UM innovation takes global scope Double majors now available in foreign language, business.

August 05, 1991|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Evening Sun Staff

Mark Ross would like a job in Japan, David Blonder is hoping to settle in France or southern Europe, and Mark Maltby wants to move to Spain.

Right now, all three are undergraduate students at the University of Maryland College Park and plan to enter the business school this fall.

But they will be seeking a business degree with a difference.

Part of their training will include negotiating a mock free-trade agreement with students in Mexico or hammering out a drug policy with students in Argentina.

They will be pursuing a new program at the university that offers students a double major in international business and foreign language.

The program, started in the spring and to be expanded this fall, is designed to make graduates more competitive in a global market, says Dario Cortes, director of international business and foreign language studies (IBFL).

Cortes developed the idea of the double major two years ago and received a $114,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to put the program into effect. He quickly won the approval of the university's College of Business Management and College of Arts and Humanities -- two faculties unaccustomed to working together.

The IBFL studies program is aimed at making American students more competitive in the international arena.

"Business alone is not going to get them ahead," Cortes says. "After completing the degree, they will have the opportunity to be tracked into an international division or an exporting company."

The program will offer students internships with international companies in the Baltimore and Washington areas, the chance to study abroad and foreign language courses emphasizing business vocabulary. Students also will be able to practice their business and language skills in computer link-ups with students abroad.

"It sounds really great," says Blonder, from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who now lives in College Park. "It would give me an opportunity for internships."

Blonder has studied French for several years, but says he is looking forward to learning a business vocabulary and practical conversation. "We'll get to talk about current issues," he says.

Ross, a sophomore from Ocean City, tried to develop his own curriculum of Japanese and industrial marketing, but says he "was kind of lost."

He intends to enter the new program in the fall. "I think it will give me a competitive edge, something on a job application to put you ahead of everyone else."

Maltby also is studying Japanese, but doesn't plan on working in that country. At 29, he has traveled extensively and developed an interest in foreign cultures. "I had real strong feelings that we're members of a world economy," he says.

Elizabeth Nitze, director of the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore, a non-profit organization that promotes international trade, says it is essential that people develop an understanding of other cultures if they intend to do business abroad.

"It's absolutely critical in securing business and getting results," she says. "People don't necessarily see things the way we do."

James Albrecht, vice president and managing director of McCormick & Co.'s International Group, says the double major at the University of Maryland should make its graduates attractive prospects to employers. "In my job, when I see resumes coming in, it's always a plus to see people have language skills," he says.

McCormick often gives its employees a crash course in foreign language before sending them to its overseas operations in Japan, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, Venezuela, China, Singapore and other places.

"Practically everyone in headquarters staff has at least one language," he says.

Programs similar to the one at the University of Maryland are offered on a graduate level at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and on an undergraduate level at San Diego State University and Eastern Michigan University.

Students in the program at Maryland are required to take 120 credit hours to graduate, including 36 in language and 36 in business. The program started by offering Spanish, but this year it will expand to include Japanese, Chinese, French, German and Russian.

Students have the option of taking their bachelor's degrees from either the College of Business Management or the College of Arts and Humanities.

The program, while meant to be challenging to the students, may prove challenging to their professors as well. Business instructors must become more sensitive to cultural and language differences, and language instructors must begin to teach business vocabulary rather than literature.

Interest in the program has exceeded expectations. At freshman orientation sessions given this summer, graduate assistant Stephanie Baker was told to expect between five and 20 students attending her presentations on IBFL. Each time, more than 50 students have come to hear about the program, she says.

"It's been by far one of the most popular sessions," she says.

Cortes thinks the program meets a demand of students who want to put their language skills to a practical use and stand out from the pool of business graduates.

"I don't think graduating with this diploma is going to guarantee a job with IBM in Japan," Cortes says. "What it does is give you credentials and makes you more competitive when the opportunities arise."

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