International Diversity in Mercy’s MBA Program Brings the Whole World Closer

Business Honors

Since its founding in 1950, Mercy College has upheld a mission to serve a population that reflects our nation’s diversity—not just racial and ethnic diversity, but also a deep and broad international diversity. Recent statistics show Mercy students hailing from some 25 countries. Perhaps nowhere is this global character more evident than in Mercy’s five graduate schools, most notably the MBA program.

Most faculty will agree that the active presence of an increasing number of international students in the classroom enriches everyone. Students born outside of the U.S. have a unique world view, enabling them to offer rare and valuable insights based on personal experience. “More and more, the world our students will be living in after graduation will be global,” said Dr. Ray Manganelli, Chair of Graduate Business and Executive Dean and Director of the Strategic Consulting Institute.

Hakim Lahlou, MBA ’16, a member of the adjunct faculty and a graduate of the Mercy program, exemplifies the multi-cultural composition of the Mercy community. Born in Finland to a Finnish mother and a Moroccan father, Lahlou lived in Tunisia and Morocco before emigrating to the United States in 2010. Fluent in five languages, as a high school student he hatched a dream of attending college in New York. “New York is the true melting pot of cultures, with all the excitement and potential that represents,” he said.

In addition to his role as a graduate school admissions recruiter, Lahlou teaches several classes, including an international marketing class. “In one class I had several students from very different parts of the world—Norway, Jamaica, and Turkey,” he said. “Each of them was able to offer a different perspective of their native country, based on real situations in their business and personal lives. It was a real eye-opening experience for the American-born students.”

In a more diverse classroom, the distinctions between American-born and foreign-born students tend to shrink. “Many students have parents who were born in a foreign country, so this cultural sensitivity is already built in,” said Dean Manganelli. “The fact that the school is located in a region that was founded by immigrants and embraces an international view is just one more element of this global awareness.”

In addition to the curriculum, Mercy continues to broaden its network to include the entire world. Student supports such as mentoring, internships, and strategic consulting projects with international companies give students a chance to connect with people and cultures outside of their typical experience. “Whenever students are exposed to new cultures, especially in countries that are not typically visited by American students, the world becomes a little less foreign, less intimidating,” said Manganelli. “They become comfortable with the idea of going where they’ve never considered going before. They gain confidence in their ability to understand how business relationships work all over the world.”

After Siobhan Walsh, MBA ’14, adjunct professor of business, graduated from the first Turbo MBA program, she went on to start her own successful marketing communications firm, Fluency Marketing. “Early in my career in corporate marketing, I lived in London for almost three years, working for Lucent,” she said. “Working for an American company in its foreign office can be challenging. Scheduling a conference call for 3 PM may work well for a company in New Jersey, but it’s a terrible time for participants who are in London. And there needs to be some sensitivity to the way we approach delicate communications, such as delivering constructive criticism. I remind my students to refrain from assuming that the way we do things in America is always the best way. All the research out of the top business schools tells us that the best teams are those with a balance of different experiences.”

Victor Petenkemani, MBA, professor and associate dean for the School of Business, was born in Cameroon and emigrated to the U.S. in 1998. Fluent in three languages, Petenkemani teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on economics, corporate finance, and international business. During one of his class discussions of international business practices, the conversation turned to Morocco. There happened to be a Moroccan-born student in the classroom, who volunteered his perspective of living and doing business in his native country.

“The student did a wonderful job of articulating what he saw as the cultural and business opportunities there, and the American-born students reacted by saying, Wow, I need to go to Morocco,” said Petenkemani. “These sorts of natural exchanges in the classroom allow people to lose their fear of foreignness. The conversation is so much richer, the projects so much better.”

Lahlou agreed, pointing out that Morocco is more modern and hospitable than many people realize. “Morocco is sophisticated, yet remains a very religious country. Every Friday at noon everyone stops for prayer,” he said. “Learning about this from a native Moroccan, you are bound to be more receptive, and will want to approach them in the right way. The classroom experience opens more doors.”

Petenkemani concurred, saying, “We are discovering that having international students in every classroom lessens the likelihood of the kind of misunderstanding or miscommunication that can sometimes arise in the presence of racial, ethnic, and cultural differences.” Siobhan Walsh agreed. “The language that’s most often spoken around the world is the language of business,” she said.

“Ultimately, we hope to develop immersion programs at Mercy that allow students to spend more time in a foreign country learning about the social and business culture,” said Manganelli. “That’s still a long way off, but for now we are adopting the concept of global immersion within the student body, and we hope to further enhance the experience through our speaker series. Our goal is to engage students in learning about world cultures and global issues through meaningful cross-cultural exchange. It goes without saying that Mercy MBA graduates are the international business leaders of tomorrow.”

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