SNHU Expands its Resume with New Links to China

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
John Whitson, Union Leader Staff

China's move toward a free-market-based economy has spurred foreign investment and turned some cities into vast construction sites.

But as companies move into newly built headquarters in Bejing and Shanghai, executives are discovering there is a shortage of middle managers trained, educated and ready to go to work.

That's where Southern New Hampshire University comes in.

SNHU President Paul LeBlanc returned earlier this month from a 10-day trip to China with a signed agreement with Bejing Sports University in hand and tentative deals struck with four other universities.

The agreements will allow reciprocal faculty and student exchanges and, LeBlanc said, strengthen SNHU's already impressive international resume.

"We'll come out of this with four to six relationships that we will nail down," he said.

Two faculty members from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, one of the nation's oldest schools that boasts 18,000 undergraduates and an equal number of graduate students, are already slated to visit SNHU in January.

The small, private school straddling the Hooksett town line in the city's North End has long boasted a strong business major and, over the past 25 years, forged a name for itself internationally.

With just 4,000 students on its Manchester campus, SNHU is extraordinarily diverse.

University spokesman Gregg Mazzola, who went on the recent trip with LeBlanc and spent two weeks in China this summer setting up focus groups, said 15 percent of SNHU undergraduates hail from outside the United States, and there are 111 Chinese nationals on campus today.

"We think of ourselves as an international institution," said LeBlanc. "It's part of our mission."

While recent reports have shown a glut of college graduates in China competing for too-few positions, Mazzola said the master's of business administration degree students can earn through SNHU's offerings is in high demand.

There is a recognized difference, due largely to culture, in the types of employees generated by American versus Chinese MBA programs, said LeBlanc.

Chinese students, he said, are not taught to question the logistics of a project or point out problems as they occur. North American companies setting up shop in China are especially eager to hire Chinese nationals armed with a U.S.-style MBA, said LeBlanc.

While in China, Mazzola and LeBlanc met with executives from Disney China, BASF, Mariott Hotels and Microsoft who they said were unanimous in describing a tremendous need for MBA graduates to fill middle management roles.

Forging strong relationships with Chinese institutions will also benefit SNHU business students who don't travel far from home for their careers, said LeBlanc. As China continues to evolve economically, business people who speak the language and understand the culture will have obvious advantages, he said.

"What a great thing to have on your resume," said LeBlanc.

The university continues to expand its reach through online courses and has formed Internet partnerships with schools from England to Dubai, from Tanzania to Crete.

Support staff are being recruited and hired in India, not to work in a telephone call center, but to coordinate with SNHU's online center in the Millyard and supply technical expertise online for students taking courses in overseas time zones.

"When I think of this university, it's a funny place because it's very local with the basketball program and Stan (Spirou), and yet we're this intensely international organization," said LeBlanc.

Even those two worlds may soon cross paths.

The Penmen men's and women's basketball teams have been invited overseas to put on some clinics and go on an exhibition tour this summer that the Chinese will use as a sort of dry run for the many new athletic facilities being built for the 2008 Olympics.

"The whole country is gearing up to the Olympics," said LeBlanc. "Bejing looks like one mass construction site."

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