MUSCATINE, Iowa — The dean of the St. Ambrose University College of Business has figured out an effective way to recruit students from China and other countries to come study business in Iowa.
You let students do the selling.
Dave O’Connell, who’s also a professor of managerial studies at the private university in Davenport, told the Muscatine Rotary Club Monday that the university’s business program has used photos and commentary created by a Chinese student studying at St. Ambrose in an effort to market the university to prospective students overseas.
“When you’re 18, you don’t want to hear a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats) analysis,” O’Connell said.
Instead, the student, who adopted the Western name “Ted” for himself, took pictures of St. Ambrose features that meant the most to him — a neat dorm room (“at least neat for the photo,” O’Connell joked), the library, the school’s ranking in U.S. News and World Report and the university’s religious tradition.
“His theme that ‘This is a Catholic place’ surprised me,” O’Connell said. O’Connell said he was glad to present Ted’s pitch to prospective students.
In recent years, the university has sent students to countries including India and China and welcomed overseas students to the Davenport campus. The American Business Experience, a program that brings scholars and students from India, started with four participants in 2010. This year, about 20 are expected.
The students are in class in the morning, then take field trips each afternoon. Those destinations might range from corporations with a global presence, such as Stanley Consultants in Muscatine and Deere and Company in Moline, to a Happy Joe’s restaurant, which O’Connell called “the quintessential regional experience.”
O’Connell and other faculty members have traveled to India, China and other nations to establish exchange agreements with foreign universities. One photograph, taken in India’s second-largest city, Delhi, showed a slightly alarmed-looking O’Connell sitting in a three-wheeled combination motorbike/rickshaw next to the calm-looking St. Ambrose president, Sister Joan Lescinski.
O’Connell said the alarmed look he displayed came after he’d just witnessed “the mind-blowing traffic scene” that is Delhi, a city of about 22 million people.
Inroads into India and China are due in part to the work of St. Ambrose faculty members, including Arun Pillutla and Xiaowei Liu, a professor of finance who was a student in China during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
“It is fascinating to hear his perspective,” O’Connell said.
Today’s businesses, large and small, have an increasingly global perspective, O’Connell said, and they want their newest hires to have that same perspective.
A country like China, which has a population of about 1.3 billion people, “might be a place to start to understand what’s going on in the world,” he said.
It can also be the place to broaden one’s horizons — especially of the culinary variety.
O’Connell displayed a photograph of the supper he was served one night in China. When no Rotarian could identify the delicacy, O’Connell revealed that it’s brazed goose foot.
And just how does one eat brazed goose foot?
“They give you a plastic glove, and you just go at it,” he said.