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"An intimate international learning experience"

The Martindale Student Associates visited Istanbul while touring Turkey last spring.

Since its inception in 1986, the Martindale Student Associates Program has been one of Lehigh’s most competitive—and popular—international activities.

The program, directed by Richard Aronson, professor of economics, operates out of the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise. It gives selected undergraduates a global perspective offered by few international programs.

Each spring, the Martindale Center chooses a dozen undergraduate students to take part in a 12-day excursion to a foreign country. The students meet and interview economic, political and cultural leaders from the country and, on returning to Lehigh, write in-depth research articles on a range of topics related to the country.

The articles are published by the Martindale Center in Perspectives on Business and Economics, an annual, professionally reviewed academic journal. One of only a handful of such undergraduate research journals in the United States, Perspectives is distributed to more than 1,500 people and libraries in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and South America.

In the past quarter-century, Aronson has led more than 250 Martindale Student Associates to countries on five continents, including England, Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, Ireland, Hong Kong and the Czech Republic, as well as New Zealand, where the students traveled in 2008, and Turkey, which hosted the students last spring. In May of this year, a team of students will travel to Iceland.

“New Challenges in Paradise”

To build a sense of collaboration and cross-disciplinary learning, the Martindale Student Associates Program chooses students from each of Lehigh’s three undergraduate colleges—the College of Business and Economics, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. The selection process is competitive. Applicants are chosen based on their academic records, the quality of essays they write on business and economic problems, and the responses they give in interviews with faculty advisers.

The Martindale Scholars travel with Aronson and several other members of the Lehigh faculty to their foreign country and acquire an insider’s understanding of the issues facing the nation by interviewing its decision-makers, business executives and cultural leaders.

After returning to Lehigh, the students spend more than a year working with each other and with a team of professors on the research papers that are published in Perspectives.

The latest issue of Perspectives—titled “New Challenges in Paradise”— features articles on research conducted during the center’s 2008 trip to New Zealand. The Martindale Scholars also traveled to Washington, D.C., in advance of that trip to meet with Roy Ferguson, New Zealand’s ambassador to the U.S., and the staff of New Zealand’s embassy.

“We took a different approach in traveling to New Zealand than with other countries we recently visited,” says Aronson. “New Zealand is among the world’s most vibrant and geologically diverse countries, with an exceptionally high standard of living. It made for some compelling and unusual research topics.”

Caitlyn Kennedy ‘09, for example, looked at New Zealand’s fledgling wine industry and how its commitment to sustainable farming and low-carbon production methods could help build an international reputation. Her article was titled “The Greenest Grape: New Zealand’s Commitment to Sustainable Winegrowing.”

The resurgence of the island nation’s indigenous Maori culture was documented by Elizabeth Boig ‘10 in an article titled “New Zealand as a Biracial Nation: How the Springbok Tour of 1981 Helped Revive Maori Culture.” Her study of the Springbok Tour, in which South Africa’s rugby team visited New Zealand, reported on the country’s civil rights movement and its struggle for racial harmony.

And Ashley Pritchard ‘09, in an article titled “The Folly of Looking Only in the Mirror,” took a look at how the country’s immigration policy has affected economic growth over the past 30 years.

“A fascinating insight”

The breadth of cross-disciplinary research impressed Ambassador Ferguson. Citing the Pacific nation’s economic challenges—it lies on the south end of the Pacific Rim, removed from the economic rise of Asia—the ambassador drew attention to his country’s place in a more interconnected world.

“The papers highlight some of the challenges New Zealand faces as a mobile society in a globalized world,” says Ferguson. “New Zealand has an expatriate community abroad that approaches a million New Zealanders, or a fifth of the total population.” Ferguson also mentions immigration, elderly care, and the volatile and regional policy debates occurring beyond its borders as contemporary issues confronting the Kiwis.

“All of these topics have been tackled by the Martindale students. New Zealanders may not agree with all of their conclusions, but they will find the papers provide a fascinating insight into their society,” he says.

That same focus on cultural and economic policies is expected in the next issue of Perspectives, which will put the spotlight on Turkey, a nation that offers a cultural and geographic contrast to New Zealand.

Currently being drafted, the Turkey issue of Perspectives will be available in November 2010. It usually takes students 18 months after visiting a country to complete their research articles, have them peer-reviewed, and publish Perspectives.

In Turkey, which the Martindale Scholars visited last year, the students made stops in Ankara, the national capital, and Istanbul, one of the world’s great metropolises. They had private audiences with the director of the Secretariat General for European Union Affairs and with officials in the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

The team of students and faculty also met with executives from the Koc Group, Turkey’s leading conglomerate that is responsible for nine percent of the nation’s GDP, as well as MAVI, the upscale clothing manufacturer that was the first jeans company ever profiled by Time Magazine (which also ranked its jeans as one of the world’s 16 best). Altogether, the Lehigh team met with more than 25 leading public officials and executives from across the nation.

The 12-day excursion resulted in an unusual insight into the Eurasian country—one that, at times, appears caught between western and Middle Eastern influence.

“Turkey is such a fascinating country because it has long been at the crossroads of civilization,” says Aronson. “Whereas New Zealand provided a look into a relatively young country secluded because of its geography, Turkey gave us an opportunity to see how a nation that bridges cultures and continents is looking at the challenges of the 21st century.”

Preliminary topics include Turkey’s integration with the European Union, religious ideology and secularism, and entrepreneurship.

“We’ve been doing this long enough to know that few students will ever get such an intimate learning experience that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” says Aronson. “It’s a hallmark of what Lehigh is really all about, and it’s why I’m still in touch with students I had during our first trip.”

The Martindale Center is now accepting applications through Friday, Jan. 29, for the next cadre of Martindale Associates, who will travel to Iceland this spring.

 

Story by Tom Yencho

Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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