For Michael Gunther, road to Maryville leads to the world

May 15, 2012
Contact: Maryville College Office of Communications
865.981.8207; communication@maryvillecollege.edu

Traveling with his family to Gatlinburg several years ago, Michael Gunther expected nothing more than a vacation in the Smoky Mountains. Little did he know that the trip would ultimately lead to destinations much further – the French Alps, Finland, Belgium.

Gunther, an international business major from Gulf Shores, Ala., will graduate from Maryville College on May 20. He vividly remembers that day when he and his family noticed the campus along Highway 321 and decided to turn in. What they saw intrigued them enough to set up an appointment shortly thereafter for a full tour of the school.

For a young man who grew up on a sailboat, adventure must have always been in his blood, and he has parlayed that attitude into a first-class education filled with opportunities provided by Maryville College.

“I always wanted to travel abroad,” said Gunther, who sailed around the Caribbean with parents when he was young and whose father works for a company oversees.

Seizing the opportunities

Gunther’s advisor, Dr. John Gallagher, professor of management, said his advisee has traveled more, internationally, as a student than any other undergraduate he has worked with in his 14 years with the College. The travel has given Gunther the opportunity to learn about several different cultures (including international business environments) and makes him more engaged in the world than most students, the professor said.

“Michael is very much the exception. I think that kind of experience is just invaluable for him and for his future career,” Gallagher said. “I think he stands head and shoulders above his peers in that regard.”

As an international business major with a minor in French, Gunther was required to study abroad at least once, but he took advantage of every opportunity to enhance his education. He received a $1,200 Ragsdale International Scholarship, named after Richard E. Ragsdale, a former chairperson of the Maryville College Board of Directors, who set up an endowment to help students with additional expenses. The $1,200 paid for his travel expenses when he went to France the summer after his sophomore year. He took a French language course at the University of Savoie, living in the city of Chambery, surrounded by the French Alps. Gunther, who lived in a dorm in the middle of the city and walked 15 minutes to class, also took advantage of extracurricular activities.

“They took us out into the country, into the mountains, and showed us how they make cheese,” he said. “It was goat cheese.”

Gunther spent his junior year at the University of Oulu, Finland, where he studied international business and Finnish history, among other subjects. As a student at Maryville College, he had received a general scholarship that transferred to the Finnish university.

Living approximately 100 miles from the Arctic Circle, Gunther’s experience in Oulu was vastly different than what he was accustomed to on the Gulf coastal waters of his hometown: days of 22 hours of darkness, temperatures of 30 degrees below zero and waist-high snow. Living in Finland also gave him new opportunities: cross-country skiing, dog sledding and seeing the Northern Lights.

“It was magnificent,” he said of the astronomical phenomena. “I stood in the middle of a frozen lake watching them. It was pretty cool.”

The yearlong exchange gave Gunther, now 22, the chance to travel to other countries, such as Sweden, Norway, Spain, Italy and Switzerland. He said he visited probably 13 or 14 countries during his time overseas.

“I would just hop on a train from Oulu to Russia, and it was like an eight-hour train ride,” he said. “Once you cross another border, it’s almost completely different.”

St. Petersburg, Russia, made an impression on Gunther.

“I think it was one of the best cities I went to. I went to all the palaces and down the canals. It was a beautiful city.

“Everything is so artistic there,” he said, citing the gold, silver and jewels used to adorn palaces.

Gunther admitted that he had held a stereotypical image of Russians before visiting the country, but he said the trip made him realize that “the Russians are just like any other people.”

Developing a global perspective

In addition to his academic and traveling lessons, he learned how to cross cultural bridges through communication and discussion. While living in Finland, Gunther and other students often would discuss American politics during and after meals. Seeing the issues from their perspectives helped him develop a more global view, and Gunther said he learned how to communicate better as a result.

“You get to see a different point of view,” he said.

Gunther wasn’t able to go home for Christmas, but he did Skype with his parents while living over there.

“It was a really good growing experience being on my own and getting a taste of the real world,” he said.

Even after his junior year was over, he stayed in Europe for one more learning experience. He traveled straight from Finland to Brussels, Belgium, to intern with the United Parcel Service (UPS) European headquarters, which employs about 2,500 people. While working in Brussels, Gunther lived with a French family just outside of the city.

With only two Americans working at the headquarters, the internship gave him a true flavor of working for an international company. During his two months there, Gunter’s responsibilities were to compare UPS’s shipping rates with its competitors. He also had the opportunity to meet the president of UPS’s international headquarters.

Completing an international-themed case study

True to his entire college experience, Gunther, as a senior, has been busy this year taking advantage of opportunities. Business majors can choose to do a senior case study rather than the normal senior thesis required for graduation. Gunther chose the case study, which requires more financial components than the thesis.

His focus was on the historical transition of Rolls-Royce from a luxury car manufacturer to the builder of aircraft engines. Gunther’s case study examined how Rolls-Royce has thrived in recent years and what potential economic threats exist that the company needs to address.

Clay Shwab, visiting instructor of management, supervised Gunther’s work on the case study throughout the year and helped him submit it to the Southeast Case Research Association (SECRA).

The case study was accepted as part of SECRA’s 20th annual conference in February. (A case synopsis can be found under the 2012 Conference Proceedings link.) Gunther said at the conference, SECRA members held a roundtable discussion on the study’s merits and offered additional ideas for getting the paper published in a journal.

Shwab said Gunther’s work was well received, and it has the potential to be published in three different publications because of its extensive overview.

“It’s too thorough of an analysis for one publication,” Shwab said. “He obviously has a very strong interest in international studies, and so Rolls-Royce was a natural choice.”

Shwab, who works full-time for the College and is also the chief operating officer for a national curriculum company based in Brazil, said Gunther’s broad experiences while in school will serve him well as he searches for professional opportunities after graduation.

“It just makes him so hirable and shows his flexibility. He’s a quick study,” Shwab said of the graduating senior. “He has a broader casting net to find an exciting career that he wants. He’s a special student.”

Gunther said he would love to work for an international company, and he’s also considering graduate school. He said his education at Maryville College has offered him amazing choices, and he’s glad to have been part of the campus community.

“They’ve given me a lot of opportunities,” he said.

This story was written by Bonny Millard, a freelance writer for the Office of Communications.