MBA Student Portray: Interview with Lorena Gutierrez Castro from Colombia

Lorena Gutierrez Castro, well-known of her positive energy and active participation in in-class activities, is our current third semester student from Colombia. She joined the MBA International Management program at HfWU in the winter semester 2016. Being a globetrotter, Lorena speaks four languages (Spanish, German, English and French) and has been living a truly international life. Not only has she studied and worked in Germany and France, after obtaining her bachelor degree in finance and economics, she decided to come back to Germany to pursue her MBA studies in International Management. Here is Lorena’s story.

Q1: Why did you choose this MBA International Management program, and how did you discover it at the first place?

A1: Back in 2008, I have attended 11 months of classes in a high school in Germany. Because of the high quality education, I always wanted to come back to Germany to continue my studies. Later on, I have established my goal to pursue an MBA, so I started to do my research and found this program on the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) website.

Q2: How was your preparation for your studies/application?

A2: In order to fulfill the requirements, I prepared for the German and English language tests (TestDaf and Toefl) all by myself, which was quite challenging but manageable. Another challenging part is to collect all the required documents, such as the recommendation letter and certificates to prove my previous work and studies experience from my professors and manager. It took quite a long time to get everything prepared. 

Q3: What do you enjoy the most in this MBA program?

A3: I really like that we had an overview of different areas in business management in the first semester, then the theories and knowledge can be applied in the international and social contexts. I also appreciate HfWU’s emphasis on sustainability. From the classes we always learn about how business management can be integrated in the sustainable development of the society. For example, I have chosen “Social Entrepreneurship” as my elective course. As my ambition is to develop my own social projects in Colombia after my graduation, the class has really helped me understand the planning, resources management and operation of a social enterprise.

I also enjoy the international environment as the students in my class come from all over the world. Our university is quite small, but exactly because of this students have close interactions with one another. It´s an enriching experience as I learn a lot from our daily interactions with my fellow classmates.

Q4: Have you encountered any challenges during your studies? What are they and how do you overcome them?

A4: The assessment method here is quite different from in Colombia. In Colombia, we have more continuous assessments i.e. mid-term exams. Here the final exam plays the most important role in the assessment. The workload is quite heavy as we approach the end of the semester. I find it better to prepare for exams in solidarity – that is to learn in a study group.  It is good to help each other and it feels less stressful because we tackle the challenge together instead of doing everything alone.

Q5: Do you have any recommendations how the program can be further enhanced?

A5: I would prefer more elective courses because I have already done my previous studies in business. In my opinion, a more flexible program can allow students like me, who come from a business background, to have more opportunities and time to learn and explore new areas of studies.

Q6: Do you have any tips or advice to share with the future applicants?

A6: HfWU is situated in an advantageous location, as Baden Württemberg is one of the key economic backbones and business areas of Germany. I think students should take advantage of the plentiful opportunities in the surrounding areas.

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Lorena in front of CI1, the building where the important places are located for students: classrooms and the mensa in the Innenstadt Campus in Nürtingen

Lorena’s advice to candidates:
To prepare for your application, I believe that it is important to write your motivation letter genuinely, for example, about what your ambitions are and why you find this MBA program suitable. I would recommend candidates to read their motivation letters again before attending the interview. This helps you stay relevant and consistent in the conversation. It is also helpful to read the website of HfWU to get familiar with the course structure and content, so you are prepared to answer questions like “why do you choose this study program”.

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Change the World with Enthusiasm: Visiting Professor Dr. Roger Evans – A Social Entrepreneurship Story

Text: Decem Poon | Photo: Decem Poon, Prof. Dr. Roger Evans

Visiting professors are an important source of input and inspiration to enrich students´ learning experience as they bring their expertise and experience from their culture and specialization into the classroom. Prof. Dr. Roger Evans, visiting professor from the Estonian University of Life Sciences, is teaching at the HfWU this summer semester and bringing his expertise in social enterprise, rural business and project management to our students.

