Skip to Main Content

Going international


In 1996, Dr. Jeffrey Steagall submitted a proposal for the University of North Florida to develop a national reputation in the field of international business. It was a monumental task, considering UNF had no international business program at the time and only a handful of professors in what was then the College of Business expressed interest in the subject. 


But Steagall, newly tenured and in his sixth year on the faculty, had the backing of then-dean Earle Traynham and the temerity to shoot for the moon, figuring Traynham, who had asked him to develop the plan, would approve only a fraction of it. To Steagall’s surprise, Traynham approved every detail. 


“We can do all of this,” Traynham told him. 


Today, the International Business program in what is now the Coggin College of Business is thriving.  


The program attained flagship status in 2006. It is one of only four UNF programs to do so. The flagship designation brought with it extra funding, increased emphasis on developing a national reputation and a contagious excitement about a program that is sending record numbers of students abroad for what the University describes as transformational learning opportunities. 


“Going abroad is opening students’ minds to see how other people live and what different perspectives they have of how to do business,” said Dr. Andres Gallo, an associate professor of economics and one of the two directors of the flagship program. “For students to actually be able to go and see these differences and appreciate these differences, it opens their minds. You know there is not only one way of doing things in the world. There could be multiple ways to get to the same goal, but you have to learn how to live with that and you have to learn how to collaborate with people from other cultures.” 


UNF ranks seventh nationally in the number of short-term study-abroad students and 20th for the total number of study-abroad students among universities offering master’s degree programs, according to the 2009 Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education. 


In the 1990s, UNF was still a very young school, and Traynham wanted to focus on areas where the business college could excel. Although business had become more global in the 1980s with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Japan and South Korea as economic powers, only about 80 U.S. business colleges offered international business (IB) programs. IB dovetailed nicely with Jacksonville’s economy, which relies on its port and international trade. 


“It was clear that the old model of the U.S. and Western Europe being the main parts of the global economy was starting to fade, so we figured we’d get out ahead of that,” said Steagall, UNF’s 2009 Distinguished Professor of the Year. 


The idea was that an IB program (and a transportation and logistics program, also a UNF flagship) gave UNF its best shots of developing a top 10 business program. 


“It seemed plausible and it seemed like a good fit,” Steagall said. 


The hard part was convincing a faculty with little expertise in IB to require every teaching applicant to have an international aspect to their research or backgrounds so the college could build the program. Opponents wanted to hire the best applicants, not be limited by an IB requirement. But Traynham backed the plan, and the faculty began to change. 


“What we found was that after a couple of years we didn’t really have to try very hard, that often times people doing the international stuff were more go-getters, more risk taking, more adventuresome, and so what happened was that although it was a requirement for a long period of time, we stopped talking about it very much. We put it in the ad that we wanted to have an international background and that was it. We got great people applying. We hired the best one.” 


Applicants who otherwise might not have considered UNF were attracted to the University because of the international business program and the opportunity to participate in researching foreign economies and study abroad. 


“We actually may have increased the quality of our faculty because of that requirement, and none of us expected that. We never even thought about that,” Steagall said.


Today, the business faculty has an international flavor and such a high level of international business expertise that the subject is infused into nearly every course in the Coggin College. Coggin faculty travel abroad to attend research conferences, visit foreign businesses, lecture at overseas universities and collaborate in projects with partner universities. Visiting professors from as far away as China, Africa and Argentina come to UNF as guest lecturers offering a foreign perspective to Coggin students. 


Each year since 2000, Coggin has hosted an International Business Research Conference at which experts from around the globe discuss such topics as “understanding and integrating Chinese culture into business,” “economic crises and policy in developing countries,” and “emerging economies and the global economy.”  


The flagship also hosts an annual International Business Week. The program, which is open to the public, features two lectures each evening by experts in international business. This year, for example, Thomas J. Linsmeier, a member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, opened the program with a talk about “Financial Reporting in the Global Economy.” Dr. Alojzy Z. Nowak, a dean and economics professor at the University of Warsaw, lectured on “Economic Development in Europe 20 Years after the Fall.” 


The last night the program features a panel of students who have participated in study-abroad experiences, which at UNF includes faculty-led trips, summer school, semester abroad, year abroad and longer for graduate students. Students talk about their experiences and answer questions from the audience. They are the biggest proponents of the program, and their message is clear. They loved it and want to go back. 


This year, Coggin faculty taught undergraduate study-abroad courses in 10 countries and graduate trips in another two. The trips, which generally last 10-15 days, included courses in such diverse countries as China, Egypt, Austria, Argentina and Guatemala for undergraduates, while graduate students traveled to India or Italy for courses. 


This summer, undergraduates can choose between several one-month study-abroad programs in Argentina, France (Paris or Marseille) and Germany. 


Students also can apply to spend a semester or even a year at universities in Europe, Asia, South America or the Middle East in one of 13 countries with exchange programs with UNF. Students from those countries can attend UNF as well. The students pay tuition at their own university and earn credits toward their degree. 


