UW–Madison’s growing International Academic Internship program places students in businesses across the globe.
Prairie du Chien native Megan Bender learned about more than water distribution while serving as an intern with Abbott Fund in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last summer. The philanthropic foundation of the global health company Abbott, Abbott Fund is investing $50 million in a partnership with the Tanzanian government to help modernize the country’s health care system.
A recent graduate of UW–Madison with degrees in geological engineering, geology and geophysics, Bender worked closely with a senior engineer from a firm in England to assess the water storage and distribution system for Muhimbili National Hospital.
And while she says she had all the academic training possible — and her previous work in Rwanda with the UW–Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders had given her some good hands-on, overseas experience — Bender still had one crucial lesson to learn.
“I sometimes have trouble being patient,” she admits, “and in Africa … patience is necessary if you want to keep your sanity. I learned to push when I needed to, but also let things happen and wait for them. I think that is something very difficult for Americans to learn.”
Supplying the demand for global talent
Bender was one of 14 UW–Madison students who spent last summer interning in companies and organizations across an ocean, or sometimes two, gaining firsthand experience in international commerce and relations. This opportunity comes courtesy of UW–Madison’s International Academic Internship (IAI) program, which is administered through the Division of International Studies.
Dadid Hidayat, right, a UW–Madison engineering student, worked as an intern with PT Bakrie Telecom in Jakarta, Indonesia, one of 11 cities around the world that host IAI interns. Photo courtesy Division of International Studies
Launched just two years ago, IAI has placed 24 students in 12 different businesses in 11 cities across the world, including such locations as Nagoya, Darka, Jakarta, and Madrid. Open to students of any major, IAI addresses one of the UW’s — and the country’s — most pressing needs: the increasing demand for employees who possess the skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to successfully collaborate across cultures, nationalities and disciplines.
Recent numbers back this up. A recent survey by the American Council on Education found that 86 percent of companies reported a need for managers and employees with greater international knowledge in the decade ahead. A February 2007 Business Roundtable study revealed that one in five American jobs is linked to international trade, no matter where in the U.S. those businesses may be.
It takes a village
“We knew there was something UW–Madison could do to take students’ education one step further, to really give them the confidence and abilities they will need to be leaders in a global arena,” says Gilles Bousquet, dean of UW–Madison’s Division of International Studies. “The idea itself came as a result of a recommendation from a campuswide taskforce on international internships chaired by Professor Mason Carpenter in the School of Business.”
Indeed, building the program was itself an exercise in fruitful collaboration. In addition to the 12 —and growing — participating corporations and businesses, the division enjoyed the support of a number of UW alumni and the partnership with several campus units: the Wisconsin School of Business, College of Engineering, Institute for Cross-College Biology Education and several programs in the International Institute.
“Our campus partners were already philosophically on board,” adds Bousquet. “We are all anxious to provide our students with a competitive degree of global competence, and that means internationalizing all curricula on campus.”
It was hardly a stretch to convince folks in the private sector of the need for an initiative such as the IAI program. When Mike Warmuth, vice president of Global Engineering at Abbott, heard about the program, he immediately connected it with Abbott Fund and the work in Tanzania.
Megan Bender was selected to help Abbott Fund identify improvements for a water system and to make note of water volumes and quality from a variety of sources, setting the groundwork for a major capital investment project.
“Abbott was key to the experience,” says Bender. “The [IAI] program wouldn’t exist without the companies creating the internships, so it is really due to them that anyone gets to do these amazing things.”
Bill Linton, CEO of the Wisconsin-based biotech company Promega, and a member of the Division of International Studies’ advisory board, was a proponent of the project from the start. During the inaugural internship in summer 2006, his company hosted an intern in its Netherlands office. This year, Ben Hesprich, a UW–Madison senior majoring in management and human resources, is interning in Promega’s office in Madrid.
