Global Learning Links Cultures
Marketing Project Brings Students Together
Thanks to a nine-week summer program, GCC students in the online Intro to Business class (GBS 151) are connecting with MBA students in Ghana and learning from each other.
Richard Shortridge is teaching the class. He also leads a marketing class in Ghana, through St. Louis-based Webster University, which has a campus in Accra, the capital of Ghana. His students in Ghana are pursuing their MBAs; most work in banking or finance. They are similar in age to the GCC students. Both groups welcome the educational exchange.
Shortridge’s students have been assembling marketing proposals and promotional plans for hypothetical products to be manufactured in Ghana and distributed in the United States.
Business-management student Tiffany Baker leads the six-member “Team Laurence,” named for the Ghanaian student with whom the group is working. Baker serves as point person for correspondence with Laurence, helps coordinate group input and acts as prime motivator for the team.
As a project focus, Laurence suggested Alomo Bitters, a product made from tropical plant extracts native to Ghana. In Ghana and other parts of Africa it is billed as having medicinal properties, yet it is largely unknown in the U.S.
Team activities began with a SWOT analysis (evaluating the product’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to determine whether the Ghanaian product can be produced and distributed cost-effectively in the U.S. Next came a marketing and promotional plan.
“I don’t know if it will really be possible to set up a distributor and import the product – we’ve had to make some assumptions, such as FDA approval – but what we’ve done would definitely get the ball rolling,” said Baker.
Shortridge noted that GCC students generally have limited opportunities for exposure to international business. He hopes to close that gap with the online class.
Though the GCC students have been communicating with their Ghanaian peers in English, communication hasn’t been easy. Challenges include differing time zones, varying holiday schedules, uncertain Internet connections and other distance-related disruptions. To bridge the gap, the students have relied on e-mail and text messages, and have posted project information and conducted discussions on Canvas.
Adding to the logistical challenges are cultural differences, including differing concepts of time. In Ghana, for instance, appointment times might be looser, whereas in the U.S., a 3:00 p.m. appointment means precisely at 3:00 p.m. Also, communication is typically more direct for Americans than for Ghanaians.
What has Baker learned through this experience? “Trying to market a product is not easy,” she said. “But whether it takes off or not, we’re treating it seriously.”
Treating the project seriously has meant some serious commitment for team members, some of whom, like their Ghanaian colleague Laurence, are not only taking classes, but making a living and managing families. Baker, a parent with both a full-time job and a part-time job, has had to be creative about scheduling.
“The time difference has meant I might get e-mails from Laurence at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning; granted, I’m awake, but I’m just getting home from work, and I’m tired, and need to be at work again in just a few hours.” She cites the flexibility of team members as a factor in their ability to accomplish the project. One team member has even met her at Denny’s to discuss the project at 11:00 p.m. after her work shift.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” said Baker. “The class is important, and the project is part of the grade. If I have to work on it at 4:00 in the morning, I’ll do it.”
Shortridge counsels mutual patience and understanding and believes that outcomes – learning about each other and how to work together – outweigh the challenges and make the effort worthwhile. “Intercultural learning projects can help GCC students think more globally, understand cultural differences, work with those in other countries and deal with technical issues – all of which can strengthen the students’ resumes,” he said.
He remarked that there is a significant demand for Americans who can work internationally. Yet the high cost of air fare and international travel is placing more importance on working together through Skype, e-mail, Facebook and other technology tools.
Shortridge, full-time faculty at GCC for 26 years, formerly chaired GCC’s Business and Information Technology department for 15 years. He is eager for the broader community to know such international initiatives are underway. “I want students at GCC to know there’s a big world out there – and that GCC offers a breadth of programs that can help them understand it,” he said.
Baker plans to enroll in the NAU transfer program at Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) after she finishes at GCC. She’s looking forward to continuing her education on a community-college campus, where classes are smaller and personal relationships are nurtured. “I like my teachers to know my name,” she said. “They make an impression on me and I make an impression on them.”