Innovation, culture and technology in India

In an immersive global study tour experience, students cultivated a rich understanding of business theory and a global perspective in India.

At the University of Washington Bothell, real-world experiences and applications are fundamental to student learning. A lot can be taught from a classroom, yet it is often the experiences outside the classroom that impart the greatest lessons. 

This rings especially true for students pursuing business careers in a globalized economy. 

In winter 2024, students in the Global Study Tour course went on an educational journey that took them out of the classroom — and the country — as they traveled to an epicenter of culture and innovation in India. 

Led by two faculty in the School of Business, Dr. Surya Pathak, professor, and Brooks Gekler, affiliate instructor, the 20 students traveled to Bengaluru and Mysore, India, for an immersive experience that captured everything from large-scale cultural and economic differences to a closeup look at some of India’s high-tech innovators. 

“Having an experience like this where they see how strategy is applied and adapted, and see how people are led and managed in different cultures will make students better leaders,” Gekler said. “You have to be a highly flexible and adaptable leader to be successful in a complex global business today, and there’s no better way to build that than through international experience.”

A teaching partnership

Longtime partners in teaching and business, Pathak and Gekler had previously taken students to destinations such as Shanghai and Jakarta, Indonesia, as well as various U.S. cities in a consulting management course for MBA students that they co-teach. 

The Global Study Tour course is taught each year by a different faculty pair that organizes, creates and develops the course curriculum and selects a topical destination. The fifth-largest economy in the world, India seemed a perfect place for students to cultivate a rich understanding of business theory and a global perspective. 

“As a retiree from a corporate consumer products company, having the opportunity to go and look at consumer products companies in India, and look at how technology is driving innovation in their businesses was very exciting,” Gekler said. “If you really want to see where the technology impacts are happening, this is a great country to visit, and I wanted my students to experience that.” 

He said, the experience was made all the more special by co-leading the group with Pathak, who was born and raised in India. Through Pathak’s connections, students were given “red carpet” treatment as they embarked on a lineup of diverse speakers, companies and educational institutions throughout their nine-day trip. 

“I feel proud that this is the kind of business education we are providing,” Pathak said. “It’s much more well-rounded. It’s got the liberal arts, the sciences, engineering and the business acumen all rolled into one experience, which is called life. And that’s really satisfying.” 

You have to be a highly flexible and adaptable leader to be successful in a complex global business today, and there’s no better way to build that than through international experience.

Brooks Gekler, affiliate instructor, School of Business

An inclusive experience

The Global Study Tour has previously only been open to graduate students working toward an MBA, but this year Gekler and Pathak decided to also open the trip to a select group of undergraduate students who had already taken their business consulting course. 

“I think it created a wonderful dynamic having both the graduate and undergraduate students,” Gekler said. “The graduate students had an opportunity to serve as mentors and advisers for the undergraduates, and it was an exceptional experience for everyone.” 

For Nichole Gordon, (Business Administration, Technology & Innovation Management, ’24), the opportunity to travel and experience another culture drew her to the tour, and she was excited by the prospect of working alongside MBA students. 

“I was hoping to do a lot of networking, as I knew we would be visiting some companies working with cutting-edge technology,” Gordon said. “I was really looking forward to connecting with both the students on the trip and the companies we visited. The trip exceeded my expectations! I made so many genuine connections on the Global Studies Tour that I hope will last a lifetime.” 

Some of the companies the group visited include watch and jewelry manufacturer Titan Company, e-commerce giant Flipkart and even a company closer to home, Boeing, at its Bengaluru offices. 

With these visits, students were also working toward the business-oriented outcome that drove the class. The objective? To pitch a concept for a product or service that doesn’t currently exist in the North American market. Upon returning home, students collaborated in groups to develop their concepts. 

Innovative ways of connecting

Among the cultural differences India had to offer, the country’s longstanding traditions around chai stood out to one of the groups. One company in particular caught their attention — Chai Point, which Gekler affectionately referred to as the Starbucks of India. 

“The ritualistic aspect of a chai or coffee break was something we became very familiar with while in India,” Gordon said. “I was especially passionate about this idea because it really embodied everything we learned while there — how cutting-edge technology can seamlessly integrate with cultural traditions and bring people closer together.” 

The product the students pitched was an all-in-one brewing appliance with voice recognition and self-learning capabilities. They called it “brUW Bot.” 

“We were so inspired by the visit to Chai Point and how they created space for intentional community engagements,” said Benjamin Studley, a student in the MBA program. “We decided our concept should be around ways we could incorporate tech and community in the workplace.” 

In addition to its brewing capabilities, Studley said the bot would integrate with a scheduling app to create an easy way for coworkers to schedule breaks with each other and gather together with a warm beverage.  

Some of the other pitches included an app for parking in urban areas where space is limited, an app for late night food delivery and another food delivery app to meet catering needs at events or small gatherings. 

Two people with a prototype of a BrUW bot.
Students present their “prototype” for the brUW Bot.

A global perspective for the future 

From business lessons to cultural experiences such as music and food, the tour offered many opportunities for students to expand their global perspective. 

For Pathak and Gekler, the memories they helped create, connections they made and knowledge they imparted are all in support of a shared mission. 

“Brooks and I believe that one of our callings is to prepare the next generation of leaders,” Pathak said. “In our current world, having a global perspective is not just a nice thing to have. You won’t survive without it. 

“I believe that the students who have gone on this tour are fundamentally altered in their thinking, and they are going to make a positive change in whatever endeavor they pursue next.” 

A group of people dancing.
Students from the Global Study Tour India dance during a celebration event to share their trip experiences.

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