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University of Oklahoma Promotes Exchange Program for International Business Leaders

International participants visit Sam Noble Museum

University of Oklahoma Promotes Exchange Program for International Business Leaders

Program leaders seek interested local business owners to participate.

April 1, 2024

NORMAN, OKLA. – Twice a year since 2012, the University of Oklahoma has participated in the Professional Fellows Exchange Program, welcoming emerging business leaders from across South Asia to Oklahoma. Through this collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, more than 150 local businesses have engaged in this initiative, building lasting international partnerships and experiencing enriching cultural exchanges.

Under the leadership of Elanie Steyn, associate dean of academic affairs in OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Jeff Moore, executive director for the Ronnie K. Irani Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, this program has introduced more than 250 international business owners to Oklahoma and has provided the opportunity for several local business owners to visit South Asian countries. In May 2024, the program will continue to foster these global connections by bringing 15 business leaders from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to Oklahoma for a four-week immersive experience.

“This program has changed the face of several communities,” Steyn said. “It gives Oklahomans the opportunity to work with and exchange ideas with counterparts from countries that they have probably never been to or thought of going to. It also provides opportunities for foreign fellows to experience life and business in Oklahoma and return to their countries with new ideas, initiatives and skills to empower their communities and change the lives of those living and working there. Furthermore, the program helps participants discover more of their personal and professional potential as leaders and changemakers.”

When in Oklahoma, the international business fellows are placed with local business hosts who welcome them into their organizations to learn, shadow and participate in the daily life of American business and non-profit environments.

Abbey Marino Briggs has been affiliated with the Professional Fellows Exchange Program for the last six years, both through the University of Oklahoma and the Tulsa nonprofit 36 Degrees North. During her experience, she twice participated in exchange trips to Sri Lanka.

“I absolutely love to travel and immerse myself in new cultures, so having these experiences in Sri Lanka was incredible,” she said. “They mapped out the entire ten days we were on the ground. Not only did we experience awesome cultural events, incredible tourist sites and great nature, but we got to visit their places of business and were invited into their homes. It was really special.”

Marino Briggs’ professional experience in the startup sector translated into mutually beneficial experiences for herself and her international business partners. Through this program, she was paired with other startup founders and industry leaders to exchange experiences and ideas.

"Many cities around the world have tech incubators, accelerators or programs that support entrepreneurship,” she said. “What's unique about our industry is that it's very geography based. Because of this, there’s often no one to share industry best practices with. That makes these international connections incredibly helpful – both for them and for us. Anyone who has a growth mindset, enjoys building relationships and values becoming a multicultural leader should really consider becoming a fellow. It’s truly an incredible program.”

Mike Knopp, executive director at RIVERSPORT Foundation and an alumnus of OU Law, has participated in the Professional Fellows Exchange Program three different times. Through this experience, he and his staff have connected with entrepreneurs from Nepal, India and Kazakhstan who have an interest in the outdoor adventure space.

“Jeff invited us at RIVERSPORT Foundation to help connect the dots for international businesses in the outdoor adventure industry,” Knopp said. “We don’t have the Himalayas, but we do have an urban outdoor adventure experience. Since we both need to engage the public, whether it be through our guest services, marketing, sponsorship engagement, or just managing events and experiences, we knew we could learn a lot from each other.”

RIVERSPORT Foundation provides an array of outdoor activities, from kayaking, whitewater rafting and surfing to adventure sports, running and cycling along the Oklahoma River in downtown Oklahoma City. They are also a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site.

“A lot of what we do know here is in the spirit of the Olympics – a triumph of the human spirit and working together with others in global celebration,” Knopp said. "Most recently, we were working with this young man from India through the Professional Fellows Program while also hosting an elite-level Olympic rower from India who came to Oklahoma to work within our high-performance program. The whole experience was really exciting.”

According to the U.S. Department of State, the Professional Fellows Program is a two-way, global exchange program designed to promote mutual understanding, enhance leadership and professional skills, as well as build lasting, sustainable partnerships between emerging leaders from foreign countries and the United States. However, according to Jeff Moore, it is so much more.

“The Professional Fellows Exchange Program is a testament to the power of cross-cultural collaboration,” he said. “It not only enriches the professional landscape in Oklahoma but also creates an international network of businesses committed to mutual growth and understanding.”

Ronnie K. Irani, after whom the center is named, added, “The international exchange facilitated by this program is an investment in our state’s economic future. It brings diverse perspectives that drive innovation and strengthens our position in the global business community."

Learn more about the Professional Fellows Program from the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, or email Jeff Moore to explore how your business can get involved.

About the University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. As the state’s flagship university, OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. OU was named the state’s highest-ranking university in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent Best Colleges list. For more information about the university, visit

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