Interview Conducted by: Aditya Bothra (Spring 2007)
Frederick D.S. Choi is Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Service Professor of Business at New York University Stern School of Business. He served as Vice Dean and Dean of the Undergraduate College at Stern from 1995-2004. He is currently serving as the chair of the Department of Accounting.
How did the ISB program come about?
While I was Chairman of the International Business Area at Stern, a group of students from the International Business Association (IBA) approached me with their idea to organize a trip to visit countries in Southeast Asia because it was a very happening place in terms of business activity at the time. The students wanted the school to subsidize part of the trip on the basis that it would allow them to have a unique opportunity to observe firsthand these emerging economies. I asked them to give a presentation in front of a select group of international business faculty, including myself. We were deeply impressed…the students had done extensive planning and made a really strong case for the trip. Although the IBA advisor was skeptical of the feasibility of the program, I was confident of the students’ abilities and instructed them to plan for the trip that same year. The students raised a significant part of the funding and reviewed the application of forty students, selecting nineteen they felt would be good ambassadors of Stern. Later that year, we made the trip to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, completely planned and coordinated by the students, that was packed with visits to company headquarters, stock exchanges and an orphanage as part of the Sternies’ public service project. During the course of the trip the students really bonded and were successful in achieving the goals that they had set prior to the trip. They learned much about international business firsthand and did Stern proud, impressing everyone they met.
When I assumed the deanship of the Undergraduate College, I appointed a representative faculty committee to assist in reviewing the undergraduate curriculum with an eye toward enhancing the learning experience of Sternies. Our objective was to create a distinctive curriculum unlike the ones offered by our peers. In addition to strengthening Sternies’ critical thinking and communications skills, an important objective was to sensitize all Sternies to the international dimensions of business. The International Study Project was modeled after my trip with the members of IBA several years earlier. I approached Stern alumnus, Edward Barr, with the idea of making this a permanent part of the undergraduate curriculum and he was generous in agreeing to support the ISP program. (Mr. Edward Barr (BS ‘57), Chairman, United Water Resources; Chairman (Retired), Sun Chemical Corporation; Edward E. Barr Investments; member of the Stern Board of Overseers and benefactor of ISP.) With the addition of the ISP program, Stern is now part the “global league.” To this day, this program remains unique to Stern as no other business program offers this wonderful experience to its entire student body.
What are the goals of the program?
The program serves to expose the students to the constantly changing global business environment and to instill skills required to succeed in such an environment. While the program is constantly being improved upon, my recollection is that students take the ISP course in the spring semester of their junior year following the completion of “Economics of Global Business” in the fall. In the semester-long ISP course, students undertake an in-depth study of a company or industry in a foreign country and then travel abroad during spring break to explore first hand the culture and the unique business environment of the respective company or industry they have chosen to study. After the trip, the students make group presentations in their individual classes and the best group from each class receives an award. The rules may have changed somewhat. I am not sure. One thing has not changed. In addition to the valuable learning and cultural experience, the ISP program serves as the School’s commitment to giving every student the opportunity to study abroad.
How does the school go about the process of selecting the cities and coordinating the trip?
I cannot offer anything concrete here as that is the prerogative of Dean Sally Blount Lyon and her professional staff. In earlier years, trips were made to three different continents—Europe, Asia, and South America. I hear that this year Sternies are going to Santiago, Berlin and Hong Kong. In the past we looked to our alumni network and friends of the school that visit us from time to time in planning for the trip. One year when the finance minister of Mexico visited the school, we discussed the trip with him and he helped line up key companies to visit while we were in Mexico. Stern has well- established contacts and resources in the cities it selects.
Is the funding for the program limited to a certain number of years and what is the future of the program in terms of cities?
Stern alumnus Ed Barr and his lovely wife Nancy have endowed a significant part of the program so I believe the program will continue. Again the future itinerary is under the discretion of the current dean, Dean Sally Blount-Lyon who is doing an excellent job in enhancing the content of the program. As long as the students that participate in the ISP view it as a professional opportunity to learn and conduct themselves as responsible ambassadors of the Stern School, just as the first IBA group did, I am confident that the ISP program will continue to be a unique learning and cultural experience that sets the Stern School apart from every other undergraduate business program in the world.