Scholarship gives professor new focus

By: Scott Whipple

NEW BRITAIN - Bill Tracey Jr. is back from the Republic of Belarus. While there he shot a 350-pound boar, drank a lot of pomegranate juice (also some vodka), and told his hosts he was Irish whenever anti-Americanism raised its Belarusian head.

Tracey returned with a raconteur's file of stories from a country that was once a part of Russia; more important, he's gained an even greater knowledge of international business.

An associate professor and chairman of the department of management and organization at Central Connecticut State University, Tracey spent a year in Belarus on a Fulbright Scholarship. His teenage son, Patrick, accompanied him.

"His Russian is much better than mine," Tracey explained with a smile.

Belarus is the border country between Poland and Russia. Its government is stable, yet oppressive; the education level is high, cost of manufacturing low.

Tracey set a few goals and he met them. He wanted to:

* gain experience teaching /lecturing in an international setting,

* strengthen his ability to teach classes in international business and management after his return to CCSU,

* experience living in another culture in a capacity other than tourist or short-term visitor,

* work with a Belarusian faculty to develop "Western style" business courses, programs and case studies in local business ventures,

* develop additional expertise to conduct research for a specific country, and

* represent the Fulbright Scholar Program, CCSU, and the United States as a faculty "ambassador" for the sharing of culture, knowledge, research and the development of future collaborations.

The first CCSU faculty member to visit and teach in Belarus back in 1998, Tracey taught faculty development workshops to Belarusian professors.

He found the greatest difficulty in lecturing was the language barrier. Often he required a translator.

"When being interpreted you need to progress slowly and ask lots of questions," he says. "I find questions from students the best indicator of how my content is getting through."

Tracey says a lack of business case studies in Belarus still exists. A search for English language materials on Belarus produced only one publication. He wants to increase the availability of materials in English, particularly, case studies featuring post-Soviet entrepreneurship.

While he was in Belarus he visited Chernobyl on the 20th anniversary of the infamous disaster at the nuclear power plant. He was amazed at the wildlife in the zone. Some Belarusians want to turn the area into a tourist attraction, but Tracey doubts this will happen.

"The zone will forever be contaminated," he says.

The impact of this project on his career has been significant. Working and living in Belarus as a Fulbright participant enabled him to observe cultural, business, educational and political systems little understood in the West. He returned to CCSU ready to contribute his experience to the international business degree program and international management classes.

"I believe my teaching is richer with new examples," he says. "I hope to expand our international field studies offerings by developing a course to Belarus and neighboring countries."

Tracey plans to lead a select group of CCSU students on a return visit to Belarus next spring.

Christopher Galligan, dean of Central's School of Business, says his year there "will open doors for international relations, and increase the university's presence on a global level."