Lou Paris stood before 24 students in his International Business class at Stetson University, sprinkling real-life experiences with textbook theories.
Stetson Professor Lou Paris talks to students in class.
Stetson Visiting Lecturer Lou Paris talks to students in his class in the Stetson School of Business Administration.
“It’s hard these days to distinguish between business and international business,” he said, drawing on his many years of living abroad, first as a child in his native Venezuela and later in Canada, the United States and Europe.
But while large businesses and corporations are becoming more inclusionary, he pointed out that distinct cultural differences still exist between countries that are reflected in the dress, food, music, attitudes and lifestyles of the people.
“Every country is ethnocentric to some degree. You hold your culture to be superior, no matter how large or small the country is,” he told a class that included students from China, Sweden and Germany, although most were Americans. “I challenge you to go outside your comfort zone.”
Paris, now a U.S. citizen, has practiced what he preaches as an entrepreneur and visiting lecturer in Stetson’s School of Business Administration, where he graduated in 2001 and received an M.B.A. in 2007.
In recent years, he developed a website, called Konkeros.com, that places international students in jobs with U.S. companies (Stetson University was the first implementer of this technology). He also heads an International Students Club at Stetson that usually meets once or twice a month to discuss all aspects of living and working in America. Business leaders often are invited to speak to the group.
Now, Stetson has developed a plan to build on his efforts and provide more help for international students to start careers in a competitive global market.
head-and-shoulders image of Dr. Rosalie Richards
Rosalie Richards, Ph.D., associate provost for Faculty Development at Stetson. BOLD
“Lou identified a demand by our international students and unselfishly volunteered his time and talent to this important work,” said Rosalie Richards, Ph.D., associate provost for Faculty Development. “As a result, he has inspired the University to formalize his efforts. We have developed a comprehensive plan to boost international student engagement, talent development, and career success and thus, provide an excellent return on investment for these students and their families.”
When Stetson’s plan is fully funded, she said, it will provide a full-time advocate who will continue to develop relationships with potential employers.
“The program will include internship support and the continued use of Konkeros.com will be a strong component. We also anticipate sharing what we learn because at Stetson, what’s good for international students is good for all students,” Richards added.
STUDENTS FROM 55 COUNTRIES
Last year, 185 undergraduate students at Stetson came from outside the United States, making up 6 percent of the student body. They were from 55 countries, according to Stetson’s Office of Institutional Research.
Paris said many of them major in International Business.
“They all know I was an international student,” he said. “Their questions can range from, ‘What do I do with a speeding ticket to I need a job to stay in the U.S.?’ ”
And that one question led to the idea of developing the website listing “tens of thousands” of employers, so foreign students could connect with companies that hire graduates with diverse cultural backgrounds.
“I asked the students what they needed to (find) a job. Their most common wish was to know what companies were hiring international students. So I didn’t waste time. I built a database,” he said. “I created something that no one else does by ranking companies by the best to least likely to hire students in the fields they majored in.”
Traditional job fairs were intimidating for some students, he said. One Venezuelan student broke down crying in Paris’ office, after she was unable to make even the most basic connection.
“I was very upset. She was so bright, but got no chance. I thought there was a need to help navigate the madness,” Paris said. “That was the catalyst for the site.”
SAVING STUDENTS TIME
Lucas Diniz, 24, graduated from Stetson last May with a degree in finance. Thanks to the Konkeros website and Paris, he quickly found a job at Product Quest Manufacturing in Daytona Beach. He’s a market research analyst working mainly on over-the-counter generic brands for stores like CVS.
“It saved time by narrowing down the companies that actually hire international students. When you just look for a job on your own, there can be a lot of wasted energy, where you go out on interviews only to hear they don’t hire international students,” Diniz said. “Lou (Paris) and Konkeros helped me select jobs where there was the most probability of getting hired.”
Paris said international students often feel like underdogs with no family or friends in the area to lean on for support. But on the flip side, that often builds character.
“They are tested more at a younger age in the ways of the world. They are more mature. They want to stay for the opportunities, or because their country is in shambles like in Venezuela, or they simply like the American way of life,” said Paris, whose father had owned a construction company in Venezuela when he was growing up.
Paris said he expects other colleges throughout the state and country in the near future to offer Konkeros as word spreads of its success.
“My goal is to get this in the hands of all international students in the United States. That would be incredible,” he said. “It’s the foundation for colleges to build upon. It can help them with admissions, attracting more international students by showing them that they can achieve their goals, and stay and work in the U.S.”
– Ray Weiss
Posted originally at Stetson Today