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Aspiring Business Students with International Immersion Experience in High Demand

If you are a college student facing imminent graduation, the anemic job market probably is sending shivers up your spine. Last month, the national unemployment rate was 9.1 percent, still high three years after the recession began. Only 54,000 new jobs were created that month, according to the Labor Department.

Yet, there is a place to look for jobs that is robust, exciting and, best of all, hiring like crazy: Abroad.

Large U.S. companies such as General Electric Co., Caterpillar Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores are all hiring for jobs abroad as markets such as Asia continue to grow briskly. Last year, for instance, heavy equipment maker Caterpillar hired 15,000 new people and more than half were for jobs overseas. Some 1.4 million jobs were created by U.S. companies overseas last year, compared with 1 million in this country, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “U.S. firms are doing far more hiring overseas than in the U.S., so for students, it’s an option,” says Robert Scott, senior international economist at EPI.

For minority students at historically Black colleges and universities and majority schools, overseas work can seem like a winner, but preparing for it takes special skills and a mindset that requires more work and discipline.

Schools such as the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business offer study tours of Latin America and a dual degree in business and Latin American studies. The University of Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business, with a 10.6 percent Hispanic enrollment, uses its location in South Florida to train students for jobs in Spanish-speaking countries.

The University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, which offers undergraduate and graduate business degrees, emphasizes global studies across the board in its business curriculum, including area studies, marketing, finance and languages. Tom Fitch, associate dean of Commerce Career Services at McIntire, says his school offers a “global immersion experience” that involves study abroad and courses that have a strong international perspective. “Finance is the most popular concentration and Asia seems to be the area of the most appeal,” he says.

Among all the schools, be they HBCUs or others, few can match Howard University’s global business programs for the intensity with which it involves students in global training.

It starts from the moment they enter as freshmen, says Cheryl Bevins, coordinator for the honors program at Howard’s business school.

The business school offers three programs: the 21st Century Advantage Program, the Center for Professional Development and the Executive Leadership Honors Program. All are aimed at prepping students, including foreign students, for careers abroad with U.S. or multinational companies.

The 21st Century program starts from the moment the students come to campus. They are assigned to teams of 15 to 20 students, reside in the same dorm and have leaders who are juniors or seniors.

The newbie global students are introduced to corporations early on. In the first term, representatives of corporate sponsors such as Bank of America, Citicorp, Goldman Sachs, the Walter Kaitz Foundation and JPMorgan Chase attend an “Adoption” ceremony where students can make early contacts.

The following spring, the teams visit corporations as their class work continues. Initiation into the culture of business is critical. “The male students must bring with them one or two conservative business suits and there should be no more than two-inch pumps (shoes) for females,” says Bevins. As the students advance, about four or five corporate chief executive officers visit the campus each year.

Some of the same concepts also hold with Howard’s Center for Professional Development in which corporate officials visit campus and sometimes hold seminars.

Students, who are typically in the top 10 percent of their classes with grade point averages of 3.5 or higher, get special instruction in such real world skills as dining etiquette, “behavioral” interviews and in the so-called “60-second elevator speech” in which a junior executive might pitch ideas to a senior executive.

The Center for Professional Development has taken students to London and New York to meet with companies. They also spend two semesters abroad — four if they are working toward an international business degree. The business school has exchange programs with colleges in France and the Netherlands.

The business honors program is likewise intensive and is the most selective. Like the others, members hone language skills, typically in Spanish, French or Japanese or, to a lesser extent, Arabic or Chinese. Students interested in other languages not offered by Howard, such as Russian, can attend classes at nearby colleges such as Georgetown.

The most popular programs are finance and accounting. In the past three years, at least 94 percent of the students have moved immediately to corporate jobs or to graduate school, Bevins says.

Indeed, other schools note that finance seems to be the quickest way to a job. That’s the case at the University of Virginia, which gets plenty of recruiters, including some from consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. Fitch says that becoming fluent in a language is not critical to getting a job offer but being internationally minded is a must.

How long the global boom can last is an open question, says Scott of the Economic Policy Institute. He says that the United States will lag in job creation until there are  â€śfundamental changes in trade and manufacturing policies.”

Until then, overseas seems to be the way to go for aspiring business students.

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