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The business of the Benelux

The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were the destinations for this year's Martindale Scholars.

Amsterdam has always been a little ahead of the times. Even its stock exchange was the first in the world.

Despite its progressive business environment, though, Amsterdam lacks the type of entrepreneurial spirit that’s expected from such forward-thinking culture.

And Mike Ballanco ’08 wants to know why. A computer science and business major at Lehigh, Ballanco first read about the lack of entrepreneurship in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg in a Wall Street Journal article.

The topic grabbed his attention. Now, just a few months later, he’s become somewhat of an expert on it.

Ballanco isn’t alone. He is one of 12 individuals to have been recognized as Lehigh’s Martindale Scholars, a prestigious honor that allows students to explore global business, economic, and political policy issues outside the scope of classroom study.

Now in its 27th year, the Martindale Student Associates Program has afforded over 250 individuals the opportunity to learn about international business firsthand. Each year, the scholars embark on a rigorous research trip in which they get to have a private audience with a country’s top business and political leaders.

The highly competitive program crosses Lehigh’s three undergraduate colleges. Traditionally, up to four students are chosen from each college and they end up conducting research related to their academic interests.

The College of Business and Economics has created a slideshow of recent trips, as well as some of the business-oriented research that resulted, on a new Web page, which also features other undergraduate business research projects.

The 2007 cohort spent 10 days traveling through the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, otherwise known as the Benelux countries. Previous research trips included visits to such diverse locales as Hungary, Hong Kong, Sweden and Panama.

It’s the type of global program you can’t find anywhere else.

“To be able to conduct this type of depth of quality research—to really provide insight into some of the social and economic challenges facing the international business community—is not an opportunity you’ll find many other places,” says Rich Aronson, director of the Martindale Center. “The students are truly contributing to public policy by offering well-researched insight into business and industry.”

People are taking notice. Every year, the scholars publish their research in Perspectives on Business and Economics, thought to be the largest undergraduate-focused research journal in circulation.

The Benelux research will be featured in the 26th consecutive issue of the journal and will most likely feature topics such as tax policies, immigrant children and cultural integration, and the design philosophy of flood control.

It will also include Ballanco’s work on entrepreneurship.

“My personal paper topic is to explore initiatives that have been established within the Benelux to stimulate entrepreneurship, a quality that is greatly lacking in Europe in comparison with the United States,” says Ballanco. “To be able to see three different countries in a week and half allowed us to compare the different cultures of each country very easily.”

Accounting major Bridget Clancy ’08 shares those sentiments. She became interested in tax policies during a course on US federal tax at Lehigh last spring and found Luxembourg’s tax structure to be both interesting and influential for companies with an international flavor.

“Whether visiting the parliament in Belgium or the European Investment Bank, we gained knowledge of the issues the US shares with these nations as well as those that are unique to each nation or region within the nations,” says Clancy.

“The Martindale trip offered me the opportunity to research the tax policies of Luxembourg in a very in-depth way,” she explained. “I was surprised to see such high-level officials at our meetings, and furthermore, I was impressed to see that they took our research and future publications so seriously.”

Once selected in the early spring, students study potential research topics before leaving for the trip around June. They spend the next semester writing their journal article before Perspectives on Business and Economics is published the following spring.

It’s an intensive year-long commitment—one that succeeds because of the high level of collaboration among the students and their Martindale faculty advisors, explains Aronson.

“Martindale Scholars are exposed to ideas and arguments that you won’t hear in the classroom,” he says. “Over that year, they grow personally and hone their skills so that unfamiliar situations don’t necessarily translate into uncomfortable situations.”

“It’s probably the best professional training they’ll get during their years here at Lehigh.”

--Tom Yencho

Posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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