Indiana State University Newsroom

Students turn abroad experience into undergraduate business research

February 22, 2016

If undergraduates Breanna Blythe, Kyle Varble or Monica Griesemer choose to seek advanced degrees, or work for a global firm their experiences traveling abroad, conducting research and preparing to present at a national conference while students at Indiana State University will go a long way.

Last August, the Networks Scholar trio visited Rome, Italy on an eight-day trip as part of their Networks Professional Development Program. The program partnered with the Scott College of Business' Aruna Chandra, professor of management, and management instructor Kim LaGrange, who led the trip that included tours of four businesses, St. John's University, European Space Agency, UniCredit Bank and a BIC Lazio business incubator.

Varble, a junior from Rockport, and sophomores Griesemer of Shelbyville, Ill. and Blythe of Indianapolis,

The research was funded in part by a Creative Research Grant from the Center for Student Research and Creativity. At the urging of Tom Steiger, an Indiana State psychology professor and director of the student research and creativity, the students submitted their case study National Council on Undergraduate Research and were selected as part of a competitive process to present their work at the council's research conference in Ashville, N.C., April 7-10. spent several months conducting research to write a case study on an Italian ride sharing start up business following their short-term study abroad trip to Italy last August as part of a class on Entrepreneurship in Italy taught by Aruna Chandra, who secured a grant from the Center for Global Engagement to support a portion of the travel costs of the study abroad trip.

"It was interesting to see firsthand, not only the culture, but how everything from startups to already established businesses operate in Italy's business environment," Griesemer said.

Last fall, Varble, an operations and supply chain management major, and marketing majors Griesemer and Blythe and three other students built upon the experience with an opportunity from Chandra to convert their 400 level special topics course into an honors class. For their final project, they wrote a case study on Scooterino - an Italian scooter-sharing app founded by Oliver Page.

"Dr. Chandra was really helpful in breaking everything down for us and helping throughout the

 processwith outlines and offering feedback and suggestions," Varble said. "We got that personalized touch and community feel that Indiana State offers, and it was a really helpful and developmental process for us as well."

With guidance from Chandra, who also helped the group secure a Creative Research Grant to support their work, the three Networks Professional Development Scholars collected secondary data on the business and its industry, developed questions and conducted a Skype interview with Page to collect primary data for a case study on starting a business in Italy.

"Oliver Page talked a lot to us about how it's kind of like he's managing two business entities at one time - the online experience that connects the scooter drivers to the riders and then there's the point when riders physically meet up with the drivers," Varble said.

Since small business is a large part of the economy, Blythe said being able to build trust was an important part of getting the business off the ground.

"Oliver really talked about the struggles of starting up the business in Rome because people don't like change," she said. "They're using word of mouth out get their service out and they rely on the relationship between the drivers and the riders to really promote their business."

The first time conducting research of this caliber taught them about patience and opened their eyes toanother culture.

"None of us have ever done research this extensive before, so it was really a lesson in patience, which will be valuable to us because we will all have to write a thesis later on," Griesemer said. "We've learned that research papers require multiple revisions. Our paper is over 30 pages long and there were six writers, so it made it hard to get the flow and sounded the same from section to section. It's definitely been an adventure and it isn't over yet."

A lot of mileage was gained from the trip, from undergraduate student research, faculty collaboration and the potential for the case study to be used in business classes.

"The trip deepened their knowledge of business on a global scale, and showed them that the content they learn in their classes here can be applied to businesses halfway around the world," LaGrange said.

Even Chandra gained from the process, which allowed her to work with undergraduates and view the research process in a new way.

"I've been doing research for so long that I take it for granted, but this was a different challenge because I got to see everything from a different angle and fresh set of eyes," she said. "I always set stretch goals for my students and motivate and expect that my students will rise up to them. This group certainly did and they got to do a lot - research, a presentation and potentially get their work published - and hopefully they see that there's a lot that goes into doing solid, meaningful research."

The process to get to the conference has offered real-life practice and competitive edge the students will need in the workforce, said Brien Smith, dean of the Scott College.

"For this trip, students studied entrepreneurial ventures in Rome, and their research will be showcased on a national stage at the NCUR conference in April. I am excited to see how the careers of these young women and men will unfold," he said. "Our faculty are committed to delivering high quality learning experiences outside of the classroom. What our faculty brought to this trip is invaluable. Aruna Chandra is an acclaimed scholar and Kim LaGrange has years of executive-level business experience. Together, they crafted a world-class experience for our students."

The combination of Chandra's guidance and student assertiveness led to the success of the multi-layered project, said Kelly Wilkinson, chair of the department of management, information systems and business education.

"This is the kind of experience we want every student to have," Wilkinson said. "Aruna really empowered these students and pushed them to do a little more and what was produced was the perfect example of good undergraduate research that can come out of a class and through experiential learning."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or - Breanna Blythe - Kyle Varble - Monica Griesemer