Rowan-Cabarrus students get a taste of global collaboration

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 19, 2014

SALISBURY — This semester, seven students from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College are studying abroad — almost.
The students joined Karen Lynden, business administration and marketing instructor, 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 the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Rowan-Cabarrus is the first community college accepted into the program. Of the 200 applications for 93 slots, about half were from the United States.
“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 due in May. Each student will be assigned to a team 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.
Lynden says 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.”
As of 2013, 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,” says Dr. Rod Townley, the college’s vice president of academic programs, 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.”
“Students are finding tools I’ve never even heard about. The students are teaching me about new technologies.”
Lynden says she chose a wide variety of students who are at different stages of their degree pursuits. 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.
Students completing the program also receive a global collaboration certificate, which Lynden believes will benefit her students in the job search process.
Students who get 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.