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The SIFE team celebrates their win in Chicago. Back row, from left, Roger Moore, Cary Clark, Jason Patterson, Muhammed Haider, Austin Hunt and Kaitlin Claren. Front row, from left, Mi Zhao, Jeanette Glaze, Beth Larson, Vaughn English and Tara Nigh.

Students in Free Enterprise makes a name for itself

SIFE goes global to help foreign students

A program that had only one student member and was on the verge of vanishing a few years ago is now a source of pride and acclaim for UMKC. Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) is making a name for itself – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Today’s SIFE students have traveled to China and spoken to hundreds of pre-college groups, given television interviews and addressed Rotary clubs and other civic groups. SIFE – a nonprofit organization – provides tools for students to learn the free enterprise system in a real work situation, and challenges them to use their classroom education to better their communities. In the process, students become more confident and proficient, making a smoother transition into the business sector.

UMKC’s growing reputation

Each spring, 1,600 teams worldwide compete in regional events, presenting professional overviews of their projects. The projects must address judging criteria that include market economics, entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability.

This past April, the multidisciplinary SIFE team walked away from the regional SIFE competition in Chicago the victors, earning the league championship trophy (marking the third year in a row they’ve won the regional competition). They went on to be second-runner up at the national competition in Minneapolis. It was a record year, with several team members receiving on-the-spot job offers from company executives that judged the event.

In 2008, UMKC’s recordand visibility prompted Nanjing University to invite the SIFE Team to China in 2009 to acquaint its students with life and study in the United States. 

The invitation also was encouraged by SIFE student Mi Zhao, a Nanjing native, spoke about the program and convinced family members that a visit by the Americans could do for many Chinese students what it did for her.

Sharing across cultures

In appearances throughout China, the team presented seminars on Western culture, beginning with American and Kansas City history lessons. To make the seminars relevant, SIFE studentsfound cultural, geographical and business similarities between Nanjing and KC – both cities are centers of commerce and both have a location near a river as a way of moving goods.

The greatest emphasis was reserved for campus life and learning discussions - the culture of the classroom. Chinese students found personal and educational differences, not only in social settings but in classrooms, too.

Before each presentation, Zhao broke the ice by sharing her experiences while in America and at UMKC. She sprinkled her comments with common American slang questions and answers. Teammate Vaughn English elicited a call and response from the audience – with shouts of “What’s up?” and "Peace out!"

SIFE members told Chinese audiences that the American classroom is a reflection of America outside the classroom - a melting pot of people, all ages, nations and races learning together. Men and women mingle freely. By comparison, Chinese students are accustomed to a formal setting – where they listen, take notes and avoid embarrassment.

“Really, the most important thing was simply the dialogue we shared with them,” said Roger Moore, SIFE student. “We related not as Chinese or American, but as people.”

In the spirit of friendship

Newspaper cameramen and reporters followed the SIFE group incessantly, creating a sort of visiting rock star atmosphere. Huge lecture halls were filled to standing room, and presentations were recorded to be shown later to the thousands of interested students who were not admitted. Three television networks broadcast some of the UMKC SIFE team presentations, reaching a potential viewership of 7 million. The Chinese students, reluctant to see the meetings end, took pictures and trailed after the American presenters.  

Once back in the U.S., the SIFE students heard not only from the students but also from the Minister of Education in Nanjing. The Minister plans to authorize students from Nanjing and Shanghai, the most prominent cities in Jingling Province, to come to the US. Some of them will – perhaps – wind up at UMKC.

Now what?

 “I’ve already had requests for meetings to discuss future programs in China, India and Scandinavia,” said Cary Clark, SIFE advisor. “The Director of Diversity at the Federal Reserve Bank asked me to meet and discuss employment and project opportunities with the Fed for our SIFE students. We’re a good reason for donors to look on UMKC positively and for potential students to see the UMKC advantage. We’re riding a wave.”

Posted: July 12, 2010

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"We've been successful because of the hard work we've all put in, and because of what we've learned over the years. We have students on this team who really want to make a difference in the community."

Tara Nigh
Senior and SIFE vice president

The SIFE Team visited China in 2009 to acquaint its students with life and study in the United States.