Since the last German-American Business Summit (GABS) in February of 2020 a lot has happened at the College of Charleston, and we’re not just talking about the pandemic. Last fall, the College began offering its first-ever major in engineering – systems engineering – with some of the 200-plus German companies in the Palmetto state helping to design the curriculum.

German American Business Summit flyerNot surprisingly, those two topics will be front and center at the fifth annual conference on Feb. 4, 2021, held virtually from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. CofC’s German program; the School of Languages Cultures, and World Affairs; the Career Center; and the School of Business will put on the summit in partnership with The Citadel and Trident Technical College.

“This year we are pivoting to a virtual event and are looking forward to the chance to cast a wider net in terms of audience participants, as well as panelists, who will join us from locations throughout the U.S. and in Germany,” says Morgan Koerner, the chair of the Department of German and Russian Studies who founded the event.

The Career & Company Info Sessions, where companies have the opportunity to host a scheduled information session for interested students, as well as one-on-one meetings with students run the entire day, while the two conference sessions take place from 2 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. With a unifying theme of “pathways forward,” the sessions focus on the needs and solutions for German-American industries in 2021. The conference sessions are free and open to students and members of the public who register.

In the main event, “Lessons Learned from COVID-19: Recalibrating German- American Industry in the Pandemic,” Iris Junglas from CofC’s Department of Supply Chain and Information Management, will interview Kevin Bangston, general manager of distribution network development at Daimler Trucks North America. The topic of discussion will focus on improvements that have come about during and because of the pandemic that will continue even after the pandemic ends. It will also include recorded responses from leaders in German industry in the Charleston area.

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And if you’ve ever wondered just exactly what “systems engineering” is, then you’ll definitely want to tune in to the other live panel on “Systems Engineering in German-American Industry: Opportunities and Challenges.” Systems engineering professor Olufunke “Funke” Oladimeji will moderate a discussion that aims to introduce systems engineering to the broader public and discuss its potential and importance for industry in the region in the years ahead. Panelists include Katharina Renken, project manager at Hapag-Lloyd-AG in Hamburg, Germany; Hyun Su Nam, systems engineer at Mercedes-Benz Vans in North Charleston; and Austin Cheek, a business development manager at Siemens USA in Atlanta.

“I am very excited about this panel for a host of reasons,” says Koerner. “It will be a public rollout of our new systems engineering major, and will demonstrate the importance of this relatively new field of engineering in industry. It will also showcase a diverse group of professionals working in systems engineering-related fields.”

This year’s virtual pivot illustrates that nothing stands in the way of the continued growth and importance of GABS, which moved off campus to the Charleston Gaillard Center two years ago because it needed a much larger space.

“Since its inception it has become a linchpin for relationships between the College of Charleston and the ecosystem of German-American industry in the region,” says Koerner. “While the conference segments tend to focus on issues specific to industry, the event also has also shone a spotlight on the importance of global fluency and foreign language proficiency for careers in international industry.

“Every year, we ask the business executives and leaders how important it really is to be proficient in German for careers at German companies in the Southeastern U.S.,” he adds, “and every year we get the same answer: proficiency is an X factor that can both get your foot in the door and also accelerate your path upward into management once you’re in the company. Students have taken notice of these answers and more students than ever are double majoring in business and STEM fields and German.”