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Students to travel to war-torn nations

Tess Civantos | Wednesday, September 8, 2010

While most MBA students will be crunching numbers or analyzing financial models, 18 MBA students will travel to Lebanon, Uganda and Kenya through the Mendoza College of Business’s “Business on the Frontlines” class — and they will work to improve the economies of these war-torn nations.

Professor Viva Bartkus teaches the class, which is open to students in the Mendoza College of Business Master’s of Business Administration program and to the Kroc Institute’s Master’s of Peace Studies students.

“Only at Notre Dame would you have a class like this,” Bartkus said.

Students in “Business on the Frontlines” spend one quarter or “mod” researching a country before traveling there for 10 days to work with Catholic charities in the country. After the trip, the students spend a second “mod” constructing a project to help build a healthy economy in that country.

The unique class has already gained admirers outside of the University. Forbes recently ranked Bartkus’ class in the Top 10 Most Innovative business school classes, which Bartkus considers proof that Notre Dame is doing something right.

“This shows the strengths of Notre Dame’s focus on values, on ethics, on Catholic social teaching,” Bartkus said. “This kind of class is at the heart of what Notre Dame should be doing.”

“Business on the Frontlines” is part of an entire initiative in the Mendoza College of Business to focus on ethical business leadership, Bartkus said.

“This is the direction that the Mendoza College of Business is heading in,” Bartkus said. “We have to ask more of business and more of ourselves.”

The students in Bartkus’ class have to beat out stiff competition to get there, contending with eighty other applicants for the eighteen prized seats.

Omar Shaban, who took the class during the 2009-10 school year, said he credits Professor Bartkus with transforming his perspective on the business world.

“Professor Bartkus is one of those professors that changes the way you look at things,” Shaban said. “She has the power to inspire her students to go out and change the world for the better — and that really showed in this class.”

Shaban and five other students went to Lebanon through the class. Six other students went to Kenya and another six went to Uganda. Students in the previous year’s class went to Bosnia as well as Lebanon.

Shaban chose to study Lebanon because of his Egyptian cultural heritage.

“This was an incredible opportunity to make an impact in a region of the world where I have cultural roots,” Shaban said. “I improved my Arabic while learning to solve business problems.”

After returning from the Christmas break Lebanon trip, Shaban and the other students in his group built an economic simulator, designed to build peaceful communities through economic interests.

“It’s essentially a game that brings together members of different religious sects that don’t want to cooperate and shows them how they can cooperate with each other economically,” Shaban said. “The different groups learn how they can benefit from each other.”

Shaban’s economic simulator is one example of the students helping the country they have researched — but their visits to the countries help the students too.

“I have a changed outlook on the role of business in the world,” Shaban said. “The role of business should be to bring people together, to unify them. Business is a powerful tool that people underestimate.”