Encouraging students to engage nationally

On Saturday, April 12, 2014, the IIT Undergraduate Business Council (UBC) – a student club – sponsored five IIT students to attend a conference at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school.

The conference – “Destination MENA: Unlocking the Region’s Potentials” – was held at the Wharton School of Business. Throughout the conference, many important speakers talked to the students and visitors about investing in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The conference was attended by undergraduate students from across the US; what we shared in common was that we were all drawn from or had a dedicated interest and commitment to the MENA* region. “Destination MENA” was a great chance to meet and network with current students, and future leaders.

The conference’s panels ranged from Investment Banking, and Venture Capital, to Politics, Entrepreneurship, and Education. The speakers shared their knowledge, experience, and current business operations in the area. It is important to mention that most of the speakers had their undergraduate and graduate/professional degrees from top US schools.

The list of the speakers includes, but not limited to:

·       Joe Saddi, Senior VP and Middle East Managing Director & Strategy

·       Nassef Sawiris, CEO of OCI N.V.

·       Reem Asaad, Saud Arabian Financial Advisor

·       Dr. Freddie C. Baz, General Manager, Group CFO and Strategy Director at Bank Audi

The UBC at IIT is dedicated to expanding the business knowledge of students outside of the classroom, and to facilitating professional networking opportunities in order to enhance our career potential upon graduation. The UBC is funded by Illinois Institute of Technology, and Stuart School of Business.  Funding conference attendance at events such as “Destination MENA” also serves as a strategic opportunity to promote the IIT Stuart Business School and its students among other top US Business schools.

For instance, conferences such as “Destination MENA” create and structure the base of great future collaboration between Stuart and other schools as well among future alumni of our respective institutions.  I believe that the Stuart School has a solid undergraduate business program with high potential to grow fast and strong with increased enrollment from both the US and across the globe. We already have an internationally renown masters level Finance programs, ranked among the top nationally, and globally. Therefore, sending IIT Stuart students to other universities for these conferences and workshops provides our current undergraduates with insights and a valuable experience to learn and become inspired by their peers from across the country and leading experts and business luminaries; in gaining these skills and acquiring new ideas, we are able to return to return to Stuart and apply these lessons to our own campus.

I have a dream to transfer such student engagement activities and related opportunities to developing countries, and especially to my country, Syria.

First, I would like to see business schools in these countries establish annual thematic and research focused conferences for undergraduate and graduate students.  Second, these conferences should highlight the collaboration of universities on a national scale, and then on a multinational and regional scale.  Third, the conferences should actively engage students – women and men – from same academic background while bringing many different universities together in order for us to learn from each other and about each other’s background and vision for the future.  Fourth, we should actively promote student leadership through the expansion of undergraduate business clubs whose aim is to support and advance the understanding of business and economic growth. Finally, it is vitally important for us to make the language of business (and cooperation) as the basis for a new language of the region.

Strong, smart, ethical, diverse, empathetic and civically minded business leaders are essential to the region’s strategic growth, and the future of peace for our region.

Toufik Simo

Stuart school of business | Expected graduation, may 2015

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