SALISBURY - This semester, seven students from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College are studying abroad.
The students, along with Karen Lynden, business administration and marketing instructor, are participating in X-Culture, a program that places students all over the world in teams. Together, the teams collaborate to solve real-world challenges from real companies.
“I found the program by researching curriculum development ideas,” Lynden says. “We’re always looking for ways to connect our students with real-world opportunities.”
The program is the brainchild of Dr. Vas Taras, a professor at the Bryan School of Business and Economics at UNC-Greensboro.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is the first community college accepted into the program.
Of the 200 applications for 93 slots, about half were from the United States, so the competition was fierce.
“The best predictor of student success is the diligence of the professor in the application,” Taras says. “Everything was literally perfect on Karen’s application. I’m very optimistic that these students will do as well or better than everybody else.”
Lynden’s seven students will work on a project that’s due in May. Each student will be assigned to a team comprised of members from different countries. This project will take the place of the assigned class project. All projects are done outside of class. One of the College's librarians, Tim Hunter, is helping Lynden put together a workshop on the tools the students will need to collaborate successfully.
“Even though they are competing, they can bounce ideas off each other,” Lynden says of her students.
Lynden admits that the project will be more rigorous than the normal class assignment.
“Just the dynamic of working in a virtual team is fantastic to practice,” Lynden says. “Even though our students may not ever leave the two-county area, they will be working with and managing people from outside the area.”
She adds, “I feel like it’s going to give them an edge in their careers.”
"It’s also terrific exposure to the international community," says Dr. Rod Townley, the College’s vice-president of academic programs.
As of 2013, some 3,000 master’s and undergraduate students from 75 universities on six continents participated in X-Culture in a given semester. Even though the collaboration is international, English is the primary language.
The students will begin their eight-week project during the first week of March.
Taras’ original plan was to find one professor in a different country who would help facilitate the program. Late one afternoon in 2010, he sent an email to colleagues in the Academy of International Business. Within an hour, he received 25 responses from all over the world, and X-Culture was born. The “X” stands for “cross,” as in “cross-culture.”
At first, students were given hypothetical situations, Taras says. “Then companies started coming to us.”
Students have worked with a number of companies including Home Depot, Mercedes-Benz, and even a small bicycle shop in downtown Greensboro.
“It’s like traveling abroad,” Townley says of X-Culture. “It changes your worldview. This is the next best thing.”
He adds, “It will be a rigorous program. Our students will be working with undergraduates and graduate students at four-year colleges.”
Already, Lynden’s students have learned about collaboration.
“Our staff is working in a multi-campus college. That’s our dynamic,” she says. “We’re continually working together and collaborating, and our students mirror this model.”
The ability to communicate on multiple platforms has shrunk the world, and enabled X-Culture students to have an experience not possible even five years ago, Taras says. “In my case, it was just good timing.”
Tools that students will use for online collaboration include Google Docs, Dropbox and numerous free video chat options and web 2.0 tools — all free. Taras noted that it has to be technology to which all students have access. Students in China, for example, still can’t use Facebook.
“Students have to deal with that and switch to other platforms,” Taras says.
On the other hand, he points out, “Students are finding tools I’ve never even heard about. The students are teaching me about new technologies.”
Lynden says that she chose a wide variety of students who are at different stages of their degree pursuits.
“These are really good students,” she says.
The students come from Lynden’s classes in marketing research, international business, and leadership and management.
A nominal fee of $200 covers the cost of the X-Culture project, which Townley believes is well worth it.
“It’s an absolutely great investment,” he says. “It will be a wonderful experience for our students.”
Townley hopes eventually that the College can offer brief study abroad experiences.
“We’re aiming toward that goal,” he says.
Students completing the program also receive a global collaboration certificate, which Lynden believes will benefit her students in the job search process.
Students who receive best team awards are invited to X-Culture Symposiums, held in conjunction with the Academy of International Business conferences. In 2013, Home Depot in Atlanta and Mercedes-Benz in Istanbul, Turkey hosted symposiums.