KALAMAZOO — After 15 months of intensive study, students in Western Michigan University’s first full degree overseas MBA program received their degrees this summer.
Twenty Southeast Asian professionals have been part of the inaugural class of WMU’s Haworth College of Business Singapore master of business administration program. Employed by international companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Citibank, Westinghouse Electric and the Royal Bank of Canada, the students attended intensive 10-day training courses with WMU faculty from May 2000 until the end of this summer.
A dozen business faculty members traveled to Singapore to teach this first group, with pre-course work and follow-up conducted via the Internet.
Faculty development was a driving factor behind the decision to open a Singapore MBA program last year.
“One of the many reasons we did this was because it is good for our professors and we honestly sent some of the best people we have,” said Jim Schmotter, dean of the Haworth College of Business at WMU.
He also added that he wanted more WMU faculty members to experience life in Southeast Asia, interacting daily with students and business people and then bringing that knowledge back to their Kalamazoo classrooms. That aspect of the program, he said, also has proven a rousing success.
The students, with an average age of 35, received their degrees in July at a ceremony in Singapore. Two of the graduates traveled to Kalamazoo in June to attend commencement exercises held on the main campus as well
“We’re really delighted with the initial success of this program,” said Schmotter. “The caliber of the students has been impressive and the members of this first class will make excellent alumni. We’ve learned some things, certainly, but overall we’re quite pleased.”
Jack Ruhl, chairperson of WMU’s department of accountancy, taught an MBA course in Singapore last fall. He made a number of professional contacts while overseas, and he is already planning a joint research project with one of his Singapore MBA students to investigate health-care insurance reimbursements in the region.
“The students were extremely bright, and they all have significant work experience,” said Ruhl, who is planning a sightseeing trip with several former students when he returns to the country in November. “At this level, there was no language barrier — except on my part. After experiencing the difficulty of communicating day-to-day in another culture, even just to order a meal, I have a much deeper understanding of the difficulties our international students face in Kalamazoo. It was an eye-opening experience.”
In the Singapore MBA market, WMU faces tough competition from U.S. competitors such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and the University of Chicago, as well as Australian and British universities.
The Haworth College of Business program is set apart by competitive pricing, skilled faculty members on site and long-term commitment to Singapore, according to Schmotter.
“A lot of these programs come and go very quickly,” he noted. “We have made it clear that we intend to stay in Singapore for the long haul. It is, after all, the business hub of Southeast Asia, and there are a multitude of benefits for this university and for the Singapore students we serve. We could scarcely resist the match.”
The Singapore MBA program focuses on international management with a strong emphasis on Asia-Pacific business issues. The Haworth College of Business is partnering with the Center for American Education in Singapore to deliver the program, which meets all standards of The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB International). The center also provides classrooms and support for faculty in Singapore.
“I think the first group was very enthusiastic and did very well,” Schmotter said. “This is good for the university in so many ways; it is good for our faculty and on an even bigger scale this program expands our visibility to a global level.”