Hannah Desousa Hayward’s face lights up when talking about the time she spent in Vienna, Austria, completing a four-week management accounting course as part of a DAN Management study trip this past May.
“I had an amazing time,” said Hayward, who is entering her fourth year of management and organizational studies (accounting) this fall. “It’s a great course and so well done. When you’re in a different city, with different people, you’re so stimulated. I learned the course material and about the culture and people of Vienna, too.”
That reaction, also shared by Desousa Hayward’s classmates, is what compels DAN Management lecturers Ruth Ann Strickland and Maria Ferraro to organize the trip and deliver the second part of their course at Vienna University of Economics and Business – Wein (WU).
“I’ve been involved in international courses for years and I’ve seen the impact they have on students,” Strickland said. “It’s an incredible experience for them to network and to open their eyes to how another country approaches solving problems differently.”
Vienna, long known for its history and culture, also offers “an aura of innovation,” Strickland said. It ranked first among the greenest cities in the world in 2020 and earned top spot as the world’s “most livable city” in 2018, 2019 and 2022.
The city’s home to many forward-thinking social structures and businesses – giving Western students working knowledge on the importance of management accounting.
“When many people think of accounting, they often think only of financial accounting, the recording and reporting of numbers,” Strickland said. “This course focuses on management accounting, the ‘decision-making’ side of accounting that focuses on what a company should be doing next. And when we think about a company’s future decisions, sustainability has to be a consideration.”
Management accounting in action
After two weeks of online, asynchronous learning, Western students headed to Vienna, joining students at WU for the in-class portion of the course, on a campus boasting innovative architecture and a park-like environment.
Partnering WU professor Mariana Sailer arranged field trips that included Vienna Airport, where a WU management accounting professor is head of operations.
“The airline industry has gone through a lot in the pandemic, and they talked to us about how they made decisions that helped them maintain viability during a very tough time,” Strickland said.
The group also visited Verbund, Austria’s leading electricity company and one of the largest producers of electricity hydropower in Europe. Close to 100 per cent of their electricity is generated from renewable energy resources.
Strickland said the company welcomed the students with open arms, inviting the group into their boardroom for a front-line discussion, showing how they make their business decisions.
“I loved Verbund,” Desousa Hayward said. “They truly showed us ‘the inside scoop,’ telling us how they operate on a ‘participating budget,’ with everyone’s input. They also showed us how they did their forecasting and risk management, considering how something similar to COVID-19 as a risk factor (before it happened), how they readjusted their plans when it occurred and how they are getting back on track.”
Executives also discussed Russia’s war on Ukraine, offering a global perspective on how realities, such as the skyrocketing cost of oil, affect their community.
“For the students to sit in the boardroom and listen and be part of discussions was so powerful,” Strickland said. “They said over and over how this impacted them. They can sit in classes and learn about businesses, but to sit in one lets them really see how another part of the world is addressing the challenges we are all facing and thinking about.”
“Traveling and studying abroad allowed me to make meaningful connections I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Having mentors and teachers by our side who genuinely wanted us to make the most out of this experience made us feel reassured during our time at WU. It’s truly an incredible memory and a highlight of my time at Western.” – Emilie Kalaydjian, Vienna study trip student
From accounting to art
A welcome surprise for the group was Verbund’s art collection, showcased in a vertical gallery that runs up the eight floors of the building. Created in 2004, the collection is curated for the company’s employees – and the public’s ─ enjoyment.
“It was so beautiful,” Desousa Hayward said, with an exhibit by the French feminist artist ORLAN leaving a life-changing impression.
“I didn’t really think much about art before that,” Desousa Hayward said. “But it sparked such interest in me. I loved it.
“When the curator walked us through the exhibit, there was this sense of national pride in funding the art. They want to preserve it. It’s part of their story. They see it as a conversation-starter for their employees. It adds a sense of community and who they are.”
A network of new friends
In addition to learning together, Western and WU students took part in formal social activities that included a dinner at a local winery.
For Western student Heidi Ng, “The best part of the course was being able to interact with students at WU,” she said. “I also learned important skills such as open discussion, critical thinking, negotiation and active listening. This allowed me to reflect and realize that there is so much power in sharing cultural beliefs, personal knowledge and life stories in and outside the classroom.”
Short-term faculty-led study experiences such as the Vienna course allow students to take advantage of travel opportunities without forgoing summer jobs and other commitments. Many students are also eligible for Global Opportunity Awards, funded by donors and Western, which help offset travel costs.
Applications are now being accepted for next year’s study trip, set for May 2024.
“I feel so honoured to teach this course,” Strickland said. “I love taking the students and saying: ‘Let me introduce you to my Vienna.'”
Interested students can contact Ruth Ann Strickland directly for more information.