Community & Friends

Exporting to the Real World

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2014 by CommunityEngagement.

Dr. Nicholas Williamson’s class is anything but typical. In fact, it’s in a league of its own.

In just 12 weeks, undergraduates in “MKT 426, International Marketing” go way beyond the textbook, directly working with North Carolina-based companies to export their products to another country in a project known as Export Odyssey.

A recent research study discovered that no other program in the nation offers marketing and entrepreneurship students the kind of experience and skills they attain in Export Odyssey.

“When it comes to the mission of the university and of the Bryan School [of Business and Economics], this course hits it all: economic development, community engagement, hands-on learning,” Williamson says.

And it’s incredibly challenging. “Students must commit themselves totally. The demands are unlike just about any other course. But when they finish, they have tools that are to die for.”

Williamson has been with UNCG for 31 years, offering some form of the Export Odyssey course from the beginning. A chance encounter back in 1988 sparked one of the ideas that led to his course’s innovation and success. One day after class, Olga Topping ’88, a student from Colombia, was making a call from a pay phone in the Bryan School. A stack of quarters at her side, Topping was negotiating with a purchasing agent of a major retail chain in Bogotá.

“She was attempting to sell a brand of ladies socks that were produced in Lexington. I was so inspired by how this woman was taking what she was learning in my class and applying it directly.”

From that point on, Williamson incorporated a new course requirement: students must attempt to sell a product produced in North Carolina to at least three buyers in the foreign country that offers the best exporting potential.

Over time, Williamson has continued to evolve the course to increase students’ success. Enter Williamson’s second big idea, partnering with Steven Cramer. Cramer, a Coleman Fellow for entrepreneurship education, is the business librarian for the Bryan School. He has helped Williamson revolutionize the course by teaching students how to use hundreds of millions of electronic records pertaining to the product they are trying to sell.

“Steve worked with me to make this course come alive,” Williamson says. “He’s a wizard when it comes to electronic databases. This project isn’t just leading edge; it’s bleeding edge – absolutely at the embryonic tip of what’s happening – thanks to what he teaches.”

In addition to co-authoring Williamson’s Export Odyssey textbook, Cramer teaches students how to make highly strategic exporting decisions by analyzing internet data to determine true competitiveness.

These approaches to learning lead students to success after graduation. Olga Topping, who is now vice president and sales manager with the International Division of BBT, is just one of a long list of student success stories.

Kevin Scott ’13, whose team helped business owner Jenny Fulton export Miss Jenny’s Pickles from Kernersville to the U.K., is currently a logistics coordinator for Dravco, Inc. He says the course helped to shape his career and positioned him to succeed in a role that requires wearing many hats.

Right after graduation, Dustin Miller ’08 operated a flourishing exporting business in which he sold guitars to every major modern country in the world.

Hollis Newton ’10, ’13 MBA, brand manager for The Richards Group, sold a local manufacturer’s antimicrobial bed sheets to India while in the program. “My Export Odyssey experience has helped me stand out in interviews,” she says. “Hands-on projects like these served as irrefutable evidence of my competency and the credibility of my degrees.”

Sarah Bouchard ’13, who currently works as a marketing coordinator for Siemens Healthcare, was hired by another company even before she graduated. “I was asked about working outside of my comfort zone. Instantly I thought of Export Odyssey. Talk about out of my comfort zone! I went from learning course material in class to figuring out how to sell racing engine chemicals to France. The interviewer was amazed that it was a real exporting task, dealing with a real company and real products.”

Williamson says Cody Hughes ’13 also earned his job specifically because of his work on Export Odyssey. “Cody demonstrated to the recruiter a command of information and modes of thought necessary for successfully competing in a global economy. The recruiter looked at him and said, ‘We want you. You know what we want to know, and you’re going to lead us.’”

By Andrea Spencer, University Relations
Photography by Chris English, University Relations
Contributors: UNCG students Andrew Doyle, Aleksandra Maj, Taylor Sebastian and Shacoya Summers
Reposted from UNCG News and Features