MSUM alumna awarded Fulbright Specialist award

Kelly La Venture, an MSUM MBA graduate and now an associate professor in the Business Administration Department at Bemidji State University, recently received a Fulbright Specialist Program award for her work promoting entrepreneurship in Cambodia.

Kelly La VentureWhile in Cambodia, she worked closely with the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia (YEAC), a volunteer-driven non-profit organization committed to establishing a networking platform, sharing and synergizing business opportunities, and contributing to productive employment and sustainable development of Cambodia’s economy.

Members pay a fee to access their resources and connections to relevant stakeholders. Individuals must be under 45 to apply, but membership is for life.

The association stood out to Kelly because her passions aligned with YEAC’s values and mission statement. She quickly applied and was offered an interview and soon a position.

Their partnership aimed at creating certificate programs to help business owners scale their businesses. Kelly’s MBA from MSUM, along with her bachelor’s and master’s degree in international business from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and doctorate from the University of Saint Thomas, equip her with an arsenal of business and marketing skills.

She spent her days creating training modules in human resources, marketing, and finance to help young business owners manage those components of their companies. She researched job availability and available resources to factor into their business modules. She also connected business owners with relevant shareholders in their communities to help expand their networks.

The experience was self-led and independent, working 40 hours a week within a flexible schedule. Despite the position being independent, Kelly grew close with YEAC’s student interns. They taught her the local language, shared stories, and encouraged her to sightsee at some of Cambodia’s historical and cultural temples and sites.

Her favorite sightseeing moment was when she took a 4:30 a.m. sunrise tour of the world’s largest religious monument, Angkor Wat. Fortunately for Kelly, the day she decided to tour marked the start of one of Cambodia’s most sacred religious holidays. She recalls hearing the monks chanting and praying within the temple walls as the sun rose over them.

Her time in Cambodia diversified her cultural skill set, both personally and professionally, and she brings it into her classroom teaching. Kelly advocates for students to seek out international opportunities. Businesses are expanding globally, and knowing how to interact with different cultures is more important than ever. Intercultural skills give students a competitive edge in the workforce. Her experience allows her to teach her students about perspective changes, cultural situations and how to adapt, and how to be receptive to different ideas.

This is not Kelly’s only Fulbright award. In both 2018 and again 2021, she completed work in the country of Mauritius. She also serves as an in-classroom advocate for international education in kindergarten-through-college classrooms.

Her exposure to different cultures began at an early age with her family's travel overseas. Growing up, her neighbor had also received a Fulbright grant and had done work in Africa. While they were away, people from different countries would stay in her neighbor's house. As a result, she experienced diversity of cultures right next door, and this fueled her interest in international work.

She began seeking international opportunities in her education, one of which landed her a position within the Disney College Program. Not only does Disney offer a variety of international business classes, but students are immersed in an environment full of cultures that differ from their own.

As a professor, Kelly wants to bring back these experiences to her students and show them the importance of intercultural relationships. She encourages students to engage with their professors and build connections. As a world traveler, she advocates for students to consider international opportunities, whether studying abroad or national exchange options within the United States.

“The more you can do at the student level, the more excited you get,” she says.

International experience also helps in the job market. Students develop stronger communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership skills—valuable traits employers  consistently look for in applicants. The more career-readiness skills one can exhibit at a younger age, the more sought-after and employable one becomes.

The more students learn about diverse cultures, the more they realize how similar people are, despite coming from different walks of life. International opportunities are abundant, and the opportunities to grow are endless.

When reflecting on her time at MSUM, Kelly recalls the support and mentorship from many professors, including Wooyan Kim, Peter Geib, and Ben Clapp. All three served on her thesis committee.

“They really helped strengthen the study by sharing their perspectives and encouraging me to look at it from different angles,” she says.

Kelly continues to stay connected with her mentors at MSUM. She and Dr. Kim regularly collaborate on topics within an international and marketing scope. In 2018, they were awarded Best Paper on cultural property value and the impacts of tourism and visit intent. In 2019, Dr. Kim presented their work at the Atlantic Marketing Association conference. Her connections at MSUM are lifelong and she hopes to continue collaborating in the future.

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