M.S. in the Management of IT Blog

Immersed in International Business Experience: M.S. in MIT in Argentina

We spoke with two M.S. in MIT students about their work in Argentina at the end of 2023, what they learned from tackling an international business project, the many skills they developed, and the impact they see the experience having on their professional lives.

The trek to Mendoza, Argentina, takes a select group of executive students far from their usual class meetings in the Metro Washington, DC, area.

The trek to Mendoza, Argentina, takes a select group of executive students far from their usual class meetings in the Metro Washington, DC, area.

For decades, UVA McIntire’s M.S. in the Management of Information Technology (M.S. in MIT) has been preparing business leaders to align technology and business strategy, drive IT transformation, and carry out complex, enterprise-wide initiatives designed to create value for their organizations. And while fostering that kind of innovative thinking is a hallmark of the program, another highlight of it remains its unique immersion experience in Argentina.

Since 2013, the working professionals enrolled in the M.S. in MIT Program have been offered the uncommon and inviting opportunity to take part in a highly desirable study-abroad elective. The trek takes a select group of executive students far from their usual class meetings in the Metro Washington, DC, area to Mendoza, Argentina, a city at the foothills of the Andes and a renowned wine country destination.

Having led the experience since its inception, McIntire IT Professor and M.S. in MIT Director Stefano Grazioli has long said that the learning journey is much more of a business trip than any kind of vacation getaway. And he explains it in that manner with good reason: Despite enjoying the picturesque location and incredible food and drink the region is revered for, the participants are tested in a compressed timeframe to apply their newly acquired digital transformation knowledge and international business strategy in a real-world consulting setting.

Mendoza is home to ample local businesses in a variety of industries that have collaborated with M.S. in MIT students over the years. For the visiting professionals from UVA, engaging with their Argentinian clients allows them to acquire essential experience in intercultural project management, as they analyze IT initiatives and quickly yet thoroughly familiarize themselves with their host organization’s managers, developers, users, and customers. By the journey’s end, students will have given presentations and created in-depth reports of their recommendations for the Mendoza-based companies.

We spoke with Halle Duenkel (M.S. in MIT ’24), a Consultant at Deloitte, and Steve Pak (M.S. in MIT ’24), Vice President, Data Operations at LMI, about their work in Argentina at the end of 2023, what they learned from tackling an international business project, the many skills they developed, and the impact they see the experience having on their professional lives.

Building on Success

Halle Duenkel

For the Mendoza project, Duenkel and her team of M.S. in MIT peers collaborated with Argentina Rafting, a company that had recently marked its remarkable 30-year milestone.

“Our engagement with the organization was multifaceted, as we worked closely with one of their key leaders to conduct a comprehensive examination of their current operational processes to help find ways to improve for the next decade,” she says. The team’s primary objective concerned identifying areas of improvement for the company and offering innovative strategies for future growth. Duenkel and her team started by getting familiar with the intricacies of the company’s operations through daily meetings to actively uncover nuances of the rafting company’s processes.

“Our commitment to gaining a holistic perspective led us to visit not only their city-based location but also their base operations in the breathtaking Andes mountains,” says Duenkel. “These visits were instrumental in providing us with a clear and firsthand understanding of the entire operational spectrum of Argentina Rafting—where they excel and what areas we could provide insight on.”

Steve Pak

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, Pak and his group were focused on streamlining operations to Maddio Brothers, a third-generation, family-owned fencing products business.

“We spent most of our time analyzing the company’s current IT infrastructure and business processes, identifying technological opportunities for efficiency and growth. This culminated in a comprehensive presentation to the company’s leadership, where we proposed tailored IT solutions and an implementation roadmap aimed at enhancing their business operations and driving future success,” Pak says.

He sees the experience as a significant one, as it offered a real-world opportunity to apply his academic knowledge and demonstrate “the transformative impact of technology in small and medium-sized enterprises.”

Consulting across Cultures

While the Mendoza projects gave students an immediate chance to demonstrate what they’ve learned—something they expect to bring to bear in their professional lives as well—both participants we spoke to also explained that the experience enhanced their cross-cultural competencies.

To prepare, students received an intensive orientation about Argentinian social customs, standard business etiquette practices, and cultural norms, which Pak says proved nothing short of critical when it came to engaging effectively with their local business partners.

“Our team, while seasoned in IT, recognized the importance of cultural sensitivity as international consultants. We learned that in Argentina, business relationships are deeply rooted in personal trust and connection. To honor this, we prioritized relationship building from the outset. Our first evening was dedicated to a communal dinner with our clients, focusing on personal interactions rather than business discussions,” he says, pointing out that the approach helped to create a solid relationship built on trust that would prove central to the success of his team’s efforts.


“By Monday, when we delved into detailed discussions about Maddio Brothers’ operations, we were met with remarkable openness,” he recalls. Pak insists that CEO Gustavo Maddio and his team openly shared financial information and operational challenges with the M.S. in MIT consulting team “that might not have been possible without the relational groundwork laid during our first meeting.”

The experience went beyond understanding cultural nuance: The interactions highlighted the important roles of empathy and interpersonal skills in establishing productive professional relationships.

Duenkel, who spent the entirety of her education and career in Virginia, says that being in Argentina deepened many of her previously unexplored skills, which included navigating a non-English-speaking environment as well as the adaptability and heightened sensitivity to the nuances required to work collaboratively across cultural boundaries and national borders. And in delivering their final presentation to the client, Duenkel says her communication skills were also tested.

