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Simona Bucur MBA'08Simona Bucur MBA'08

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An Eye on the Global Market

Events in the news didn't used to pique Simona Bucur's interest. But that was before she started following the stock market.

Now Bucur MBA'08 constantly reads and watches the news or checks market blogs online, carefully noting how each world event can cause the market to rise or fall. "I've started to understand how the news affects the financial market," she says. "It's amazing to see that one small event can affect the entire world."

It's all part of Bucur's participation in the Student Investment Fund course at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. The students invest actual dollars in the stock market, but not before learning to analyze economic, financial and political developments and trends. Their success is evaluated not just on whether they make money, but on the strategy they used throughout the process. "You learn how to be a mature investor," Bucur says.

The Student Investment Fund is just example of hands-on learning Bucur has participated in since starting Willamette's MBA program two years ago. Last year she was part of a team of six full-time students who placed second out of 23 teams for their business plan in the International Collegiate Business Simulation Competition put on by the University of San Diego. The competition asks students to create a simulated company that produces and sells its own products. Bucur's team created a T-shirt design company. The teams drafted business plans for their products, then made strategic decisions for 20 quarters of business simulation.

"While you are playing the game, you have to write a business plan and then a report about your results," Bucur says. "You are judged on the managerial decisions you made, either on the business plan or on the annual report. The simulation is very realistic because you have to learn how to read macroeconomic and other factors."

When Bucur enrolled at Willamette, it was her first time studying in the U.S. The Romanian native earned a bachelor's degree in business in her home country, but she wanted to increase her opportunities and in her mind, the U.S. is "where you can do business the best." International students seeking MBAs are common at Atkinson. The business school has 30 such students this academic year from 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bulgaria, China, Guinea, India, Jamaica, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine and Vietnam.

Bucur came with a goal of learning better business practices from a country known for its economic prowess. She didn't expect to learn to examine her home country more critically as well. "The program here focuses on the relevance of what you're given. It teaches you how to think. That makes me see my home differently. I observe issues and try to think of a solution at the same time. It's something I do naturally now."

As a former Communist country, Romania struggles with unique economic barriers. Bucur says rapid changes occurred as Romania worked toward becoming part of the European Union, a status it achieved in 2007. The pressure to develop an infrastructure increased, leading to rapid widespread construction projects. More multinational investors are interested in Romania's market as the country tries to become more competitive. The education and legal systems are improving.

But problems still remain, Bucur says, as leaders who were part of the former regime remain resistant to change. "We started to do things the right way, but it was one person against 100," she says. "Fresh blood finally started coming in and changing things, but all the young people are leaving because of the problems. You can't get a decent job unless you know somebody or you pay somebody."

These are the circumstances that led Bucur to pursue an American MBA, and her decision appears to be the right one. She recently was offered a job working in marketing for Johnson & Johnson in Romania, and she accepted. "It will be tough to go back to the inefficiency that I left behind, but I'm not afraid. Here, I've learned to be an individual and have confidence in my actions. I'm pretty sure that Romania needs young people like me."