report at the end of April.    

“Although compressed,” Newhouse said. “I hope that students will remember aspects of the strategic design process that they will be able to apply in years to come in their professional careers and community engagement due to this highly engaged and applied approach to connecting their overall Global Business Leadership coursework.

“That’s in addition to building new connections and friendships through work with their Northern Ireland colleagues.”    

The students meet online with their clients and with each other. And there have been two virtual joint workshops between the two classes. One of the workshops focused on strategic design practices, while the other focused on customer value propositions and business modeling taught by Reid and Newhouse.

Students at Ulster are still completing all their classes online in a traditional semester model as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Getting a more global perspective is helpful,” Newhouse said. “And to be able to demonstrate the ability to work as part of dispersed teams and considering business problems and opportunities with multiple perspectives will serve them well as they go off into their own business careers.”

The idea for the course first arose after one of Reid’s colleagues at Ulster – Chris Shannon, the university’s Student Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Manager -  reached out to Newhouse (also the director of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at CSB/SJU) in connection to some research he was doing.

During those discussions, a seed was planted.

“We threw out the idea that our students might collaborate,” Newhouse said. “Then I was introduced to Andrea, who was teaching a similarly-designed course to the one I was teaching.”

Reid, it turns out, already had experience in this area.

“For the last 10 years, I’ve worked to create partnerships internationally that get students to work together on projects,” Reid said. “We currently have an ongoing program with a university in Germany and one in Finland that we call the Three Nations Project.

“We’ve always gotten great support from our university. And Chris had talked to Margrette about doing something with students in Ireland. It was one of those things where we got to talking and we realized we had kind of identical thoughts about what we were trying to achieve.”

Reid’s class consists of over 90 students, meaning she had to pare down who would be selected for the joint project with CSB/SJU.

“Initially, we asked who was interested, but almost everybody in class wanted the chance to work with American students,” she said with a smile. “So we ended up having to select based on their grades last semester.”

The students seem to have developed an easy rapport with one another, even gathering on Zoom to meet socially.

“They’ve really taken the lead on that and it’s been fun to see,” Newhouse said.

CSB senior Morgan Belting, a global business leadership major from Ham Lake, Minnesota, said the experience has helped broaden her perspective.

“They think of things I may have never considered and vice-versa,” she said. “It’s been fun to collaborate and exchange notes. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“Everyone gets along really well. We’ve even met up online just to socialize. So I think it’s been both fun and educational for all of us.”

SJU senior John Laird, a global business leadership major from St. Paul whose father and grandfather both graduated from Saint John’s, echoed those sentiments.

“To get those different perspectives ups our game intellectually and it’s really challenged myself and my fellow students,” Laird said. “It pushes us out of our comfort zones a little bit.

“For global business leadership majors, I think this project really helps encapsulate everything we’ve learned during our time here.”

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