Student shines on world stage

No taste is quite as sweet as success.

In fact, Mount Royal alumna (class of 2011) Maeghan Smulders returned last month from presenting at the largest entrepreneurial conference in the world with a bit of a Swede tooth.Student Maeghan Smulders researching how to help military families when they complete their service.

“It was truly a special opportunity to see the world in a new light and to push myself to think in a different way,” says Smulders after returning from the International Conference of Small Business in Stockholm.

“The conference was held in a big conference hall and every night they hosted the most elaborate parties — I got to have dinner where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year; I was sent to the castle of Stockholm to have a garden party with body contortionists and flashing lights; I was able to meet Prince Daniel, Duke of Vastergotland and go to an ice bar — even the glasses were made of ice,” says Smulders, 23.

The Bachelor of Business Administration graduate, who thrived representing Mount Royal University in academic and volunteer capacities here in Alberta and across Canada, was the youngest presenter and the only undergraduate at the Conference.

Her research paper was developed with the help of Bissett School of Business Professor, Kalinga Jagoda and addresses why governments should do more to support military veterans and their families when they complete their military service.

Taking Mount Royal University international

Jagoda first met Smulders nearly two years back when she was in his operational management course. He was impressed with her work ethic and enthusiasm and invited her to register for his research course.

“I usually only accept a limited number of students for the course. When Maeghan told me she was working on a military entrepreneurship project with Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) it fit perfectly with a more elaborate military entrepreneurship project I had been thinking about.”

Student Maeghan Smulders in SwedenJagoda says once the research paper began coming together, it was clear it was worth taking to the next level. Just like with a graduate research paper, the next step was to gain validation and feedback externally, so they entered it into the International Conference of Small Business.

Jagoda says each paper was assessed by a three person panel and a minimum of two votes are necessary for acceptance.

“Maeghan got all three votes,” says Jagoda. “They were very impressed.”

The research

Smulders says societies are spending excessive money on recruiting, training and sending troops on missions, but spend little to no money on their re-integration back into society.

“Effectively, we are pushing these troops out of planes without parachutes expecting them to land into society without a problem ... But that isn’t the case.”

Jagoda and Smulders research proposes that government should offer armed forces training in their final mission dedicated to a successful reintegration back into civilian world.

The opportunity to present at such a prestigious forum left an indelible impression on Smulders.

“Before leaving Calgary I didn’t realize the immensity of what I was about to embark on. But when I was at the opening ceremonies in the largest conference hall in Stockholm and the ICSB President started to share some of the attendance numbers — 500 people in attendance from around the globe, 200 presenting papers — I realized that I am just 23 years old and I am the only undergraduate here and I am so far out of my league. How did I get here?”

Smulders got there with hard work, a tenacious spirit and creative vision.

Not all “glitter and gold”

“I had no idea what PhD or master’s students went through until I got to experience it first-hand,” says Smulders. “I have a new respect for academia and plan to further my education in the future. Business student Maeghan Smulders

Smulders says a big part of her experience was interacting with the academic elite who’ve worked on their research for years. They weren’t necessarily the most encouraging group for a young undergraduate to be around, but Smulders says it motivated her more than ever.

She is currently considering using the success of this research paper to propel her into a master’s program at an American university.

“I found that self-promotion is an important skill and being able to handle cold, hopefully objective criticism is an equally important skill. It helped me appreciate the rigors of an academic life.”

Leaving a lasting impression

Smulders says she was surrounded by so many inspirational people, it was hard not to get excited about the potential to develop impactful research.

One of the more memorable characters she met was Tobias Kollmann, a professor from Germany who started the largest e-business-platform for trading used cars in Europe and sold the company to become a teacher.

“He was so interesting to talk to because he reminded me a lot of the people who I find inspirational back home.

“He is not just teaching, he has experience — he has first-hand stories to back up his work as a teacher. It reminded me of our program at MRU as well.”

World of possibilities

As she made her way through the week, absorbing, learning and meeting new people, she began to wonder what she might be capable of if she continues to push the status quo.

“It really motivated me, and inspired me to believe I can do anything I want to with my degree. And if I put my heart and mind to it I know I can be successful in all I do.

“And it was a chance to see the opportunities available outside of Canada and that just blew my mind.” Professor Kalinga Jagoda

Smulders says she’ll always be grateful for a professor like Jagoda who pushed her not to just write a paper, but to see a problem in the world around us, create a real-life solution and try to make a difference by sharing her work.

“Without him, I never would have thought I could be a part of something so influential.

“Mount Royal and I did amazing things the last few years. Things I would have never thought possible and to come back to Calgary, and share my experience with other students. I think if you have any desire to do anything — do it. 100% do it! You never know what you are capable of doing until you try it.

“I believe you are only as great as the people around you, and Mount Royal is a school filled with beyond great people.”

Since her return to Calgary, Smulders has received multiple offers to collaborate on her work with academics from as far away as Toronto and Germany.

Steven Noble, July 14, 2011