The University of Iowa

UI students join virtual teams to analyze markets in Iowa Sister State Kosovo

April 8th, 2021
UBT-UI Zoom meeting
Students in the international business environment course meeting virtually

This spring, 24 University of Iowa students are serving on global virtual teams with peers in Kosovo as part of a Tippie College of Business course focusing on the international business environment.  Erin Johnson, associate professor of instruction in the Department of Management & Entrepreneurship, dreamed the course up last year, recognizing the unique opportunity online learning has provided.

The course, which compares and contrasts ways of doing business around the world, incorporates the cultural dimensions integral to each unique environment.  Johnson has been through many iterations of this course - from taking it as an undergraduate, to teaching it as a graduate student, and now as faculty.  But what makes the course particularly unique this time around is that students will spend multiple hours working in small groups on a project with students at the University for Business and Technology (UBT) in Pristina, Kosovo.

While this is an upper-level business elective course, other majors have the option to take it to fulfill part of the international business certificate.  “This has led to a diverse class.  Students have a lot of interesting insights to share, and there is a lot of diversity that you might not always get in an upper-level business class,” explains Johnson.

Students will analyze the impact of COVID on the industry or sector of their choice.  They may look at the impacts on education, technology, restaurants, manufacturing, entertainment, travel or a context of particular interest to their group. 

Students will complete assignments with their counterparts and then submit a final analysis at the end of the semester.  They will then virtually deliver presentations which will serve as a reflection piece where they can express what they learned throughout this process.  The Kosovo consulate has also been invited to listen to the final presentations. 

While it may not be common knowledge, Iowa is home to the consulate of Kosovo, which opened in Des Moines in 2017.  The relationship between Iowa and Kosovo has been deepening over the last two decades. Kosovo has been home to over 700 Iowa National Guardsmen and women as part of a peacekeeping mission since 2003, and it was named an Iowa “Sister State” in 2013.  

Johnson’s collaborator in Kosovo, UBT founder and president Edmond Hajrizi, is looking forward to further strengthening ties between Iowa and Kosovo.  “You know, Iowa is the main sponsor [of] and contributor [to] Kosovo’s freedom, independence, and development. Kosovo is a small country in [the] development stage, [and] offers great opportunities in different sectors. Therefore, for Kosovo [it] is most important to curate and cultivate the connection with Iowa institutions: government, academia, industries, experts, and other parts of the Iowa community and to use their potential at this stage. It is important that we should know each other more.” 

“Having COVID and being required to push courses onto Zoom has allowed me to think about my content differently and how students interact differently.  I wanted to give students real world connections and experience.  This is a great way to do it.”

When asked how this idea came about, Johnson referenced a research project students did in the fall with the Kosovo consulate as their client.  They looked at various Iowa communities and helped determine if they would be good places for Kosovar entrepreneurs to invest in.  The feedback Johnson received reflected the strong interest in this type of collaboration as it was a real project people cared about.  However, Johnson learned that those involved would have liked to take it one step further and talk to people from Kosovo to learn what it’s like to be an entrepreneur there.  She shared this feedback with the consulate and they put her in touch with UBT.  

“Having COVID and being required to push courses onto Zoom has allowed me to think about my content differently and how students interact differently.  I wanted to give students real world connections and experience.  This is a great way to do it,” said Johnson. “At the very least you have something interesting to talk about in a job interview!”

Erin Johnson
Associate Professor Erin Johnson

Johnson said that she would like to keep doing this in the future even after COVID.  “The hope is that students get to know each other and learn about each other's lives to determine what they have in common, or what the top five social networks are, or what it is like dealing with COVID in Kosovo.”  She wants to continue to design opportunities to allow exchange and conversation between UI students and others around the world.  

The University of Iowa and UBT are now in the process of finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which allows for cooperation in a wide variety of possible activities, including joint educational, training and/or research activities.

Hajrizi praises this initiative and the benefits both universities will reap from this partnership. “We can share [best practices] from a leading university that has a long tradition. Entrepreneurship, innovation, international business environment, and virtual global project management are some of the competencies our students and staff can [gain] from this collaboration.  We hope that UBT will also generate some co-value in this cooperation as a new entrepreneurial innovation-based ecosystem university. Based on our conversations with the staff and management at UI, we can create a lot of opportunities for the new generation from Kosovo and [the] Western Balkan region.”