College of Charleston Student Paves Way to BMW in Munich

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As the first College of Charleston student to partake in a co-op at BMW headquarters in Munich, Germany, Jeffrey Werth is not only reshaping his career path, but blazing a trail for a new generation of global engineers at the College. 

In high school, Jeffrey Werth never thought that he would be able to focus on anything other than engineering, but at the College of Charleston he quickly learned that double majoring would expand his opportunities in the job market. His decision to major in German studies and systems engineering – and mathematics minor – gave him a greater return than he ever expected. 

Going into his fourth year at the College, Werth is participating in a co-op at BMW’s headquarters in Munich – the very first CofC student to take part in this experience. 

“It’s kind of a crazy coincidence how the co-op came to be,” says Werth. “Growing up in Pendleton (S.C.), I would always drive by the BMW plant on my way up to the airport in Greenville. The plant is right off the highway, so it was a clear landmark that I would always remember. Every time I saw the plant, I always had a thought that maybe, if I stayed in South Carolina, I could see myself in an engineering position there.” 

Werth always knew he’d be an engineer, but never thought of studying German.  

“When I got to CofC, I learned I had to take a language course,” he says. “I decided on German thinking it would be a great opportunity – and it was!

“I already had taken a few German classes my sophomore year and formed a relationship with Dr. Morgan Koerner, the German studies program director,” he adds. “He learned that I didn’t have an internship yet for that summer and highly suggested applying to BMW.” 

Werth fit perfectly into Koerner’s goal to facilitate immersive study abroad for engineers learning German. 

“As soon as our new Systems Engineering Program started, it became clear to me that, even with a language requirement, it would be very difficult to convince an engineering major to study abroad,” says Koerner. “We needed a mechanism in place where students can take a semester off and take part in a co-op. 

“I started exploring this idea with BMW because they always attend the College’s annual German-American Business Summit,” he continues. “Their Purchasing and Supplier Network Americas Department expressed interest in collaborating, and we settled on a multiyear system where we recruit and pinpoint strong students to take part in an internship in Spartanburg after their sophomore year and then they go to BMW’s headquarters in Munich the spring of their junior or senior year.” 

At the Spartanburg plant, Werth focused on the U.S. supply chain for BMW, particularly for South Carolina. After completing his internship with the BMW Purchasing and Supplier Network Americas Department at the Spartanburg plant, Werth was inspired to continue his journey both with the German language and BMW. With guidance from Koerner and his German colleagues at BMW, he was granted an interview with the Purchasing Strategy Department in Munich at the end of the summer and was offered a co-op position. 

“My job mainly focuses on creating models to analyze different suppliers’ risk values,” explains Werth, adding that in Munich, he worked with vendors in China, the United States and Africa, which significantly broadened his scope. “Right now, based on where they are geographically, I’m modeling the natural and geopolitical risk hazards of suppliers and giving that quantifiable numbers.” 

To strengthen his German proficiency, Werth took a six-week intensive German program at Goethe University in Munich before starting his co-op with BMW. Thanks to generous donations from alumni and the community to the Department of German and Russian Studies unrestricted fund, Werth’s tuition at Goethe was covered. 

“Having the German department pay my tuition at Goethe Institute helped me prepare for my work in Munich and enabled me to complete my German major,” says Werth. “I couldn’t be more thankful for all the support.” 

When he arrived at BMW’s headquarters, Werth needed his German language skills to maneuver through the process of starting his co-op.   

“It was not easy because I’m the first CofC person to go through the co-op process at the BMW headquarters,” says Werth. “It will be easier for those who come after me: I have a detailed document written up on what to do. There were little things that I never thought about like setting up a German bank account, getting an apartment or registering my address.” 

Adds Koerner: “Jeffery jumped in and figured out the bureaucracy in Germany. Now he’s leaving behind a data trail of advice. It’s amazing all he’s done so far.” 

As he settled into his role, Werth has had the chance to delve deeper into the German culture and even connect with CofC graduates who also studied German.  

“I connected with Cooper Jay ’21, who works as an international consultant at P3,” says Werth. “I came across his profile on LinkedIn and noticed he lives in Munich. We got to meet up; it was awesome to find someone who came from the same program that I am involved with making a name for himself halfway across the globe.” 

The whole experience has driven home the benefits of learning German for Werth’s career. He hopes his journey will inspire other systems engineering majors to explore the benefits of learning and becoming proficient in another language.  

“For any student looking at careers in industry, I recommend looking beyond the technical skills at the soft skills of communication and intercultural competence, which Jeffrey has valiantly displayed,” says Koerner. “Proficiency in a foreign language is critical for going into management at a global company.” 

Werth agrees. “Wherever my career leads me, knowing German as a tool in my toolbox will only benefit me and make me a competitive candidate for any job I apply for,” he says, adding that he knows his experiences with BMW and the foundation he is gaining at the College will make him a strong candidate when he graduates. 

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