News: Featured Stories

January 2, 2015

Heads in the Clouds

  • Amherst
Bringing together students from six universities, five countries, four continents.

Soumia Soltani, a UMass Amherst junior biology major, opens her team’s presentation and tells the class they will be talking about medical laboratory products and the biological products marketing industry. She hands over the floor to Marah Mohamed, who appears on the large screen from the American University in Cairo, to give a brief history of the company. Next up is Conor Doyle, from the National University of Ireland in Galway, with a description of the industry, and then Min-Yue Wang, from National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, to talk about the current status of the business. The presentation moves along practically seamlessly with other team members from Novgorod State University in Russia and Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages in Taiwan appearing in real time on the large-screen monitors in the high tech ELab 2 classroom.

“Effective Decision Making in the Age of Cloud Computing” is an advanced-level biology elective and includes students from six universities in five countries on four continents. “It is the only course of its type at UMass, or anywhere,” says instructor Gino Sorcinelli ’73, ’75G.

“Working in virtual teams with science-related, real-world data is the essence of the class,” he says, and the students are divided into five such teams, composed of a mix of representatives from each of the universities. At the beginning of the semester each team selects a leading biotechnology or biomedical company, along with its major competitor. Assignments require deep research about their companies with students conducting a comprehensive analysis by looking at competition, industry trends, key decisions (good and bad), role of leadership, potential new products, etc.

“It is great to be able to review official documents,” says senior biochemistry major Mickey Borgenicht. “I have been deeply involved in the laboratory side and it is good to see the business side as well.”

Classes meet Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Amherst time, but because of time zone differences most meetings and discussions take place virtually outside the classroom. Using Lync, Sharepoint, Office 365, and other Microsoft programs, the students are in touch with each other at all hours of the day and night working on assignments or preparing presentations using their computers, phones, and tablets.

“We are learning to communicate with people all across the globe,” says Akash Patel, a senior marketing and economics major. “That is something I will take with me.”

“The course simulates real-world business activity,” says Sorcinelli. “Students are using the same information technology and resources used in business. They are working across geographical locations and time zones to collaborate, gather information, and make decisions, and they are working with students from a variety of countries and cultures.”

“It is a great learning experience,” says Amira Soltani, a junior biology major. “We are getting introduced to the cultural aspects of doing business internationally and learning to solve problems and communicate effectively.”