Cross-Cultural Coursaris

A man of many talents—he has a B.Eng. in Aerospace, an MBA in e-Business, and a Ph.D. in Information Systems with a concentration on electronic business and mobile commerce— Michigan State University (MSU) professor Dr. Constantinos Coursaris is very familiar with navigating different cultures.

He arrived at MSU by way of Greece (his birth place) and Canada, where he received all of his college education.

In September of 2007, MSU announced a partnership with Dubai International Academic City that laid the groundwork for a satellite campus in Dubai and made MSU the first university with a presence there. And one year later, Coursaris arrived at MSU’s new campus in the desert with a mission.

As a faculty member in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media (TISM), Coursaris was drafted to launch the department’s Media Management program, one of the first five programs offered at the Dubai location.

Sprouting in the Desert

“We only had a skeleton staff of about 30,” says Coursaris. “I functioned as everything from counselor and student advisor to strategist and a member of the faculty. It was difficult, but I learned so much in such a short time frame.”

Coursaris was also charged with developing the MSU Dubai website and developing the project's social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and beyond.

Since his initial, six-month stint in Dubai ended, Coursaris has returned twice to make presentations to the Global Education Forum, assist with student recruitment and help develop MSU’s branding in the region.

Today, the Dubai campus boasts five undergraduate degree programs, a Masters’ program and two Executive Certificate Programs.

So, why Dubai? According to Coursaris, MSU was approached by Dubai to help develop the country’s infrastructure by enhancing the intellectual capital and capacity of its citizens. “Dubai’s importance in the world is rapidly growing," he says. "They don’t want to depend on foreign nationals.”

Cross-Pollination Program

 “The Dubai campus is opening up a whole new world for our students,” says Coursaris. It also means that students from Dubai will be coming to mid-Michigan.

“They will definitely bring diversity,” says Coursaris.

The country-of-origin list for his students reads like the United Nations—more than half are from countries throughout the Middle East, Nigeria, Pakistan and India. The rest hail from Russia, China, Canada, France and even the U.S. “Many of the students come from high-profile families,” he says.

Coursaris has also developed a study abroad program in Japan. The course gives MSU students an opportunity to examine the relationship between culture and technology through the lens of Japanese communication and gaming industries. Students visit and learn from leading gaming companies, like Square-Enix and NTT DoCoMo, and from top universities like Keio and Waseda.

The program also provides immersion in the Japanese culture with visits to a number of cities and historical sites around the country.

Early Adopter

Coursaris' soft-spoken nature belies the passion and energy that he brings to his multitude of projects. From his favorite coffeeshop near campus—his “second office”—he is happy to talk about his government-funded research and local consulting services, offered through the Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting unit of MSU’s Outreach and Engagement.

“Mid-Michigan needs to support initiatives by people in the region who are doing it—the entrepreneurs who are making it happen,” says Coursaris. “We need to learn from the experience of people who are on the cutting edge. This is not the time to be critical or skeptical. It’s time to be supportive.”

Coursaris is quick to point out that change is good—that change, especially in Michigan, is needed.

“It’s time to look at and embrace some different models," he says. "Information Technology (IT) and green energy have been identified as two priorities for the state.”

Service Learning

When it comes to IT, Coursaris is definitely doing his part. Part of his work includes Service Learning projects that are having a significant impact on business and IT services throughout the region.

Area companies and organizations in need of information technology assistance are paired with students specializing in IT management.

“Students get real world experience and companies get their IT expertise,” he explains.

Student projects have run the gamut from website creation (Greater Lansing Chapter of the United Nations Association, Lansing Sister Cities, Harris Nature Center Foundation) and web content management systems to database creation, workflow systems, and wireless website access. Clients include Lansing Board of Water & Light, RSI Logistics, Lansing School Board, Eaton Aerospace and the American Cancer Society.

With IT identified as one of the fastest growing sectors in the Capital area, these Service Learning partnerships have been good news for the mid-Michigan job market. Many students are ultimately being hired by the companies they work with when they are students.

The Service Learning projects are also demonstrating big cost savings for companies. Each project has a market value from $5,000-$28,000, depending on market rates and hours.

A recent project started with students surveying residents of Oakland County, asking them what local government services they would like to see available on their mobile devices.

“They basically took the county’s static web presence and made it mobile,” says Coursaris. Taking into account free student labor, tax savings, and streamlining of services, the project saved the county $31,720.

Coursaris also shares his skills as Faculty Advisor for the MSU student group, Associated Students for Career Orientation in Telecommunications (ASCOT). He was instrumental in developing the Convergence project, ASCOTS’s annual career fair and networking event.

The 2010 Convergence, which took place in February, drew more than 100 students, and featured presentations from national companies IBM and Google and mid-Michigan standouts Message Makers, Artemis Solutions, TechSmith and Harvest Music & Sound.

Away from campus, Coursaris has also been tapped for his IT and marketing skills by the State of Michigan, Detroit Medical Center, and the Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney.

“The problem is, I’m working on so many projects, I don’t really have time to promote them,” Coursaris laments.

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Viki Lorraine is a public health consultant by day and a writer by night.

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Dr. Constantinos Coursaris being interviewed by Capital Gains and in Dubai

Interview photographs © Dave Trumpie

Dubai photos courtesy of Dr. Coursaris

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