What do you get when you cross two departments in two different academic colleges with a trip overseas? A unique study abroad experience in which students can gain up to six college credits and invaluable experiences.

Eight years ago, Clarion’s College of Business Administration and Information Sciences and College of Arts, Education and Sciences joined to take students on a trip to a new destination each summer.The course continues through PennWest’s College of Business, Communication, and Information Sciences and College of Natural Sciences and Engineering Technology. It is open to students on California, Clarion and Edinboro campuses.

The idea for this shared learning experience came to Dr. Phil Frese, dean of PennWest College of Business, Communication, and Information Sciences after a social discussion with geosciences professor Dr. Anthony Vega.

They were discussing the importance of business profits; in particular, making a profit without draining the world’s natural resources. From there, the idea was born to combine the disciplines for an international learning opportunity.

So far, students have traveled to Belgium, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal and Iceland.

The interdisciplinary component immediately made sense to the professors and students when they immersed themselves in a different culture.

Dr. Chad Smith, professor of administrative sciences, teaches the business class, and Vega teaches the science class, against the backdrop and examples of the country they’re visiting.

Smith and Vega believe study abroad experiences are important for students.

“As far as I’m concerned, there are two things a business student should do: One is complete an internship, and two is travel,” Smith said.

Since few of the students have traveled outside of the United States, new discoveries are abundant, whether it’s the food they eat or the sights they see, Vega said.

“Every bit of these trips is a learning experience,” Vega said. “It’s life altering.”

Students can gain a three-credit International Business Seminar class and a three-credit Earth Science: Special Topics class, or opt for just one of the two classes. The classes begin with a two-week summer trip and continue into the fall semester with students writing papers and creating a mock business. This year's trip is to Italy.

“Traveling to Portugal enhanced my learning experience by giving me real-life examples,” Tatem Mielewski said of the 2018 experience. “It was cool to see what we’ve learned in a classroom applied to real companies.”

Frese said no matter which country they visit, they always visit the city’s chamber of commerce and businesses to see how businesses function on foreign soil.

Olivia Keltz, who went to Portugal as a junior in 2018, said experiencing the culture firsthand was a great learning experience.“Businesses run differently in a different culture,” she said.

As part of their coursework, the students team up and form a mock company with a product that has an emphasis on environmental sustainability. In the fall, the teams pitch their product to a panel of mock investors in a format like the TV show “Shark Tank.” Each investor has $250,000.

“You are able to invest on your own, join in with other investors, or make no investment at all,” Smith instructs the judges. “The key to the business is to be profitable and economically sustainable, but at the same time address how they will be protecting the environment and provide environmental sustainability.”

The students are sophomores, juniors and seniors with a wide variety of majors and skill sets. Much of the work the students complete is on a senior level.

“The students have taken seriously what they’ve learned in the classroom,” Smith said of previous cohorts. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Interested students from all three PennWest campuses are invited to an informational meeting at 5 p.m. Feb. 2 in room 102 of Still Hall, or via Zoom using ID 923 0231 7936. Drs. Vega and Smith will provide information about the “Developing a Sustainable Business Abroad in Italy” course, which includes 15 days in Italy, Aug. 2-17.