Poole Study Abroad Reunion Highlights Program’s Impact
Ten years after meeting on a study abroad experience in Reutlingen, Germany, a group of Poole College alumni and faculty reunited there this summer.
By Lea Hart
When Rob Sandruck was tasked with building a study abroad program for the Poole College of Management more than 10 years ago, he envisioned students creating meaningful relationships with each other and with faculty through their shared experiences overseas.
What happened among the students and faculty who traveled on Poole’s first study abroad experience in 2013 to Reutlingen University’s ESB Business School in Germany is a clear indication that his vision was realized.
The 21 students and two faculty members – Chris McKittrick, lecturer in Poole College and Helmut Hergeth, associate professor in the Wilson College of Textiles – who took part in that first program didn’t know each other at the time. The immersive study abroad experience, spending not just their classroom hours but their free time together, changed that.
They became both lifelong friends and a network of professional contacts to each other. McKittrick, fondly known to students as “Mr. Mac,” remained close with the students, hosting and attending many local reunions with them.
He’s been present at weddings and other life events for the students – even the wedding of two former students who met on that program – Sarah (Adams) Dunlap (’15) and Scott Dunlap (’14), who were then a sophomore and a junior at Poole.
The experience was the first trip overseas for each of them.
“I wanted to immerse myself in another culture and open my horizons,” Scott Dunlap recalls. “It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet new people and try new things, and college is the perfect time to do that.
“It turned out to be the best decision I ever made.”
The two became friends on the trip and started dating back at home. Their time in Germany ignited a lifelong passion for travel and they now do so regularly. Sarah went on to graduate school at Duke University, pursuing a master’s in management where she studied in both Durham, North Carolina, and Kunshan, China. The couple even became engaged overseas in Thailand.
And this past summer, they made a return trip to Germany, where the Poole College-ESB Business School partnership is still going strong. A small contingent from that original group gathered for a ten-year “class reunion” of sorts.
While they’d hoped all 21 students could attend, life commitments prevented many from returning. Those who did make the trip included McKittrick and the Dunlaps, along with Kelsey McDowell Boucher (‘15), Evan Boucher (‘14), Davis Phillips (‘15), his wife, Payton Phillips and McKittrick’s partner, Kathie Currin. They extended their adventure with vacation time in Switzerland together as well.
In Germany, the group revisited the spots they’d been to ten years earlier and shared their thoughts with current students about the impacts of the study abroad experience.
“The 2013 group helped the current students understand they were in the midst of what might be a life-changing experience,” McKittrick said.
Sandruck, director of Global Programs for the Poole College of Management, said the environment created through a study abroad experience is like no other. Poole’s study abroad program has grown significantly since that first trip, with 14 programs taking place in five different countries over the past year – always with an academic partner like ESB Business School in each location.
“Unlike a class on campus where you all go your own way after class, you’re living with each other and these faculty members,” he said. “It’s a very unique experience.”
For McKittrick, that group of former students he first met in Germany have become like family.
“If you’re open to it, you can really make some life-changing relationships,” he said.
It’s by no means the only goal for study abroad, which also aims to immerse students in an international environment where they cultivate an understanding and appreciation for cultural differences that they’ll then take forward into their professional lives, while also witnessing how businesses operate overseas.
Study abroad experiences encourage independence and the development of problem solving skills as students navigate a foreign country, Sandruck said.
“When you finish your coursework and graduate, this is exactly the type of experience an employer wants – people who learned how to figure out solutions on their own,” Sandruck said. “A student who goes abroad learns this, whether they intend to or not, and the experience is a great story to tell in job interviews.”
Sarah Dunlap, who is now a senior product manager at Fidelity Investments, can speak to the fact that her experience in Germany changed the course of her professional life. She came to understand that every culture operates differently and sought out a graduate school experience where she could learn more about other cultures and how they do business.
She then went on to work with people from across the world early in her career at Wells Fargo, and today, half her team is based in India.
“It’s hard to imagine the trajectory of my life if I hadn’t done that study abroad,” she said. “I don’t think I would have pursued the graduate school or the types of jobs that I did if I hadn’t had that experience.”
Scott Dunlap, a logistics sourcing manager with Panasonic North America, uses his experiences every day as he regularly interacts with co-workers from Japan in his role.
“That study abroad experience taught me to not be so America-centric,” he said. “It’s about understanding things from someone else’s perspective, and I was able to practice that in a safe setting through study abroad.”