WSU supply chain management class travels to Italy

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Karl Henkel and originally ran in AUDIBLE, which is the official gameday program of Warrior Football.

Several supply chain management majors including three football student-athletes traveled to Italy this past summer.

A student-athlete’s time commitment to his or her sport is not confined to gamedays.

There are offseason workouts, spring practices and other team activities that span most of the calendar year.

So when three Wayne State football players discovered a few off-weeks last May, they used that opportunity to take part in the university’s study abroad program.

Alex Medenbach, Trent Brodbeck and Andy Zimmerman all traveled to Italy for a couple of weeks of immersion into the global business world as part of their global supply chain studies. They came back with a new perspective on the business world and about what they want to do after they graduate.

"Before the trip, I never really considered working overseas. That thought never came into my mind," said Zimmerman, now a redshirt junior offensive tackle. "But after spending time abroad, the experience was great, and it made me think that I wouldn’t mind doing this for a couple of years if a company needed me to work in another country."

Hundreds of students now participate in the Wayne State study abroad program each year, though the reasons for doing so are unique to each student. Most students are either business majors, though there are some business minors who participate, and many are interested in careers with one of the Detroit automakers, that are constantly growing their global footprints. All must be in good academic standing.

Some students go to one of many different destinations, including China, Brazil and Europe, for the cultural experience — to discover a world outside the United States – while others look to build their skill set for their future career, and others just want to earn credits outside the traditional classroom.

Brodbeck, for example, had learned about the study abroad program in a marketing class early in his Wayne State career, and had recently completed an internship with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the Italian- American automaker that has a presence throughout most of the world. The trip to Italy was a natural tie-in to his internship and Brodbeck said the overseas trip opened his eyes to how the auto industry works and is perceived far beyond the confines of the Motor City.
 
Brodbeck, a redshirt junior tight end, recalled some of the standout moments of the Italy trip, including visiting Turin, the capital of Italy, a Maserati plant and a robotics firm.

"It was an awesome experience," he said. "Throughout the entire trip we were able to visit car companies and learn about the automotive industry from a different view than the United States."

Getting that differing viewpoint is one of the main objectives of the program, said Timothy Butler, associate professor of global supply chain management, the department that oversees the study abroad program.

"In Southeast Michigan, so many of the employers here are global," Butler said. "This provides an opportunity for Wayne State students to get outside of the United States and to experience other cultures. We are able to visit businesses, and students have experiences at other colleges along with meeting other college students."

"This is not like being a tourist. They get to meet and know people who live and work in these foreign countries and get a better grasp of what the culture is really like."

Of course, there is time for students to explore like a tourist; typically the trip is structured so that there are business meetings in the morning, cultural activities in the afternoon and free time in the evening. And often, it is the combination of those experiences that provides the greatest educational value.

For example, Zimmerman said upon getting to Italy and listening to a presentation from a U.S. expatriate and then meeting with business professionals, he learned one of the key communications differences between Americans and Italians.

"Americans are much more direct in terms of their communication," he said. "People in Italy aren’t as direct and kind of walk around getting to the point of the problem."

Making mental connections like this is important, Butler said, any career in the automotive industry – or in most businesses, for that matter – will likely at some point involve overseas work. That could be through an international service assignment, where an employee actually lives in another country for a few years, or on business trips.

"If you’re working for the automotive industry, you’re going to be working overseas probably, especially in supply chain management,” Butler said. “The students see that, and they see the opportunities that careers in automotive supply chain – and all businesses – have."

Brodbeck is one who now believes working in another country is something he wants to strive towards.

“I’m always open to that,” Brodbeck said. “I think that would be cool to work somewhere different for an international assignment. I was asked to come back to Fiat Chrysler and they’ve  got  a  lot  of  stuff going  on  in  Italy and my boss goes over there every couple of weeks.”

Medenbach, Brodbeck and Zimmerman are part of a rare class of Wayne State student- athletes who have participated in the study abroad program. Tyler Haksluoto (men’s golf ) and Steven Kudla (men’s fencing) are two other examples.

There are a couple of hurdles student-athletes (and busy students in general) must overcome. First, there are trips throughout the year of varying lengths and costs. Italy, for example, cost about $3,000, plus the tuition associated with an accompanying class that includes various reading and writing assignments. For the football players, the Italy trip was a combination of good timing and cost.

"We went to the fair and it sounded like a great trip, and it was happening in May, which is kind of the off-month for football, so everything lined up," Zimmerman said.

Butler recalled opening one student-athlete’s eyes on the most basic level and reiterated the importance of getting some international experience while in college — even if just for a few weeks.

"One student, an athlete, a couple of years ago, he had never been on an airplane before," he said. "His first airplane trip was to fly to Prague, Czech Republic, with a stop in Frankfurt, Germany."

Zimmerman vouches for the study abroad program, and said the experience was another example of how he has been able to take full advantage – albeit with a jam-packed schedule – of Wayne State’s wide range of opportunities.

"I always compare myself to a couple of my friends who go to other schools who are just students, and I think wow, they must just have nothing but free time’ because legitimately, every single one of my days during the week is fully planned out," Zimmerman said.

"I definitely feel my college experience has been different, but it will benefit me later in life because I’ll be used to working a lot and keeping up with the grind."