Chelsi Henry, a 2009 graduate with a bachelor’s in business management, said that when she was considering studying abroad, managers at Convergys Corporation’s Jacksonville site, where she was interning in the Office of Global Inclusion and Diversity, recommended it and assured her that it would increase her opportunities both internally and externally when she returned. A number of managers pooled their frequent-flyer miles to book her airline ticket. 


Henry spent a semester in Belgium, where she studied European business strategies, policies and management techniques, learned French and used it as a base for travels throughout Europe. She said the experience was life-changing. 


“I grew as a person mentally, spiritually and culturally,” she said, “I grew out of my comfort zone. That’s the biggest thing.” 


Henry is grateful for the scholarship opportunities that were made available to her through UNF and its donors. She said it “truly made a huge impact on the success and meaning of my trip.” 


Amanda Sieusahai, a senior international business major and First Generation scholarship recipient, could be a poster child for study abroad. She participated in faculty-led trips to India and South Korea, and then spent a semester attending classes in Paris. Quiet and shy when she first arrived on campus, Sieusahai is now a confident young woman comfortable speaking to an audience of more than 200. 


“Study abroad has just made me become a much more dynamic person, made me really understand a lot more,” she said. “I understand a little bit better how everyone is more connected and that the world is a lot smaller than we think it is, so it’s really important to know more.” 


Sieusahai said the more she travels the more she wants to get other people to travel and the more she wants to give back. During spring break this year, she traveled to Peru to volunteer at an orphanage.


“I think it’s something that’s really special to UNF. I think it’s kind of unique that so many students study abroad at UNF,” Sieusahai said. “I’m happy that everyone’s learning that it’s so important.” 


Senior business management major Meredith Hough said she gained a open mind and a greater understanding of the world around her during a semester in Alicante, Spain. 


 “I now understand that there truly is more than one way to live life and I am starting to put the pieces together on how I would like to live my own,” she said. 


At the graduate level, Coggin’s GlobalMBA program has won international recognition for its approach. In the GlobalMBA program, 10 students from each of the four participating universities spend 15 months in a cohort taking classes and studying together in the United States, Germany, Poland and China. They graduate with two master’s degrees, one from UNF and one from two European universities. The GlobalMBA program won a Best Practices in International Education Award in the United States and it was one of two programs featured as models of business education in Germany’s leading news weekly. 


“As GlobalMBA students we are responsible for organizing our travel, living arrangements and all aspects of life abroad. This level of responsibility causes us to take a closer look at the culture of the country we're staying in, and creates new opportunities for learning experiences and personal development,” said Nathan Hall, a GlobalMBA student now in Poland. “The teaching styles and university organizational structures also vary from country to country, so there is much to learn from in this program beyond the classroom.” 


Hall said living abroad presents more extensive challenges and opportunities than just visiting another country for several days. Although GlobalMBA classes are taught in English, life outside of the classroom is in the language and culture of the host country. Intermingling with local students and experiencing even the more mundane aspects of life in the host countries has enabled him to learn about subtle differences between cultures, as well as surprising similarities, he said. 


“Another thing that is really interesting about living abroad is how it has changed my self-image,” he said. “When I experience other cultures firsthand, I compare what I see to my own culture. In doing that, it has made me take a second look at my own culture; my ideas of what are good or bad about life in the U.S. have been impacted by this reflection. I have started to appreciate little things from life back home, yet also seen some ways that life could be improved based on things here abroad.”  


This year, Coggin launched the Ibero-AmericanMBA, a bilingual double-degree program with universities in Spain and Argentina. The bilingual requirement illustrates the importance of foreign languages. The collapse of most American business overseas is due in part to their failure to understand foreign cultures, and language is an important part of that.  


Dr. Jeff Michelman, a professor of accounting and one of the two flagship program directors, said the lack of foreign language skills hinders UNF students from fully taking advantage of study-abroad opportunities in which classes are taught in the language of the host country. 


Recognizing that problem, Anne Sheridan Fugard, the director of the Study Abroad Department, tries to reach business students in their freshman and sophomore years, which gives them time to pick up a second language so they can spend a semester abroad.  


Coggin College gave a portion of its flagship money to the Department of World Languages in the College of Arts and Sciences to hire someone to teach Chinese. The class is growing in popularity. In addition, Fugard and Michelman have begun recruiting at local high schools that offer Chinese language classes. 


Michelman and Fugard smile at the thought of enrolling first-year students with a working knowledge of Chinese. By the time they have taken Chinese classes at UNF and spent a semester or two studying abroad in the world’s fastest-growing economic power, they will be bilingual graduates prepared to make their marks in international business. 


Employers look for job applicants coming out of college who can live in another country, in another culture and speak another language, Michelman said. 


“That says a whole lot about that student,” he said. “Can that student deal with complexity? Can that student deal with diversity? Can that student deal with change on the job?”          


While the short-term, faculty-led, study-abroad trips are valuable for opening students’ eyes to the world around them, the real benefit comes from spending a semester or more living abroad, he said. 


“It’s not just about taking classes in a foreign language,” Michelman said. “It’s not just about learning about how business works in another country. It’s learning about themselves.”