UW-Stout News Story

Students learn global aspects of manufacturing on trip to China

July 12, 2012

Garrett Rass saw a whole new side to his major, manufacturing engineering, when he went to the other side of the world during a recent University of Wisconsin-Stout class trip.

The class went to China for 10 days after the spring semester ended. Students learned about international business and manufacturing in ways that they never could have from a book or in a classroom.

A total of 13 students in the Global Manufacturing Tour course saw well-known Chinese cultural and historic sites, but the tours of five large factories and companies made the biggest impressions on class members.

Rass, for example, learned how the day-to-day lives of Chinese workers are much different than those of the average American. “I found it fascinating that in China it’s typical for workers to travel and work at companies for a few years to save up money. Then they return home to start a family,” Rass said.

Because the Chinese often leave home temporarily for work, many companies provide housing for their employees. In addition, it’s not unusual for companies to provide meals for their workers, Rass said.

During one company tour at the Xinhui facility of Lee Kum Kee, which makes Chinese and Asian sauces, UW-Stout students ate lunch with workers and learned about their jobs and lives.

The knowledge Rass gained on the trip and during the class will “give me an edge in the job market as more and more companies are going international to compete,” said Rass, of Forestville in Door County.

The tours included two Wisconsin-based companies that have facilities in China, Prent in Shanghai and Kohler in Foshan.

The CEO and president of Prent is Joseph T. Pregont, who graduated from UW-Stout in 1981. Prent designs and makes custom plastic packaging. It employs 200 in China and is building a new facility.

At Kohler, which employs 400 in China, students talked with a group of managers to gain insight about the company’s production of bathroom fixtures there.

In addition, the class toured an IBM facility and the headquarters for heavy equipment-maker Caterpillar, which is based in China.

Julie Berndt, an online student who works at Johnson Coil in Antigo, said the trip “really changed my way of thinking in regards to a global market. Words cannot explain how actually seeing a different culture can expand your mind.”

The trip was led by Wendy Dittmann, director of the UW-Stout undergraduate management program, and Xuedong “David” Ding, associate professor in operations and management. Ding, a native of China, is a former supply chain manager for Tropicana in Guangzhou.

“We wanted students to see how these companies operate. The course provided a good overview of doing business in China,” Dittmann said.

Students did background reading and other preparation before the trip and were required to write a paper after returning.

This was the third year of the trip. Students do not have to be enrolled at UW-Stout to take the class, which is expected to be offered again next spring. For more information, contact the department of operations and management at 715-232-1624.

For more information on UW-Stout College of Management programs, go to the website.

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