School of Business

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By Megan Nash

Last month, eight ambitious business and administration students from the University of Córdoba, a public university in Spain, came together in Richmond, Va., to learn about American culture and complete an intense two-week consulting project, thanks to the VCU School of Business’ International Consulting Program (ICP).

“Above the obvious benefits of increased awareness of different cultures, practices and perspectives, students who work and study abroad gain exposure to unique challenges and opportunities,” said Elena Olson, Ph.D., associate professor of Information Systems for VCU Business.

As the faculty lead for the ICP Spain group, Olson served as both the project and student advisor, teaching the students how to conduct a consulting project and setting clear expectations for both students and the client. She and Jose Antonio Lopez Castro, Ph.D., a professor from the University of Córdoba, supervised the project, ensuring its success and creating an immersive educational experience.

The students were paired with the local nonprofit performing arts organization, The Latin Ballet of Virginia, whose mission is to “enrich and connect communities through Latin/Hispanic cultural dance experiences with a commitment to education, diversity and accessibility.”

With a warm welcome from The Latin Ballet team, led by Executive Director Arianna Moore, Artistic Director Marisol Cristina Betancourt Sotolongo and Founder Ana Ines King, the students quickly integrated into the organization, attending performances, participating in workshops and engaging with staff to understand the nonprofit’s operations and goals.

This experience also included a cultural and historical learning aspect, as students learned about the Latin American community in Virginia through dance, direct communication with the dancers and their families and interactions with visiting speakers from the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Virginia Hispanic Foundation.

“They utilized every single person that came in,” said Moore. “ They were able to learn about a nonprofit organization–how we run, how grants work, how all these things work–and make suggestions based on that.”

Divided into three teams, students were tasked with developing marketing strategies and financial sustainability for the Latin Ballet’s off-season. The teams conducted a full market analysis using resources like Meta Business, interviewed members of the Latin Ballet staff and faculty, researched critical success factors for social media campaigns and advised on marketing, financial and PR strategies. Students spent significant time working from the studio space within the Dominion Energy Center to gain perspective on the Latin Ballet’s daily activities.

Lola Rabadán Morejón, a master’s student in international trading, shared her excitement about the project: “This consulting experience opened my mind to new career possibilities. It pushed us to think creatively and work under pressure, and now I have a new range of experiences that I had never considered.”

“The way VCU structured the ICP program set us up for success to consult with international businesses,” said Cristian Cañero Acero, a recent business administration graduate. “Once you get in the real world, you start seeing that things are different from what you learn in class. You must adapt. You have to overcome new challenges. Programs like this help students develop new ways of understanding and managing challenges.”

Javier Reina Fernandez, who graduated from the University of Córdoba with a degree in business administration, used the global consulting experience as a chance to advance his skill set for an internship in international consulting.

“It’s been very important and useful to improve my knowledge because I’m doing an internship in Córdoba,” Reina said. “I’m also going to do a master’s degree in international business and this is the perfect program to improve all my knowledge about this topic.”

Olson noted that though the learning outcome of the consulting experience was singular, it was incredibly complicated.

“Our students had to successfully complete a professional consulting project in just over two weeks,” Olson said. “I am pleased to report that not only were the consultants successful, but their recommendations are also already being implemented and impacting the organization.”

This learning outcome was one of the reasons many students—like Romualdo León Bravo, a master’s student in international trading—decided to travel to the U.S.

“Since I was a kid, I was always looking forward to coming to the States because of the films, movies and songs but apart from that, the whole experience, the program has come to help us learn from experiences and has shown us how things work in the real world. We’ve received many perspectives from businesses and behaviors between cultures. We have not only learned about consulting but what life is like here in the States, and it’s been really mind-opening.”

Rabadán’s reasons for participating were similar.

“I grew up watching American girls on YouTube and TikTok. It’s a great opportunity for our curriculum and our future workwise, but also being here and experiencing the culture I grew up seeing. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

In addition to practicing these skills in a real-world environment, students also enjoyed the bonding experience of traveling as a cohort.

“It has been an amazing experience because no one comes back to their home poorer but richer,” said Laura Priego Marquez, a business administration graduate. “Not only does it serve in the professional way but also in the personal.”

The shared cultural experiences of the trip—from seeing the monuments in Washington, D.C., to learning about African-Cuban dance—allowed the students opportunities to connect with their classmates, some of whom may have never otherwise met.

“We had an exceptionally cohesive and diverse group. The opportunity to learn about each member’s background, career, personality and goals was tremendously enriching,” Olson said.

As international travel continues to enhance the School of Business’ academic offerings, undergraduate students and local organizations are encouraged to take advantage of future global consulting opportunities.

“I’m so excited that this unique program is back,” said Olson. “We focused on cultural engagement and community involvement, completely transforming our educational approach. Combining rigorous academics with real-life projects, we prepared our students to make a global impact and add value locally. I am deeply proud of everyone involved and will miss our students!”

“So many organizations can benefit from the ICP Program,” said Moore. “If every experience was like this one, I think everyone would be lining up at the door to be with ICP. It was extremely, extremely beneficial.”

For additional details or to express interest in the VCU ICP Spain program, students can contact Elena Olson at eolson2@vcu.edu, or speak with their academic advisor.

Check out the VCU ICP Spain 2024 LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook pages for more highlights from the trip.

About the International Consulting Program (ICP)

The International Consulting Program (ICP) at the VCU School of Business offers students hands-on learning through practical consulting engagements. VCU Business courses BUSN 400 and BUSN 401 provide a comprehensive academic foundation combined with real-world client projects, preparing students for professional challenges.

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