Crossover: X-Culture engages biz students around the globe

Matthew Englebert and his team were knee-deep in the corporate scramble, planning a McDonald’s expansion into Mongolia and up against a series of deadlines. His teammates were scattered across various time zones; some team members pulled their weight, others didn’t.

Sound real world? Sure. But it was only a test–run.

Englebert, a UNCG student, was among more than 1,600 students worldwide who took part this spring in the X-Culture project, designed by Vas Taras, a business professor in UNCG’s Bryan School of Business and Economics. X-Culture pulls together business students from universities around the world who work in randomly-assigned teams to complete theoretical proposals for multinational corporations.

“Traditional projects can definitely be dull,” says Englebert, now interning for VF Corporation in Belgium. “From past experience, many seem to lack that ‘real world’ feel, failing to encapsulate the true business experience. X-Culture is much different. You are working with seven or eight other people from around the world, all collaborating for nine weeks to reach a common goal. The project teaches you the importance of constant communication with teammates to ensure everyone is on the same page as it is not something that can be finished a week before the due date.”

The project, designed primarily to provide hands-on experience for students, has also yielded a rich minefield of data for Taras and his colleagues. They are preparing several articles for publication in professional journals, looking at how the curriculum impacts student performance and job readiness for the global market.

So far, X-Culture seems to improve grades and test scores. Even more importantly, it seems to further cross cultural understanding. “Based on questionnaires before and after X-Culture, we found that before starting the project, students expected their perceived differences to have a negative effect on their interactions. Afterwards, most saw those differences as positive,” said Taras, a native of Ukraine.

The idea seems to be catching fire with students says Taras, who launched X-Culture in 2010. “The number of applications keeps increasing. We are trying to come up with ways to keep it at a manageable level, to increase size without increasing the complexity.”

Business professors at universities around the world – a diverse mash-up that includes Vilnius University in Lithuania, Koc University in Turkey, Ghana’s KNUST School of Business and Rikkyo University in Japan – sign on to the X-Culture protocol as part of their curriculum for the semester.

Taras hopes to get global corporations involved to provide more funding and increase networking opportunities for students. X-Culture currently exists on a shoestring budget. As Taras says, “We are running on pure enthusiasm.”

Not only could participating companies submit problems as real-life case studies but they would also have access to a tested pool of talented, well-trained students.

“Each year, corporations would gain access to the brains of 2,000 students around the world and get those services for free, whether for market assessment or problem solving,” Taras says. “These are the best and brightest and they will be doing this professionally half a year later. It’s sort of like a semester-long interview. My dream is that eventually we’ll have students not just meeting with each other but meeting at corporations and shaking hands with the CEO.”

A few teams plan to market their business plans. One group is pushing a 24-7 delivery service for McDonald’s.