From the classroom to consulting: A look inside the Global Immersion Experience 2022
How do you refine a go-to-market strategy for sustainable beanless coffee, integrate health informatics systems for nurses, scope the possibilities for mRNA technology beyond COVID-19 vaccines, and craft an expansion strategy for an international fast-food chain? And do it all online?
More than 200 UBC Master of Business Administration (MBA) students spent months preparing to offer solutions to these complex business challenges and others for this year’s dynamic virtual Global Immersion Experience (GIE).
A flagship of the UBC MBA program, the GIE is typically an opportunity where students travel abroad to consult with a local company’s management team. In 2022, students were matched with organizations based in five major cities across North America: San Diego, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Showcasing adaptability in the midst of change
Despite initial plans to move forward with an in-person format where students would travel to each destination, the COVID-19 Omicron wave at the beginning of the year resulted in a shift to a virtual format, complemented by in-person social activities in Vancouver for students and faculty members.
The change in plans tested the students’ adaptability, but also had its advantages.
“For me, it was a great opportunity that it was virtual to get to know more about Vancouver in my free time and through the social activities,” says UBC MBA student Armando Rocha.
Rocha’s classmate, Cat Aramwongtrakul, was also able to find the silver lining. For her, the online format offered a level of exposure that would have been impossible in person.
“The real advantage of the Zoom format was that we could attend any academic session hosted by other GIE destinations according to our area of interest.”
“GIE projects were a breath of fresh air”
Students had the opportunity to work with companies that were vastly varied in industries and the challenges they were facing, from the biotechnical company considering mRNA technology to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, to a public health centre looking to improve nurses’ work efficiency and job satisfaction through a digital transformation project.
Rocha worked with an early food tech company to create a marketing strategy for the launch of their beanless coffee product. He describes it as an experience where knowledge “stops being theory and becomes very practical.”
UBC MBA student Naveen Singh, who collaborated with a multinational fast-food chain to help improve their profit margins, says receiving positive feedback from their client underscored how valuable concepts from the classroom can be when applied in a real-world scenario.
“GIE projects were a breath of fresh air in that we were able to apply [our] learnings from strategy, operations, data analytics, and product marketing classes.”
UBC MBA student Regina Figueroa consulted for a biotech company exploring the business potential of investing in mRNA technology. As part of her project research, Figueroa conducted 15 hours of interviews with six leaders in the field.
“I connected with industry experts who were super kind and keen to help with the research,” she says. “The fact that most of the people I interviewed for this project are women in science was super inspirational to me.”
Embracing the culture of their host cities
The lack of travel did not mean that students were isolated from the culture of their host cities. Prior to the 2-week-long consulting project, students received destination research assignments to learn about their cities and their business environment.
Aramwongtrakul was working with a public health centre in Montreal and her research on the bilingualism of the city played an important role in creating a solution to help the centre enhance its clinical informatics system. “The system's capability to seamlessly handle both languages was a part of our key considerations,” she says.
Similarly, Rocha, who selected San Francisco, says he was able to immerse himself in the coastal California mindset. "The destination research assignment helped familiarize me with San Francisco. And with tackling the case, we had to do some secondary research about consumer behaviour in the area.”
Bonding with classmates
Though the students showcased discipline and dedication throughout the week, they still made room for some fun. Along with faculty and staff members, students participated in local social activities like curling, snowshoeing, go-karting, skiing, and dinners out, amongst other planned events. Rocha and his team competed in an Amazing Race style event and came away with second place. “We had the time of our lives,” he says.
For her part, Figueroa and two other students planned their own hiking excursion in Squamish, a town north of Vancouver that is known for its outdoor recreation. “We discovered some of the natural beauties of this province, creating our own immersion experience in B.C.”
The camaraderie among the cohort also translated to the consulting projects. When it comes to choosing a highlight from the entire experience, Singh says the compatibility of his teammates stands out, and that their diversity in perspective made them stronger.
“All of us came from different cultural and professional backgrounds which helped us to consider and incorporate cultural and business nuances while working on the project,” he says.
Considering new career possibilities
Aramwongtrakul says the client project exposed her to an entirely new industry and even inspired her to pursue a consulting career in healthcare. She started seeking out related coffee chats and job postings and recently landed an internship at the Fraser Health Authority, which she describes as a “possibility I may not have imagined without going through this course.”
For Figueroa, making it through the GIE and delivering an “outstanding” solution to the client project was a valuable confidence boost as she positions herself for life after graduation.
“The UBC MBA has shown me there are no limits to what I can do. A couple of years ago, I would have never imagined that I was capable of understanding mRNA and delivering killer research about it,” says Figueroa. “Thanks to the classes constantly pushing my limits, I am sure I can tackle anything I set my mind to.”