“What makes a difference is the interest, belief and enthusiasm to create an impact”

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Prof. Dr. Roger Evans in the Highlands of Scotland

Prof. Dr. Roger Evans has always been interested in agriculture and working outdoors since his secondary school time. He followed his passion in his university studies and pursued his PhD on the husbandry of Linumusitatissimum (Linseed) in the Newcastle University in the North of England. Since 1980 he worked at the Scottish Agricultural College as a lecturer, rural tourism course leader and senior consultant until forming his own company in 2004.

Prof. Dr. Evans´ passion in rural tourism originated at the end of 1980s when the agricultural industry was adversely shaken by major changes in EU agricultural support introduced to combat food overproduction and declining food demand all over Europe. By the end of 1980s, agricultural incomes were under great pressure, consequently putting the way of life of farmers and farm employment in the rural areas under great threat. Having a close affinity and a special bond to the agricultural industry, Prof. Dr. Evans dedicated to investigate ways to help revitalize and boost the economy of rural areas. In cooperation with some Irish experts who shared the same interest and passion in rural area development and empowerment, Prof. Dr. Evans found out that diversification of income, that is, income derived in alternative ways, can help absorb the shock in the agricultural industry. Through rural tourism, farmers can make extra business in addition to farming as a source of income, hence stabilizing the economy in the rural areas.

The transformation of the agricultural industry has also caused adverse impact on people´s life in the rural areas. Many of those who used to work in the farms and rural areas faced unemployment and needed to find other ways to make a living. The lack of farm management skills has placed some of them in a difficult situation during this time of change. In view of this, Prof. Dr. Evans initiated projects for stimulating local change, funded through the European Union PHARE program, which was established to support communities in new EU countries to overcome specific development problems stemming from their relative isolation within the national economy, whilst preserving the interest of the local population and respecting environmental concerns.[1]

When being asked where the line should be drawn between social enterprises and non-social enterprise, Prof. Dr. Evans emphasised that it is the top business aim and the consciousness of “doing the right thing” that differentiate them. Differentiating social enterprises from commercial entities, social enterprises give priority to “doing the right thing” over profit maximization. Social well-being stands at the core and is the biggest driver of the business. Most prominently, the profit of social enterprises is reinvested back to the community to do social good. Only by doing so can society develop in a sustainable manner.

Many of us at certain point in time have made statements like “If I were the business owner, I would do things differently” or “I wish I could make a change and make the world a better place”. However, only very few of us have taken the step to start a project because uncertainties and fear have made us hesitant to take a step forward. Being an optimistic entrepreneur, Prof. Dr. Evans thinks and acts completely opposite – he believes “if there is a will, there is a way”. Luck does not come from nowhere, rather it grows from enthusiasm and resilience, despite all resistance and difficulties one might encounter. His proactive and stewardship orientated mind-set, and sense of mission are what drive him to serve and empower the vulnerable and to continue his pursuit of entrepreneurship.

During Prof. Dr. Evans´ entrepreneurship journey, he endeavours to steer and get involved in projects to explore possibilities and build his network. His participation in Euracademy is one of the best examples. With the mission “Build up knowledge, capacity and networking for rural development”, Euracademy is an organization supported by the European Union, individuals and project development to connect like-minded individuals, engaging them in discussions and putting ideas forward into plans and actions.

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Prof. Dr. Evans being a conference moderator

Not only is Prof. Dr. Evans an entrepreneur, he is also an educator. Currently he is teaching “Project Management” in the MBA International Management program and co-teaching the International Masters of Landscape Architecture. He believes that treating students as individuals rather than ananonymous group is important to inspire and stimulate students´ learning. He enjoys talking to students, sharing examples and anecdotes, and challenging students to think in different angles and scenarios.

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In a guest lecture about strategy and business planning for social enterprises
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Prof. Dr. Evans explaining the business planning process

When our conversation came to the end, Prof. Dr. Evans raised an interesting question “Do you see the glass half full or half empty?”. Seeing the half full glass, Prof. Dr. Evans is a good example for those who are about to embark their entrepreneurship journey. To Prof. Dr. Evans, staying optimistic, persistent and compassionate is the key for entrepreneurs. Even though the journey can be full of uncertainties and ups and downs, not only the goal but also the process are what bring enriching experience and development to entrepreneurs, making their first step worth taking.

