Kevin Prata (BBA ‘24) described his first year of the Business Honors Program as “spontaneous,” but in the best way possible.
Created to challenge the most gifted undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, the Business Honors Program (BHP) provides students with a rigorous, specialized course of study. Students in this highly competitive program participate in specific courses, which allow them to take a deeper look at the moral purpose of business and how it can contribute to human flourishing. The program also offers students the opportunity to be involved with unique learning experiences.
One such opportunity was brought up to Prata after a program colloquium, when he was approached by Craig Iffland, director of the BHP, about going on a fully funded trip to Guadalajara, Mexico. The trip stemmed from a partnership between Notre Dame and the Universidad de Panamericana (UP). With many activities canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, representatives from both universities, including Iffland, came together in 2021 to jumpstart collaborations.
“Our basic idea was to give our students an opportunity to learn about the intersection of business, ethics, and politics in Mexico as well as engage with business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs on the ground,” said Iffland. “Our colleagues at UP, aided by Prata, managed to put together an incredible program for us in the space of a month.”
Prata, who double majors in Spanish and finance, and Isa Gimon, a Ph.D. student at Notre Dame and a BHP mentor, quickly coordinated plans with colleagues from UP. Eight BHP students traveled to Mexico at the end of May accompanied by Gimon and John Sikorski, assistant teaching professor in the Business, Ethics, and Society Program at Mendoza.
After the group arrived and settled into their hotel, they attended a large buffet-style welcome dinner with UP students, faculty and staff, including the Rector of UP’s Guadalajara campus José Antonio Esquivas Romero (the equivalent to Notre Dame’s President, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.).
“UP made a big deal of us being there, so we felt really honored. And it wasn’t just UP faculty, staff and students that joined us for dinner. The U.S. Consulate in Mexico welcomed us as well,” said Prata. “Our UP partners planned a great trip with a well-thought-out itinerary, and we were beyond grateful to be a part of it.”
Over seven days, students experienced a jam-packed schedule with the goal of balancing educational and scholarly, cultural and social opportunities. Although the lectures taught by UP faculty presented similar lessons to those the students had experienced through Mendoza, Prata explained that the discussions were offered through a different lens.
“One of the most redeeming aspects of the trip was hearing what we had already learned in Professor Sikorski’s or Professor Otteson’s classes, but from a different voice and seeing how different scholars apply the same universal principles,” said Prata.
BHP student Ellen Frantz (‘24) was surprised by how many activities they were able to do outside of UP. From a bus tour to a scheduled (but unfortunately canceled) concert, Frantz felt the trip was well-integrated and offered a good mix of both educational and cultural opportunities.
“My favorite day was when we went to a family owned tequila plant,” said Frantz. “We got to learn about the ‘field-to-bottle’ process, which was really interesting and just something most people don’t get to experience. And seeing the whole process in person made me want to learn more about other parts of business and different industries that I hadn’t thought of before.”
Sentiments like Frantz’s were takeaways that BHP was hoping for. Since UP is known as one of the top business schools in Mexico, program organizers felt that the trip would provide an excellent opportunity for students to learn not only about Mexican culture, politics and business, but to also study and learn about specific challenges that Mexican businesses face.
“Because we live in an increasingly globalized world, our students need to see and learn about the challenges and opportunities business faces in creating value and prosperity worldwide,” said Jim Otteson, John T. Ryan Jr. Professor of Business Ethics and Rex and Alice A. Martin Faculty Director of the Notre Dame Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership. “We hope this experience and others like it that the BHP is planning can help provide students the perspective, the experience and the motivation to dedicate themselves to improving the lives of others, both domestically and internationally.”
By the time BHP students returned to the U.S., there was a consensus that the experience made them feel closer with one another in the program, but also that the students had formed real friendships with the other UP students, faculty and staff. This was in part due to their overwhelming amount of generosity, hospitality and warmth, especially from UP’s Office for International Affairs and their International Business Program.
And with such a great experience, Mendoza and the BHP hope to foster an exchange of students with UP in the future.
“We are exploring how BHP can reciprocate the hospitality offered to us by hosting the International Business Students from UP here at Mendoza,” said Sikorski. “Perhaps we can create an opportunity for their students to attend some classes and experience the culture of our beautiful campus and University.”