The Liberal Arts as a Practical Art
The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business
Dr. Peter Drucker, America's foremost authority on business management issues, makes the case that management is "what tradition used to call a liberal art--'liberal' because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; 'art' because it is practice and application. Managers draw on all the knowledge and insights of the humanities and the social sciences--on psychology and philosophy, on economics and history, on the physical sciences and ethics. But they have to focus this knowledge on effectiveness and results--on healing a sick patient, teaching a student, building a bridge, designing and selling a user-friendly software program."
In a globalized economy, sound business practices--even when they are founded on principles imparted by an education at the world's number-one business school--are not enough to guarantee success. International business practitioners need an in-depth understanding of the culture and the political and social institutions in the part of the world where business operations are being conducted. What marketing strategies are appropriate? How will the indigenous government or the other party view a particular business deal, and what will be its impact on worker welfare, regional employment, or sectorial competition? How are the management hierarchies and accounting procedures different? What is the proper etiquette for meals, greetings, or gift giving? How do I treat colleagues and noncolleagues? What is my place in this culture? In a shrinking, increasingly interdependent world where success demands that the foreign become familiar, Penn's School of Arts and Sciences has teamed up with the Wharton School to create the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business.
In January 1997, alumnus Jon Huntsman, W'59, founder, chairman, and CEO of Huntsman Chemical Corporation, donated $10 million to endow the program. The chemical company, with annual revenues of more than $5 billion, is based in Salt Lake City and conducts operations at 81 sites world wide. "Globalization is the single most dramatic change factor affecting business," said Huntsman when presenting the gift. "Our family is proud to endow a program that is the first to fully integrate comprehensive international studies into a business curriculum for undergraduates in order to prepare them to work effectively anywhere."
The Huntsman Program, the first of its kind in the U.S., integrates a liberal arts education with advanced language training and business education. Providing highly motivated students with a first-class professional education along with an understanding of the political, economic, and cultural complexities of the world, the program combines SAS's strengths in innovative language instruction, social sciences, history, and cultural studies with Wharton's expertise in business education. Huntsman students pursue a joint degree in the liberal arts and business--they take 40 course units, four to eight more than are required by more conventional undergraduate programs--and graduate in four years with a B.A. in international studies from SAS and a B.S. in economics from Wharton. In May, the Huntsman Program graduated its first class.
"A globally oriented education" is how Huntsman senior Vivian Liu characterizes the program. "The single most important factor in international business," she argues, "is culture--being proficient in the language as well as understanding the local mindset and customs. Technical skills like what we learn at Wharton are important, but there are tons of bankers and accountants one can hire who can provide these skills. It's more important to see the big picture." Liu studied for a semester in China.
The program is highly competitive and recruits students from all over the world. In addition to the United States, 20 countries are currently represented. Matriculants are among the brightest students: those admitted typically rank among the top one percent of their high school classes; the average SAT score for the class of 2001 is 1517. Of the 573 applicants for that class, 62 were accepted, producing an acceptance rate of only 11 percent. Of these, 37 or 60 percent matriculated--a yield comparable to the nation's most selective higher education institutions.
Huntsman students specialize in one of 10 foreign languages and in an area of the world where that language is spoken. New students enter the program having an intermediate or advanced level of proficiency in their target language (as well as in mathematics). Unlike traditional language instruction, which tends to focus primarily on the study of literature, the advanced language curriculum for the Huntsman Program also emphasizes "foreign language in context," courses incorporating contemporary materials drawn from business, government, law, and public policy. This strategy of language instruction exposes students to the terminology and writing styles of a society's business and legal institutions.
Sometime after four semesters at Penn, program participants must study abroad for at least one semester in an area of the world where their target language is spoken. The total immersion of the study abroad experience is less to help students consolidate language skills than to provide them with the opportunity to learn how to live, study, and work in an environment different from their prior experience. Huntsman students live with families or in dorms along with the country's students and take regular university courses, not courses designed for foreign students. The experience teaches lessons that can only be learned outside the classroom. Erica Fishman, a junior in the program who studied in Berlin, states, "I have found the study abroad component of the program extremely valuable as a way to examine practical applications of the theoretical knowledge developed in classes."
Those who complete the program are prepared not just for conventional business careers but for professional activities in the context of the twenty-first century's changing global environment. Having achieved a "global competence"--the ability to function effectively and comfortably in the particular language and culture in which they have achieved expertise--graduates are expected to enter fields such as business, diplomacy, journalism, international law, and public policy. The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business is but one example of how education in the arts and sciences at Penn is, in the words of Deputy Dean Rick Beeman, "education for life."