COBA Takes the Classroom to Costa Rica

Written by special contributor Lance Fleming

While most students around the country spent their Spring Break taking a break from college work and getting away from all things academia, 10 ACU students and their two professors spent a week in Costa Rica as part of the requirement for COBA’s Social Enterprise Consulting Class working with local entrepreneurs to launch products made from materials donated by Southwest Airlines. 

Dr. Laura Phillips and Dr. Jennifer Golden are teaching the class this semester and took the students to Costa Rica to work with the husband-and-wife duo of Lynne Corvaglia and Chris Riquelme, who are creating “upcycled” bags and other products from leather donated by the United States’ busiest airlines. 

As part of Southwest Airlines’ “Repurpose with a Purpose” program, each of the company’s fleet of airplanes is overhauled every four years, and as a part of that process, the seat leather is replaced. The leather pulled out of the planes is donated to nonprofit organizations for upcycling projects. One of the Southwest refurbishment facilities is in El Salvador, and the leather from that location has been donated to a university in Turrialba, Costa Rica, called CATIE. 

CATIE is primarily an agricultural university, but it does have economic development as an area of focus. That is part of the university with which ACU students have partnered this semester. In addition to donating a warehouse full of airline seats, Southwest has also provided funds for CATIE to build a leatherworking workshop and to provide training for people in the area who are interested (primarily women). The women come from around the region to learn leatherworking and business skills. 

The idea is to create a business incubator to launch businesses as people graduate from the training program. Jobs are also being created in rural communities because CATIE receives intact seat covers that must be deconstructed before they can be upcycled into new products. 

And that’s where the ACU students come in. 

The students’ client is called Wearsos – the first business to come out of the leather project – and it was started by Corvaglia and Riquelme. Aside from upcycled bags, the company also plans to make other products like passport holders, wallets, luggage tags, and shoes, but according to Phillips, the initial launch will be with three different styles of bags. 

“Our task this year is to support Lynne and Chris as they get ready to launch their products,” Phillips said. “While we were in Turrialba, Costa Rica, we conducted focus groups with two different target markets: faculty, staff, and students on the CATIE campus, as well as Southwest Airlines employees. 

“The first set of focus groups were done in person, while the Southwest Airlines focus groups were conducted via Zoom,” she said. “Our students are sorting through the information we collected through those sessions to provide marketing help to Lynne and Chris as they decide how to position the three products. That will also allow us to help them with information about shipping because they are working through the logistics of getting products from Costa Rica to the United States and Canada. 

The goal for the class, Phillips said, is to complete “one or two” consulting projects for the client, in this case, Wearsos. So far, in four years of teaching the class, each client has been in Costa Rica, although Philips said future classes could certainly take on a domestic client or a client in a foreign country other than Costa Rica. Phillips also said that she wants the students to learn problem-solving and critical-thinking skills each year to serve them when they enter the workforce. 

What the students will find, Phillips said, is that the context and scope of the project will always change between the start of the semester and the time they return from the Spring Break trip. In addition, the on-site schedule over Spring Break is always fluid, forcing students to adjust their plans, which is more difficult for some students than others. 

“We want the students to become much more comfortable dealing with ambiguity and learning to be flexible, both in a project context and a general life context,” Phillips said. “We hope the students learn how to be good team members. Most students have had several group projects by this point in their college careers. In many of these cases, the work is distributed unevenly across the team, with some students pulling more than their weight and others free riding. This is an opportunity for them to work in a group where everyone wants to be involved and contribute. 

“Finally, we hope the students will learn that consulting (and any cross-cultural project) is a co-creation between the parties involved,” she said. “We do not go to Costa Rica to solve our clients’ problems or fix their issues. We work with the client to develop solutions that will work in their context. We try hard to squash the ‘savior’ complex that people in general – and Americans specifically – sometimes bring to other contexts. We also try to cultivate the idea that everyone has valuable ideas and skills to bring to the project.”

The class was not only beneficial for the entrepreneurs and partners in Costa Rica but also for the students that attended. For many, it was life-changing. Senior marketing major, Angel Smith, said, “I learned new things from a brand-new culture and was humbled by the experience. This experience has influenced my current professional goals in changing the purpose behind applying meaningful work that can serve a higher purpose. It also humbled my experience of what it means to be successful; on our trip, Dr. Eliecer Vargas, the professor at CATIE who is in charge of the leatherworking project, said that finding happiness in your worth is also finding happiness from within, not just looking for monetary value. This past semester, I have worried about finding a job that will bring financial gain, but this trip has shown me that there is value in the community you surround yourself with. Five years from now, I could see myself working for a company with a program or even starting an outreach program supporting giving back and empowering communities in need.”

Angel’s words echo the mission and values of the College of Business: As a Christian college of business and technology, we call our members to faith and vocation, learning and innovation, students and relationships, and excellence and impact. We can’t wait to see what fruit comes from the seeds that have been planted for both our partners and our students.