“In terms of an internship, it’s essentially perfect!” Hesprich wrote in a recent e-mail to Michael Morris, the university’s IAI director. “I get to manage my own project, Promega supports me on everything, my manager is fantastic and I am able to get a lot done in a day. Plus I get to enjoy Spain … [and] more recently other countries (Italy, Morocco, Romania).”
Precisely because Madrid, not to mention Morocco, is a far cry from Fond du Lac, Hesprich’s hometown, the time he’s spending interning overseas will pay big dividends, even if he lives and works in Wisconsin for the rest of his life.
Thinking globally, acting locally
David Scharfman, UW–Madison Chinese and political science major, interned inside the U.S. last summer. He says his time at the Wisconsin Department of Commerce’s International Division helped him to understand just how much the need for global talent has hit his home state.
Tasked with helping to write the trade briefs for businesses looking to make ties in China and Japan, this Madison native was surprised by the breadth of Wisconsin companies participating in last summer’s trade missions to Asia.
“It was everything from agricultural businesses — literally dairy farmers — to small motors companies, agricultural machine manufacturers. There was even an outboard motor company,” he says.
Having previously lived in Tianjin, China, on a UW–Madison study abroad program, Scharfman found he was best equipped to address issues surrounding etiquette and current events laid out in the 41-page brief.
“Having the background of living there, you can put things in context,” he explains, admitting that giving up his summer to work 20 hours in a downtown office was, more often than not, “a grind.”
Still, Scharfman recalls one shining moment. When the governor of Heijianglong Province (Wisconsin’s sister province) was visiting with Gov. Jim Doyle and then Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Mary Burke, Scharfman discovered he was the only non-Asian person in the room who was able to speak Chinese. Greeting the governor proved to be a highlight for both of them.
“He was really surprised that the ‘Giant White Guy’ could speak Chinese,” Scharfman says with a laugh.
Kristin Kroes, a native of Racine and UW–Madison marketing major, interned at JohnsonDiversey’s Singapore office. The experience gave her a chance to try out real-world skills, from calculating a product’s market potential to writing business e-mails. Photo courtesy Kristin Kroes
Making it work
Despite these unique and sometimes exotic highlights — Bender says that taking time for a safari fulfilled a lifelong dream — all of the students acknowledge that the internships were, well, work.
Moreover, a few of the interns had remarkable responsibilities. Kristin Kroes, for example, a native of Racine and UW–Madison marketing major, interned at JohnsonDiversey’s Singapore office. There, she completed an analysis for an odor neutralizer, GoodSense, that included assessing market potential for the Asia Pacific, product positioning and competitive advantages.
Beyond the challenge of learning to calculate market potential, says Kroes, most of what she learned was just downright practical, including “how to write business e-mails,” all of which is helping her in her job interviews. And while she is applying for work at JohnsonDiversey (based, after all, in her hometown), she’s looking for work throughout the Midwest.
Adding to the demands of working abroad, financial aid can be tricky to come by, especially for those who have already graduated.
“Summer is the time when students who need to make money, do,” says Bender. “[Without financial support] most will go for the job, rather than paying the fee and not making money for three months.”
This is where UW alumni such as Jack Lavin step in. By supporting the IAI program, Lavin and other alumni are helping to ensure that students do not have to choose financial sacrifice over valuable global experience.
And the internships have clearly changed the student’s job searches and preferences. Bender says she now wants to work in Africa, no matter what. Although she prefers to work with Abbott, if that doesn’t work out she’ll join the Peace Corps in February.
Scharfman, who laments that the demand for Chinese and political science majors is “surprisingly low,” says he hopes to work “for a lobbying firm as a consultant to China, or in a think tank — just doing something intellectually stimulating in a field I’m interested in and actually good at.”
Still others like Ben Hesprich are having a hard time seeing beyond the internship itself.
“There is one very important thing I would like you to stress,” Hesprich wrote in his e-mail from Madrid. “PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE convince Promega to extend this internship … forever!”