“Addressing an audience comprising both English and non-English speakers required a nuanced approach. Crafting the information, visuals, and overall presentation in a manner accessible to everyone demanded not only effective communication but also an acute awareness of varying language proficiencies and cultural backgrounds,” she says, explaining that she learned to convey complex ideas “beyond linguistic differences” with skills “vital for navigating the complexities of a globalized world.”

Time, Transformation, and Strategy

Once the teams worked to understand the Mendoza-based companies, they were better able to support their clients by applying their skills in project management, digital transformation, and international business strategy.

“In the condensed timeframe of just a week, my team faced the formidable challenge of comprehensively understanding the intricacies of Argentina Rafting’s business, devising solutions, and making a meaningful impact with our recommendations,” says Duenkel. Indeed, time management became a critical competency. “Given the ambitious scope of the project and the limited time available, our high-achieving team quickly recognized the need to prioritize tasks and efficiently allocate resources. Scoping innovations became imperative.”

The brief visit’s tight deadlines also posed a challenge for Pak and his team: “We had to efficiently conduct discovery, diagnosis, prototype development, and solution formulation and prepare our deliverables, all within a week and in a foreign business environment.” The result of quickly and effectively implementing project management frameworks and strategies in that trial by fire was an experience that Pak says honed his teammates’ ability to manage time-sensitive and complex initiatives, a skill he sees as integral for any IT leadership role.

Duenkel credits the immersive project with also giving her insight into how international business strategies vary across regions. “Comparing the advanced nature of certain digital innovations, accounting operations, and other aspects in the United States with the scenario in Argentina, I gained valuable insights into the global landscape. In the pursuit of providing Argentina Rafting with digital solutions, our focus was on optimizing their operational efficiency to streamline processes, reduce manual tasks, and allocate more time to activities that directly enhance the customer experience,” she says. Rolling up her sleeves to create digital solutions gave her a greater appreciation for the strategic alignment of technology with business goals, especially within the context of international operations.

For Pak, working with Maddio Brothers on its shift into the digital realm “transcended theoretical learning,” as he and his group calculated methods for introducing digital processes to a veteran metal fabricator accustomed to decades-old practices. “Convincing the CEO of the benefits of an ERP [enterprise resource planning] system, digital inventory management, and new performance metrics was a practical lesson in managing digital change,” he says. “It underscored the importance of understanding the human element in technology adoption, emphasizing the need for empathy and effective communication in digital transformation initiatives.”

Immediate Impact, Lifelong Memories

So what kind of impact do the two participants feel that the M.S. in MIT Mendoza trip had?

“The Mendoza trip has left a mark on my professional outlook, and certain aspects of the experience stand out as immediately valuable for my career” as it relates to her future in consulting, Duenkel says, referencing the skills of scoping, effective time management, and delivering insightful results.

Pak calls the Mendoza project “an eye-opener,” due to, among other factors, the external forces of political and economic changes that were occurring in real time during the visit; the country’s new President Javier Milei took office the day the M.S. in MIT students arrived, and as the Argentinian peso was devalued by nearly 50%, financial reforms were introduced the following day. “This situation presented an extraordinary case study in real time for a small business like Maddio Brothers, already grappling with supply chain issues, hiring challenges, and record-high inflation, over 200%.”

Company CEO Maddio insists that the interaction with the UVA students allowed his company access to “new visions,” and “new ways of professionalizing the business.” That flexibility of the company’s leadership in facing the sudden changes and openness to novel ideas remains with Pak.

“Instead of panicking, they demonstrated remarkable adaptability, creativity, and a strong commitment to their core values and mission. Their ability to navigate through such economic turbulence without losing focus was inspiring,” he says. “As I move forward in my professional journey, the lessons in agility and resilience from this trip will be invaluable. Through the M.S. in MIT Program, I’m gaining a mix of theoretical knowledge and practical experience, like our Mendoza trip. This combination is crucial in shaping me into a well-rounded IT leader, equipped with both academic insights and real-world application skills.”

Pak says that the warmth of the Argentinian people will also stay with him: “Despite all the macroeconomic challenges, the instability and uncertainty, being on the receiving end of people who were eager to highlight the richness of their nation and being genuinely open left an impression on many of us. My family is already planning a return visit,” he says.

Duenkel, too, had an unforgettable time. It started before she even boarded the plane for Mendoza: Only 12 hours earlier, she accepted her partner’s surprise marriage proposal.

“While leaving for Argentina immediately after such a milestone was challenging, I had no idea that my classmates, professors, and even our client would make my journey so incredibly special,” she says, explaining that her engagement was properly and surprisingly celebrated.

“Upon landing in Argentina at 1 a.m., I was greeted with champagne and hugs from individuals I had never met before, exemplifying the genuine hospitality and kindness of the people. My classmates went above and beyond to make me feel loved and surrounded by a sense of family and friendship,” says Duenkel. “Additionally, delicious dinners, even though well past my normal bedtime, were another highlight. The shared conversations and experiences with both classmates and professors created bonds that I will cherish forever. The efforts put into curating the best for us students, from celebratory moments to culinary delights, showcased the exceptional care and thoughtfulness that went into making our time in Mendoza truly magical. These moments and the genuine care extended by everyone involved are truly treasures that I will carry with me throughout my life.”

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