COBA Makes Changes to the BBA Core To Give Students an Edge

Written by special contributor Lance Fleming

The College of Business Administration (COBA) recently undertook what Dr. Brad Crisp considers “the most significant change to business curricula at ACU in at least three decades” with revisions to the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) majors.

 Those changes include updates to the core requirements for all business majors and to the major requirements for each business major, including an analytics track available within each major. The process that was undertaken was extensive and lasted a few years, including input from the COBA Dean’s Council, Visiting Committees, and other external stakeholders.

 The members of each of those committees and groups were looking at in-depth benchmarking, analysis, and solution alternatives identified by the BBA Task Force. Those committees undertook extensive discussions on a wide range of proposals from the faculty task force, which was formed in early 2019 and delivered its recommendations later that fall. After the committees did their work, the changes were approved last spring by faculty and administrators at all levels of the university.

 The goal of the core revision largely focused on faith and ethics, analytics and technology, and professional development.

 “Faith and ethics are central to our identity as a Christian university,” said Dr. Crisp, the Dean of the College of Business Administration, “and we added some ethics content to a required business law course. All business majors will now take a two-course sequence in analytics and can choose a nine-hour or more track in analytics. Finally, we are placing greater emphasis on professional development by requiring a professional internship in management, marketing, and information systems and offering an internship as an option for accounting and finance majors.”

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

Those recommendations and changes are part of COBA keeping up with the pace of change that is currently being seen in the business world, said Andy Little, associate dean for COBA and associate professor of Business Law.

 “The pace of change in the business world – and society in general – necessitates some level of change in two dimensions: first within a specific course, faculty need to stay up to date with new developments; and second, from time to time, the curriculum in general needs to be evaluated and potentially updated,” Little said. “It’s easy for most faculty to update specific courses on a regular basis. I’ve added three new readings to my introductory law class, all of which deal with recent developments in the legislature.

 “Maybe more clearly, a course like Digital Marketing requires near-constant revision, just to keep up with all the changes in how people and companies use platforms to market products and services,” he said. “To a certain extent, the velocity of change works in favor of a stable curriculum:  foundational subjects like Accounting, Economics, and Statistics need to be included in every iteration of a core curriculum over time because those are the building blocks on which much of the business enterprise rests.”

Every major was reviewed and now has more market aligned pathways giving students more direction and professional guidance as they look toward their future profession. As the business world evolves, COBA is continually looking for ways to prepare students both inside and outside of the classroom. We do this through holistic student development, offering foundational business courses and major specific tracks, and including ethics in our offerings. This combination helps us strive to produce graduates who honor God and bless the world.

To learn more about the College of Business at ACU, click here.

Judith Barajas (’16) Lives Out International Dream

Judith Barajas in BarcelonaJudith Barajas (’16) knew working and living abroad was something she wanted to do eventually after she traveled to Oxford with COBA as a student in the spring of 2014. She just didn’t expect to be back in England so soon.

Barajas, a marketing major with a minor in international business, became very involved at ACU through Ko Jo Kai and the ACU chapter of the American Marketing Association. She traveled abroad again in 2016 when she led a team of 10 students on a mission trip to Honduras with Mission Lazarus as an officer for the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

After graduation, Barajas moved to Dallas, Texas, and accepted a job as an account manager at PFSweb, an eCommerce fulfillment provider. During her three years with the company, she worked with multiple accounts that helped her learn about different business models. As she grew professionally, she knew she wanted to expand that knowledge. So, in the summer of 2019, she took a leap of faith, quit her job and moved to Barcelona, Spain, thanks to her love of different cultures and travel.

Barajas continued her education in Barcelona, receiving her master’s in international business from EAE Business School in the summer of 2020. With the uncertainty of world markets during the pandemic, it became almost impossible to find work abroad. However, her experience with PFS in Dallas had gone so well that the company reached out to her after graduation and offered her a job in its new office in the UK. Barajas moved to London in October 2020 and is contracted to work there for three years.

While the last few years have been a roller coaster, Barajas is extremely grateful for where she is right now and looks forward to more adventures ahead, noting that “God’s timing is simply the best. It was definitely a challenge, but I had faith it was the best time of my life to make such a decision. I am extremely happy to have had a great experience and learned so much about business in other countries, not only through school but also through my classmates. My graduate school class represented 28 nationalities!” 

It is not lost on Barajas that she is living in a place where she once studied as an ACU student. “The craziest thing is that after I studied abroad in Oxford, I promised myself to move back one way or another. Oxford will always be in my heart. Little did I know it would happen this soon.”

Barajas continues to stay in touch with professors like Dr. Monty Lynn and Dr. Ryan Jessup to offer ways she can help educate and mentor COBA students who hope to live out their own adventures.