As university graduates face an increasingly global and internationally connected marketplace, the Gatton College of Business and Economics strives to equip students with necessary experiences for success. Brendan O'Farrell, international director in Gatton, is opening doors to make those experiences possible.
As international director, O'Farrell oversees the Gatton Global Scholars Program
, a competitive program that combines immersive learning, leadership development opportunities and global perspectives for students with an interest in international business and leadership. O'Farrell also coordinates general education abroad efforts for the college.
"International experience is extremely beneficial for students seeking a career in business today," O'Farrell said. "But it's also valuable in many other areas — academically, professionally, personally. At Gatton we are committed to helping our students achieve these meaningful experiences."
This commitment involves providing an array of education abroad opportunities for students, tailored to different needs. While the Global Scholars Program requires students to spend an entire semester abroad, O'Farrell also coordinates shorter, faculty-led trips open to all of Gatton, which allow students without previous travel experience to "get their feet wet" before departing for a full semester.
In May 2012, O'Farrell led a group to Guayaquil, Ecuador, the country's financial capital, on a service-learning project. For two weeks they lived there with host families, accomplishing a two-fold goal of providing community service and gaining insight into international business.
"We worked with the only HIV/AIDS prevention organization of its kind in the country, called Fundacion Vida." O'Farrell said. "It was a great experience for us, especially to learn a lot about HIV and AIDS, and to be able to help the community out there. The students also gained a new perspective on intercultural sensitivity and cultural awareness from living with the host families."
The group also visited local businesses to see first-hand how international companies operate in countries like Ecuador. O'Farrell organized guest-lectures from local business professors to talk about the economy and the trade of Ecuador as well.
"I was very pleased with the trip because a lot of times, I think, business students can tend to get wrapped up in business coursework and careers, but we also have a lot of students that are very interested in giving back to the community and scoring other opportunities," O'Farrell said. "After we got back, we discussed: 'did this make sense for business students?' The students and I all agreed that it is still really important that we know about issues like HIV and AIDS that may be almost forgotten in our own back yard. It's important for business students to think about topical issues, whether its poverty or AIDS or what have you."
O'Farrell was also recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship to spend two weeks in Germany, focusing on international education. He said the experience will enhance his ability to aid students.
"Any time I have the opportunity to go and learn about the foreign systems and higher education systems, it helps me come back and advise students better, so that I can set expectations for them more clearly and reasonably before they go and study abroad," O'Farrell said. "Currently we have one of our bilateral exchange agreements in Gatton with WHU, the best business school in Germany. So we send students to Germany a lot, so it's good for me to be even more familiar with it."
O'Farrell will work in a seminar with German administrators to learn more about the German higher education system. The group will also break into small teams to visit different German universities and learn about the political and cultural climate of international education in Germany.
"In terms of a bigger business perspective, Germany is the biggest economy in the EU, and they have a lot of great institutions, so anytime we can go and learn about how they are thinking and operating at an administrative level, that's helpful to potentially create new partnerships and to strengthen the partnerships that we already have," O'Farrell said.
With the fall semester about to kick off, O'Farrell said he is looking forward to meeting the new class of Global Scholars and continuing his international efforts for the college.
"I feel very fortunate to be working with these students," O'Farrell said. "They are all very smart and talented, but more than that, they are really interested in giving back and helping. I get to know them really well, so that's a rewarding experience for me."