Last night, University students and business leaders from across the country gathered at Cottage Inn on East William Street to kick off the Ross Net Impact Forum 2009, hosted by the Ross School of Business.

The theme of this year’s forum is “Next Practices to Address Future Challenges.”

The conference is designed to bring together prominent business and academic leaders to discuss the global changes and their effects on the economy. Panels today will address various issues like climate change, the financial crisis and energy use among other issues. Forum organizers said they expect about 400 participants to attend today’s events.

Program Director Taka Isshiki said he hopes the event will encourage participants and speakers to discuss issues they think will be pivotal in the business world’s future.

“I think this is going to be an incredibly relevant and engaging event, not just for the University of Michigan community but also for the Ann Arbor community,” he said. “The goal for this year’s forum was to challenge this year’s speakers to look forward and to look ahead to see what is coming down the pipeline.”

Isshiki added that the conference will provide an opportunity for students to interact and network with corporate representatives.

“From the student’s perspective we have several opportunities for not just pure networking, but also some professional networking,” he said. “It is an opportunity for students to hear directly from the corporations about their organizations.”

During the main event of the two-day affair, time will be allotted for students to approach the professional speakers and talk about whatever they want.

Last night’s event gave participants a chance to meet representatives from the different companies attending the forum. The corporations each gave a pitch about their companies and provided participants with recruitment information.

The University’s chapter of Net Impact is part of the 10,000-member Net Impact organization nationwide. The University’s chapter has about 275 members, mostly Master of Business Administration students.

Net Impact aims to instill leadership and networking skills in its members by providing business opportunities through conferences and events. The organization also strives to enhance business curricula by encouraging sustainability practices and hosting social events.

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