by Sarah Small
High-fashion designs and luxury sport cars aren’t common sightings in Champaign-Urbana, but when a group of 23 students traveled to Milan over Winter Break, they experienced some of Italy’s most recognized industries and studied the businesses behind them.
The students are all members of the LEAD, Leadership Education and Development, program, an organization for minority high school students interested in pursuing careers in business or engineering where the students spend three weeks taking classes at participating universities. Although the summer program is short, Victor Mullins, associate dean, said participants remain in the LEAD network long after they finish their summer program.
“The concept of LEAD is an ongoing network,” Mullins said. “LEAD has family all over those countries that link the network together. Everybody’s benefiting from the network.”
Despite this strong network around the country, Mullins said ILLINOIS also decided to develop an internal LEAD network to allow students to connect and provide one another with support and advice, to give the students the resources to help them succeed in and out of the classroom.
“The great thing about it is we were all together because of (LEAD) and we really all stayed together; in classes, we study together,” said Bruce Ackerman, a junior studying Information Systems and Information Technology. “We have monthly meetings and talk about different issues. It’s not always about business, sometimes whole life lectures.”
As part of its effort to internalize the LEAD network, ILLINOIS became the first school with a LEAD program to takes its students abroad. The program made its inaugural trip to Costa Rica last year, and in January the group took its second trip, this time to Milan.
“Statistically, there aren’t a lot of students of color that study abroad,” Mullins said. “We want to take our LEAD groups abroad so they can come back and be excited to do a semester, or even a shorter trip, abroad.”
“The trip was an international business experience,” said Imani Green, a sophomore studying Marketing. “The focus was to learn about business internationally and business in Europe.”
Each day, the students participated in different activities that helped them understand Italian business and Italian culture.
They took classes at Bocconi University in Milan, which is the top business university in Italy and is sometimes called the “Harvard of Milan.”
Two professors met with the students and lectured on different aspects of the Italian economy, said Paul Magelli, senior director of the ILLINOIS Business Consulting Academy for Entrepreneurial leadership, who was one of the faculty members who accompanied the students on the trip.
From these professors, the students learned about regional variations in the Italian economy and the intricacies of the Italian fashion industry.
To supplement what they learned at Bocconi University, the students visited Italian companies. They made trips to a family-run winery, the designer furniture company, Kartell, and the Lamborghini factory. The group also made a brief trip to Switzerland to visit a high-fashion mall.
“The companies we visited were all really cool,” Green said. “We really go to immerse ourselves in the Italian experience. I really soaked everything up that I could.”
To experience the Italian culture, the students also traveled to Venice and Lake Como.
For Magelli, the trip was special because his parents were born in Italy and his roots still run deep with the country, and he said the opportunity to watch the students experience Italy for the first time was special.
“I saw a transformation to them in that they adapted to a culture that they probably didn’t know much about before,” Magelli said.
“It was amazing,” said Green. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trip was amazing and more than I ever expected to experience.”
For additional information, visit: http://www.leadprogram.org