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Lessons in Leadership

Behind-the-scenes trip to China broadens MBA students’ outlook on global business

March 21, 2022

Katherine Whitman, associate professor of economics and international business, has accompanied over 500 MBA students on more than 30 trips to China since the inception of the program in 2008. Students spend nine days in China immersed in the business environment; the trip is jam-packed with lectures, tours of businesses and meetings and book-ended with sightseeing excursions.

The genesis of the program came from Whitman’s first trip to China in 1987 where, as a newly tenured faculty member, she taught Chinese executives the American economic system. This experience led her to return to China with a group of students from the Weekend/Evening & Online College. The trip was so successful that China became a regular stop for WEOC students and later a required destination for MBA students. 

Katherine Whitman, associate professor of economics and international business, has brought hundreds of students to China in a near-annual trip. She and other professors have also taken students to dozens of other countries.
Katherine Whitman, associate professor of economics and international business, has brought hundreds of students to China in a near-annual trip. She and other professors have also taken students to dozens of other countries.

“Our MBA students are successful, working adults, but a lot of them have not been outside California,” says Whitman. “To be successful leaders, we felt they needed exposure to a very different environment that takes them outside their comfort zone.”

For many students, the experience is life changing. Despite the language barrier and unfamiliar customs, students find ways to make meaningful connections with their hosts and gain a better understanding of their shared humanity.

Alan Caldwell, a graduate of the MBA program, served as cohort leader to China in 2018. He says that the trip had a profound impact on his life.

“It changed me because it allowed me to see firsthand the diplomatic point of view and the importance of respecting other countries from a political perspective,” he says. “It also taught me that regardless of where we grow up, we are all the same. And as humans we can find a way to communicate with each other.”

Like Caldwell, Sarah Counnas graduated from the MBA program in 2018. Although she has traveled extensively, the China trip was a major factor in her decision to enroll at the Mount.

“I’d never been to China, so once I found out about the trip I stopped looking at other options,” she says. “The trip was fantastic; it gave us a good glimpse into a part of China that you wouldn’t get to see as a tourist.”

Over the years, the trip has evolved from a cultural expedition to an in-depth study of Chinese businesses. Students visit a variety of organizations, including manufacturing facilities, agricultural operations and government entities. After each tour or lecture, Whitman holds a debriefing session with students to digest the information, discuss their observations and draw comparisons.

Some of Whitman’s MBA students later returned to China to study; others became involved in international business ventures as a result of the experience. But China isn’t the only country broadening students’ horizons: Whitman has traveled to 30 other countries with WEOC students from the business and humanities programs accompanied by fellow business professor, Peter Antoniou.

“Whether it’s China, Greece or Argentina, students learn to see a different point of view,” she says. “And the more we can understand the people around us, the more successful we will be in reducing the barriers to harmony in our personal and business lives.”

As the vice chair of the Los Angeles-Guangzhou Sister City Association, Whitman knows all about reducing barriers to harmony. Guangzhou was the city Whitman visited on the trip that started the Mount tradition. China Now recently published an article on the sister city 40-year anniversary and another on her extensive travels to the country.