The former graduate student lounge on the third floor of the State Farm Hall of Business is being transformed into the new home for the Carson and Iris Varner International Business Institute. The renovation is made possible through an endowment from the Institute’s namesakes, as well as infrastructure funding from the Office of the Provost.

Carson Varner described the space as “a real beginning … (for) this program that my wife and I have given our lives to” and believes having a dedicated space will help to attract students to the program.

Last year, the Varners, who are the founders of the International Business program, made a $1 million donation, the largest faculty cash gift in the history of Illinois State University. Together the couple has more than 80 combined years of teaching experience, and while she retired from serving as the Institute’s director in 2010, he continues to teach as a faculty member in the Department of Finance, Insurance and Law.

“I so appreciate their not only financial support but emotional support and social support,” said the Institute’s current Director Barbara Ribbens, who has operated the program out of her office for the last few years and is excited to see the development of a larger, more functional space.

Varner has heartily enjoyed observing the renovation process, and after recently reviewing some of the design plans, he observed, “It’s really going to be classy … This third floor corner office will radiate our quality. Also, we will have color and furniture designed to impress. I am sure impressed looking at the pictures. Possibly best of all, my little office is just two doors down, so I get to experience the whole thing.”

Over the last few weeks, the space really began to take shape as walls have been erected, and the goal is to have the new suite set up by early April. In addition to offices and a reception area, it will include a Skype room, which students can use for international internship or job interviews or to connect with alumni abroad.

“I think having a space will add to the visibility of the program statewide,” observed Ribbens.

There are currently about 150 international business majors and minors on campus. Additionally, the program works with around 75 students at Quality Leadership University in Panama City, Panama.

Since the early 1980s, more than 1,000 Redbird graduates have earned a diploma in international business.

Today, “They are literally all over the world,” according to Ribbens.

“It’s pretty exciting having had it around for so long to finally have a space that will be a visible point for the degree in the building,” she continued. “We thought a lot about the need for an extremely flexible space and yet something that feels kind of global and modern. It’s been a really fun adventure thinking ahead and thinking about the future.”

She is particularly excited about the ways in which the suite will help to enhance and streamline students’ study abroad experience, which is an integral part of the international business curriculum. Beginning in the fall, a representative from the university’s study abroad office will be on hand in the Institute at least once a week to answer questions and provide assistance.

“Their partnership with us is so key since every International Business major must study abroad,” said Dr. Ribbens as she explained how this new setup will make coordination easier and provide greater accessibility to information for students preparing to venture overseas. “Having that resource right here is, I think, going to be helpful.”

“Their partnership with us is so key since every international business major must study abroad,” said Dr. Barbara Ribbens as she explained how this new setup will make coordination easier and provide greater accessibility to information for students preparing to venture overseas. “Having that resource right here is, I think, going to be helpful.”

In the hallway outside the Institute, there also will be a monitor dedicated to displaying information about study abroad deadlines and photos of ISU students abroad.

The emphasis on study abroad reflects the value the faculty members see in providing such opportunities for students.

“We’re turning out business leaders of the future, and they need to have better perspective than McLean County, Illinois, Midwest, United States. It’s got to be around the world,” observed Varner. “When they step off that airplane—or in my case in 1966 when I stepped off the boat—they see this whole new world.”

Ribbens also spoke highly of the benefits students receive from studying overseas.

“The U.S. Department of Labor says that about 25 percent of all jobs in the United States are related to international business, so having expertise in that area, you’re going to be a priority for getting those kinds of jobs. The characteristics you gain from study abroad dovetail with what companies want, and I think a lot of that is increased personal confidence and maturity because you’ve been able to function in a different setting,” she said before describing how participating in a short-term, semester or yearlong study abroad program can impact a student’s sense of independence.

She also emphasized that study abroad requires a strong work ethic.

“They’re not going on vacation. They are going to study,” continued the director. “There’s work involved. There’s learning involved. There are learning goals. It’s not just going and seeing the Eiffel Tower; it’s going and understanding how Paris works, and that depth is what we’re really shooting for.”

In addition to making the staff of the study abroad office more accessible to College of Business students, the Institute plans to use the new space to provide students with the opportunity to learn about study abroad from their peers.

“We are going to be asking students who’ve studied abroad to do some office hours about their program. So students will be able to drop in and explore programs with someone who has just done them in the last year,” explained Ribbens. “I can tell them about the academics and the logistics of it, but I can’t tell them what it’s really like because I haven’t lived it as a student … I think this will make this a more lively setting for student interaction.”

ISU’s international business degree is the only one of its kind at a public university in Illinois.

“It’s an exciting program to be a part of,” concluded Ribbens as she described how the structure of the course of study equips students with a global perspective while they focus on a functional business area, such as marketing, finance, or accounting. “My international business students come out with the same business expertise, but they have this added layer of complexity and sophistication that the typical College of Business grad doesn’t have and that affects the way they personally carry themselves, as well as their ability to analyze and think at a higher plane about a lot of different issues.”