Industry funding, global projects enhance industrial distribution study abroad program in China

Photo of industrial distribution undergraduate students at the Great Wall of China

Pictured: Industrial distribution undergraduate students at the Great Wall of China


The Industrial Distribution Global Study Abroad Program (GSA) continues to provide global business experience and cultural awareness to undergraduates.

This year’s program focused on China. The Study Abroad program was a six-credit hour, summer I program with 25 students June 8-20. In Beijing the class met delegates from the U.S Embassy and the Asia American Chamber. The group then traveled to Tianjin, Suzhou and Shanghai, and in each city the students were exposed to real-world business challenges at companies through visits, guest lectures and case studies. 

“I learned a lot about Chinese business,” said student Caleb Little. “I learned how to talk with businessmen from China, how they function differently, and how to work with a company in a professional way”. 

With the growth in Asian economies, purchasing power and the increased logistics activity throughout the region, the opportunities and challenges are tremendous for distribution companies. This summer program provides junior and senior students with exposure to global engineering, global supply chain throughput, logistics, international sales and marketing challenges, and solutions in Asia. The students conducted two global projects for Brenntag and Rexel.

“The projects provide students opportunity to apply theory to real-world problems,” said Dr. Esther Rodriguez, project manager in the Industrial Distribution Program, who advised and helped the students with their projects. Rodriguez said these projects enhance the students’ exposure to research methods and use of tools and techniques.

Natalie Shelton, one of the students who participated in the class, said, “It was really neat to go and have warehouse tours and industry tours and meet with the people who actually do business in this industry. It really gave us a good perspective of where we could be in the future and how we can influence not just our business but other businesses as well.”

Photo of industrial distribution undergraduate students in front of Tianjin University bell tower

Pictured: Industrial distribution undergraduate students in front of Tianjin University bell tower

The students visited four companies while in China: Flowserve, Rexel, Brenntag and Rockwell. Brenntag is a leading global chemical distribution company that has an ever-increasing need for employees that have a distribution education coupled with global experience and skill sets.

Danijela Cao, vice president of global sourcing for Brenntag Asia in Shanghai, said, “Embedding such an experience with the classes while in school allows students the opportunity to reflect on what they learned in school, to try and apply academic theories to practice, and to identify gaps in their preparedness for job application a year or two down the road. In other words, students who can connect ‘theory’ with ‘the real world’ and who can adopt, learn and transition faster will be the most attractive to employers and will be the ones getting picked first for a wider variety of jobs.” 

Bill Fidler, CEO for Brenntag North America, added, "Global experience will be invaluable to students who aspire to have careers with multinational organizations.”

And Rexel CEO Mitchell William said, “Rexel operates in 40 countries and has more than 30,000 employees. We need talent that is motivated to learn and grow from a business perspective, a cultural perspective, and a geographical perspective." 

The Global Study Abroad Program is made possible by the generous support of Brenntag and Rexel, and a generous former student, Tom Ferguson, who together contributed $133,000. These gifts have made this course a sustainable, yearly program that provides the students with global experience and knowledge.

Dr. F. Barry Lawrence, Industrial Distribution Program director at Texas A&M and instructor for the Study Abroad Program, said he prides the Industrial Distribution Study Abroad Program on being the least expensive study abroad class at Texas A&M because of corporate support and college of engineering scholarships.  

“The Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M would like to have 50 percent of the undergraduate students with global experience by the time they graduate," Lawrence said. "However, cost is one of the barriers preventing that from happening, so industry sponsorship is an excellent way to make it affordable for students."

Maria Alves, director for engineering international programs at Texas A&M said she believes the global study abroad program is the best way for students to acquire the skills needed to pursue engineering careers.

“A well-rounded and effective engineer in this global environment is one that complements his/her core technical knowledge with excellent cross-cultural competence and international exposure," Alves said. "Student participation in a study abroad program is one of the most effective ways for students to get international exposure in their field.”

Student Roy Eckhardt said, “It’s been such a great and rewarding experience and I would definitely recommend that other students seize the opportunity to travel abroad if given the opportunity."

Fine more photos on Flickr. For more information on the Global Study Abroad Program, visit