[1]http://www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement/briefings/33a2_en.htm#5

From Theories to Practice: the Innovation Management Workshop

Have you ever come up with new ideas how things can be done alternatively and people would say “Are you crazy”? As the world has been changing and developing in a skyrocket speed, is there actually still room left for us to innovate? If so, who is able to take up innovative work? Engineers? Scientists? Or product design and development managers? You may not know about it – everyone of us has the innovative DNA. The only thing we need to do is to activate them and keep on practicing innovation.

Innovation exists in every field and area. Taking business management as an example, competitive analysis, gaining competitive advantage are often discussed and emphasized. However, is business only about competition? Does success relate only to winning against competitors? Are there any innovative alternatives to achieve business, extending success beyond the company to the community space?

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To understand innovation in business, the MBA International Management students took part in a three-day Innovation Management Workshop as part of the curriculum of the elective course “Managing Innovation”. Prior to the workshop, students have learnt about innovation leadership, blue ocean strategies, as well as the innovation process in the lecture series introduced by Dr. Albrecht Enders. Business nowadays needs to be understood and built from a unconventional perspective, meaning that success is no longer defined by standing out from competitions only, but also by creating the “Blue Ocean“. By spotting the unfulfilled customer and community needs, brand new solutions can be found to meet those overlooked and emerging needs. Business success is no longer restricted to creating shareholder value from within. Rather, it extends beyond companies to communities. These key principles around Blue Ocean Strategies are crucial in contemporary business as environmental issues and social well-being are playing more and more important roles nowadays.

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The host of the workshop – Dr. Albrecht Enders and Dr. Jeanne Enders

Dr. Jeanne and Albrecht Enders from Portland State University flew across continents from Oregon to host this Innovation Workshop at the HfWU in Nürtingen, shared three fruitful days with the students.  In the workshop, students´ main task is to execute an innovative project by implementing the innovative process in groups. By  identifying the “blue ocean” – the potential area for innovation, students learned to take the big picture of shared value into consideration. The goal of such new business models and innovative design is to achieve a long-term sustainable development and shared value – maximizing customer and community value while minimizing the company cost and community impact.

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Dr. Albrecht Enders explaining the Innovative Metric

From planning, concepting, validating ideas to prototpying, students stepped into the shoes of innovators through all the stages of the innovation process. Starting with interview design, students conducted an interview in the neighborhood to understand the experience and need of the community. This was then followed by job mapping, a process to organize and prioritize the need of the target groups. Moving onto the concepting phase, students utilized their creativity to leapfrog and generate completely new solutions to fulfill the customers´ functional and emotional needs. By simulating customer sessions, students also learned to listen carefully and focus on customer needs during the process of concept development and selection.

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Sketches of new concepts
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Concept evaluation next to new concepts
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Some key take-aways in the workshop

Prototyping was last but not least exciting part of the workshop. Using different materials, students turned the sketches on paper into physical mock-ups. At the end, students presented the new concepts around the newly created solution, demonstrating their prototypes and sharing their experience with the class.

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The interactive and collaborative atmosphere of this workshop encouraged students to engage in peer-learning, in which they questioned, elaborated and experimented freely. After exercising each step of the innovative process, students received instant feedback from the lecturers to reinforce their understanding. The collaboration and idea-sharing are exactly the realization of the core idea of Blue Ocean – making competitions irrelevant and focusing on uncontested areas to create and capture new demand. Both the lecturers and students have gained much learning, experience and reflection after three days of intensive exercise, exchange and practice.

Room for innovation always exists if you dare to create it. Everyone can be an innovator if one discovers and grabs the opportunity to create a new path and to take the roads less taken. Take a little while everyday to activate your innovative DNA. As Dr. Enders quoted the famous American writer,

A person with an idea is a crank until the idea succeeds. – Mark Twain

Keep questioning, believing and holding onto your new ideas. Practice your innovative DNA – success may just be one step away!