by Amy K. Lavender

Over the winter break, five University of West Georgia students returned from India with just as many awards in hand from the International Economic Conference near Mumbai, India. The students presented their research on global risk management at the conference and brought home the awards for Best Innovative Solution, Team Best Speaker, Team Outstanding Contributor, Best Runner-Up Presentation and 3rd Overall.

Group of students lined upThis year, UWG’s team was assigned to assess the global risk management of Israel. The team began preparing for the conference back in the spring by researching the geopolitical, environmental, societal, economic and technological aspects of Israel’s global risk management.

“These students put in many long hours to prepare for this event,” said Associate Professor Dr. John Upson, who accompanied the students to India. “It all started with try-outs in May, then three months of researching and writing a 35-page paper. Finally, they had to come up with a creative presentation. On top of that, they had to complete their semester a week early so they could travel during final exams week.”

The team met almost every week throughout the semester to finish the presentation. They then met with Upson as well as three other Richards College of Business professors—Dr. Kim Green, Dr. Susana Velez and Dr. Salil Talpade—to get feedback on their presentation and their research. By early December, the team was ready to face the competition.

“We were up against some really sharp students, and we knew we had to do our best,” said team member Abigail Samunda. “So we brought a different approach and did our presentation like a TV show similar to SharkTank. We got a little creative with it.”

Samunda was awarded the individual awards of Team Best Speaker and Team Outstanding Contributor. The remaining awards were bestowed upon the entire team. Upson said he was proud of the team and all the hard work they put into their preparation.

“Presenting in a different culture to a foreign audience while still somewhat jet-lagged is a challenge in and of itself,” Upson noted. “Nonetheless, our team performed very well. Being a part of the event for six years, we have built up some friendly rivalries with some of the other schools, so our team had to be on top of their game. By placing third overall this year, we have now finished among the top three teams in four of the six years we have attended the competition. Having a program like this at UWG really sets us apart from our peer institutions.”

Team member Wesley Hammonds agreed that the conference was a challenge.

“The competition was very stiff,” Hammonds recalled. “We went in really confident, but there were a lot of talented teams. The main thing I took away from the whole experience is that we, as students in the United States, need to take advantage of opportunities that we have here. Those students we met are just as smart as us, but they’re limited in their opportunities compared to us.”

Though it wasn’t Samunda and Hammonds’ first trip to a foreign country, it was their first trip to a developing nation. They said the experience was nothing short of eye-opening.

“It was interesting to see the environmental background and take all the research that we had done on all these countries before our trip and then see first-hand how people live their everyday lives,” Samunda said. “And there were so many people. I mean it wasn’t like Carrollton or Atlanta. There are a lot of people in Atlanta, but there were people everywhere in Kaylan.”

Hammonds said the reception the students received was also unexpected.

“The Indian people were just so very warm and welcoming,” Hammonds explained. “We were hosted by families when we visited Birla College, and everyone was just so nice.”

After their competition, the students had the opportunity to meet other co-eds at Birla College of Arts, Commerce & Science and learn about each other’s cultures first-hand through an exchange student opportunity.

“So we got to learn more about Indian culture and about the students and how they live in India through these workshops that we did,” Samunda explained. “We even learned about their dances and food rituals that are important to their culture. That was really valuable to learn, especially from a business point of view.”

Overall, Hammonds said they had an outstanding learning experience on multiple fronts.

“We had a blast. That experience that the competition gave us and being able to share ideas was invaluable in itself, but then being in India and seeing their culture and experiencing it first-hand—it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.

Upson said he was pleased to see all the students make the most of their time in India.

“These students educated themselves on their topic and India, engaged in activities all day every day and really experienced the culture of India,” he said. “Everything we teach about cultural immersion, they did, and they learned a great deal from it.”

Posted on January 9, 2017