One of the hallmarks of a business education at Stevens is learning to work effectively in groups. So it’s perhaps fitting that students in the weekend executive master’s program toured one of history’s greatest group projects — the Great Wall of China — on a study abroad trip to Asia in late October.
For Alessandra Veronesi, the trip offered incredible perspective and a chance to apply some of her classroom learning in a practical setting.
“The trip challenged my assumptions and gave me a different perspective on life,” said Veronesi, a project specialist with Verisk Analytics. “That was an unexpected perk from being surrounded by history and greatness, and seeing the power of what people can do when they work together.”
Working together effectively is a crucial part of her coursework at Stevens, and while her day-to-day job doesn’t involve building walls, the product innovation and Big Data work she’s responsible for does involve effective leadership, communication and presentation skills — all emphasized in business coursework at Stevens.
“The biggest difference at Stevens is the element of teamwork, which has been really essential in ways I couldn’t have predicted,” she said. “At least 50 to 75 percent of the coursework is done in groups, which is definitely more adaptive to real life and the workplace. Group projects are more useful, in terms of learning about myself and learning how to cope with different problems. It’s been really useful to me.”
Getting to visit China, including the opportunity to speak with executives and tour company operations, was useful as well — in fact, Veronesi said, it was a key reason she chose Stevens. Stevens has a number of close relationships to some of China’s most respected schools, such as Chongquing University of Posts and Telegraphs and Central University of Finance and Economics.
The chance to speak with executives was rewarding for Maria Bell, who took particular interest in hearing from Pam Cheng, president of Merck’s Chinese operations and an alumna of Stevens. That’s partly because of Cheng’s educational background, but also because they both work in healthcare — Bell is a clinical researcher of oncology at Morristown Medical Center. At a time when the U.S. healthcare system is such a headline issue, learning about how China is handling its own issues was interesting to her.
“One of the things Pam talked about was the pressure on their health care system,” Bell said. Hospitals and community clinics “are rather chaotic, because they are so crowded and busy, and she told us a number of people that work in her company are medical professionals who were burned out by that pressure.”
Her ability to speak to a range of issues about her industry and the country also stood out.
“She has learned very well how to speak to multiple audiences, when to bring out the business side vs. the engineering side vs. the people side. I think she got a very good grounding in that starting at Stevens,” said Bell, who has a son attending Stevens.
In addition to Merck, students visited Baidu, Lenovo, Nokia and Microsoft, among others. The variety of industries had a common thread of technology and innovation; Paul Ngai, a principal at Xogene, said a takeaway for him was that China “is no longer a country of copycats. The companies we visited are focusing on driving innovation to stay competitive. The duration from concept to product must be shortened to months if you plan to stay competitive in China.”
Hearing executives — many of whom were Americans who sought professional opportunities in China — discuss the challenges and rewards of working in a foreign country where there is so much demand to succeed.
'Merging worlds together'
“Meeting with the executives was extremely valuable,” Ngai said, “because the group was able to learn what was important to the company, as well as the challenges of doing business in China, from people working closely with the CEO.”
For Veronesi, the visit with Baidu — the Google of China — was the most exciting. It felt, she said, a lot like Facebook and other Silicon Valley titans, “but at same time, you could feel you were still in China.”
“It really felt like they’re really merging worlds together,” Veronesi said. “They’re doing their best to create a corporate culture that’s not necessarily traditionally Chinese, but leveraging the Chinese culture.”