Starkville — Although it’s been in existence less than 10 years, Mississippi State University’s (MSU’s) international business program has already come to national prominence. Started in 1996 and with 250 current students, the program is one of the best-kept secrets in the country, according to director John Lox, and ranks among the top five of 20 such programs in the nation.
“We rank by many measures; for example, starting salaries of our graduates,” he says. “The demand for what we’re putting out is high. For 40 intern slots available we only have 15 people available, and that’s the same demand we have for jobs. We’re an anomaly for a young program.”
One of those recent graduates is Allen Sims, who is now employed at Federal Express’ world headquarters in Memphis as a product manager after serving an internship in Mexico.
“I manage two products — international priority freight and international economy freight — and I am responsible for growing these products in market share and in profitability,” he said. “I began with FedEx in Miami as a marketing analyst responsible for pricing decisions for Mexico.”
Sims, who’s from Ellisville and graduated from South Jones High School, was originally an engineering student at MSU before switching to business. “I was looking for something to differentiate myself from everyone else pursuing business degrees,” he says of his choice to enter the international business program. “The IB program offered a good balance of business and cultural education. The thing that really attracted me was the opportunity to do an international internship, which really jump started my career and is responsible for where I am now.”
Significant work experience abroad
Lox points out that students in MSU’s IB program earn two degrees — not to be mistaken for a double major. One degree is in foreign language through the College of Arts and Sciences, and the other is a bachelor of business administration degree through the College of Business and Industry. Students are required to have a concentration in the business area that includes accounting, finance and logistics along with international business courses. A hallmark of the IB program, however, is the requirement for a cultural immersion and significant work experience outside the United States. The time frame for the internship is six weeks to one semester with four to six months the typical time frame for work outside the U.S. MSU students have served internships in 32 countries.
“Students can’t go to France and take tennis or recreation for their cultural immersion,” Lox said. “Our program is academically challenging and very demanding. We have solid students with an average grade point average of 3.3 out of a possible 4.0 and half of them have a 3.5 or better.”
He says most students are invited back to work permanently for the companies with whom they do internships. “These are companies to die for; companies such as FedEx and Citigroup whose employees typically go to Wharton, Stanford and New York University,” he said, “and those companies hire from those MBA programs.”
Lox, who came to MSU as an executive in residence after working in eastern Europe, says part of the IB program’s success is because the university runs it as a business rather than strictly as an academic program. The former Unilever executive even teaches a non-academic corporate boot camp course at night. Instructors from throughout the university teach in the program.
“We go well above and beyond academic requirements and use all mediums to get these kids up to date,” he said. “As a product of the corporate world, I know what these executives want. Our students are tested well as to time management, too.”
Students in the program come from all over the United States with a good mixture from Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and pockets outside the South. There are also students from France, Germany, Japan, Mexico and other foreign countries. Word about the program is spreading through MSU graduates working outside the country and because savvy high school students visit the Web site.
“Other programs may be better known, but right now our facts speak for themselves, and we’re working at becoming better known,” Lox said. “We’ve had good support from a group of businesses in Mississippi who do work outside the U.S.”
The director feels graduates of the IB program have an international aspect that helps them better understand the global economy. He points out that today 95% of the world’s population lives outside the U.S.
“These graduates have a better ability to suspend judgment because of the cultural/language side, and they can lead a diverse work force,” he said. “A domestic person doesn’t get it.”
Stephanie Russell is working at Citigroup, the largest financial services company in the world, where she finds the corporate environment dynamic, intense and competitive. “I enjoy working for a major corporation because my characteristics and knowledge base fit well in that environment,” she said. “The IB program was beneficial to me by exposing opportunities to travel overseas, network with students, staff and external sources and learn cultural differences.”
A graduate of Ocean Springs High School, Russell was reared in several different countries as a military dependent. The IB program at MSU appealed to her because it focuses on an international perspective, which she values. She is also pleased with the above-average job placement after graduation.
Nineteen-year-old Natallia Yarotskaya hails from a part of the former USSR, the Republic of Belarus, Grodno in eastern Europe. She has been studying English since age seven and came to Mississippi as an exchange student in high school. For college, MSU was her first choice because she is convinced they have the best international business program in the nation.
“It is challenging enough to produce graduates who are ready to compete in the workforce for best business jobs with a high likelihood of attaining those jobs,” she said. “I am completely in love with our program because it focuses on each student, assessing individual needs and providing help and support if needed.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.