Over spring break, a group of students led by Dr. Laura Phillips and Dr. Sarah Easter traveled to Costa Rica for the first ever Social Enterprise Consulting (MGMT 440) class. This project-based course is designed to give students hands-on experience dealing with a real and substantial issue faced by a socially-minded organization. Students spent six weeks prior to spring break learning about the basics of consulting and learning about the cultural context of the country and organizations they would visit. They were challenged to complete research on the industry and market and received training from the Rotary International campus in Denton, who were also training the entrepreneurs in Costa Rica. “We wanted the students to be prepared in diverse capacities,” said Dr. Easter “That way, when we traveled to Costa Rica, they were as effective as possible in the one-week in-country visit.”
In Costa Rica, the class worked with the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), which is a regional center in Costa Rica dedicated to research and graduate education in agriculture, and the management, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. In collaboration with CATIE, Red de Emprendedoras del Turismo Sostenible de Turrialba (RETUS) is a network of female entrepreneurs focused on experiential rural tourism offerings as a means to help provide sustainable livelihoods to the three involved communities in Central Costa Rica – Santa Cruz, Guavabo and Mollejones. CATIE and RETUS are interested in better understanding the US market for sustainable rural tourism in Costa Rica as well as the development of a promotional marketing plan to successfully reach identified markets in order to grow and develop RETUS further. The class stayed in a small town called Turrialba on the CATIE campus. Over the course of three days, they visited the three communities and observed experiential tourism offerings in each location.
The consulting nature of the course was focused on students engaging with the women entrepreneurs in terms of ecotourism, which means that tourists engage in local culture when on vacation rather than staying within the confines of a resort or hotel for the duration of their stay. Students evaluated the offerings of each entrepreneur from a US – and specifically Texas – tourist perspective. They spent time in each community taking detailed field notes and giving preliminary recommendations and then spent a full day with the class debriefing and identifying weaknesses and opportunities of the offerings in consideration of US customers.
With the focus on ecotourism consulting, the students got to experience Costa Rica in special ways that emphasized interactions with the local culture. “The most eye-opening thing about this trip was the cultural immersion. To actively participate in activities with the locals gave me a unique perspective into who they are,” said Luke Stevens, a junior marketing major from Montgomery, TX. “Instead of feeling like an outsider looking in, I felt more like I was a part of them. Overall, I think I got more out of this trip because it had a focus and purpose as opposed to a regular spring break trip. I would rather have that type of experience than a relaxing week on the beach.” Among other things, the class toured the remains of a Pre-Colombian ruin, visited a butterfly farm, and even learned how to salsa dance. On their final day, they got to go zip lining through the jungle and rappel down waterfalls. “Since I come from a Central American country, I was really impressed by the ‘Tico culture,’ which is what Costa Ricans often call themselves, and how important it is to them that they grow as a community instead of as individuals,” noted Mafer Hernandez, a junior finance major from Guatemala City, Guatemala. They were also really invested in reducing contamination, their roads were clean and they also had several recycle bins.”
Now that they have returned from Costa Rica, students are working on a full report and marketing assessment that gives promotional and placement considerations for the women entrepreneurs. The project-based experience has been invaluable for students as they have gotten a chance to apply what they have been learning in class to real life – and in a meaningful, purpose-driven way. Dr. Easter’s favorite part of the trip was twofold; “I loved watching how passionate the women entrepreneurs are about their businesses and communities and how driven they were in their desire to share that passion with outsiders,” she said. “I also enjoyed watching the students in that international setting. It was neat seeing them interact with people in the community and dive into the experience fully. Traveling with students and watching how much they learn and grow in a short time frame is always incredible”
A grant from Southwest Airlines for plane tickets and scholarships from COBA, as well as the partnerships with Rotary International, CATIE, and RETUS made this trip possible and effective for the students and faculty that attended. We are extremely proud of our students for choosing to spend their spring break applying their business skills to serve others in a global context. We look forward to watching how this class grows in the future and other opportunities our students will have to affect change.
Business & Sustainability students take a tour of the newly revitalized Cisco Downtown.
In January, twenty-two students attended Dr. Sarah Easter’s Business & Sustainability course (MGMT 440), a one-week intensive class that educates students on the opportunities and challenges of developing more sustainable business strategies and practices, and to explore the changing role of business in society and in relation to the environment. “Typically in business, we focus on financial sustainability,” Dr. Easter explained. “We fail to consider the economic and social well-being aspects of sustainability, so this course looks at the impact businesses can have on the community and environment as well.” The course offers many different perspectives on sustainability, examining what that means for a variety of different companies, from large, global corporations to local, small businesses.
This was the third year that the course has been offered but the first year that Dr. Easter incorporated out-of-town field trips in addition to several guest speakers. The students spoke with Abilene business owners, several ACU professors from varying colleges, and with a panel of Cisco downtown business owners. Students took a tour around ACU with Corey Ruff, Associate Vice President of Operations, to understand the campus initiatives for sustainability on a deeper level. They also went to Disability Resources Inc., a residential community for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Cisco mayor Tammy Douglas speaks to Business & Sustainability students.
The students spent half a day in Cisco, TX. They spoke with Joy and Kerry Hedges, the owners of Slowpoke Farms and Slowpoke Market Store. The Hedges made significant lifestyle changes for sustainability regarding the food and products they consumed and extended those values beyond their personal life to their farming methods and business practices. In September, they opened the Slowpoke Market Store, which students were able to visit. The Slowpoke Market Store is a part of the revitalization effort in the downtown Cisco area. Students interacted with a panel of other business owners in the downtown area that are also involved with the revitalization efforts and with Tammy Douglas, Cisco’s first female mayor. Douglas explained the importance of local resources and how they have incorporated sustainable practices in the changes occurring in Cisco and gave students a tour of the downtown area.
By the end of the class, students were able to recognize interactions between environmental, social, and economic decisions, understand the power of business to negatively or positively impact their surroundings, gained exposure to how a variety of different organizations and perspectives tackle today’s sustainability challenges, and became more aware of their own role when participating in personal and professional decisions related to sustainability. Marissa Hickson, a senior marketing major, said that “the most impactful thing I learned in the class was the importance of researching the background, goals, and values of the companies I support. We learned how to evaluate sustainability reports and determine whether or not a company’s values align with ours. I learned that a lot of companies that I have trusted in the past don’t actually operate in the most ethical ways! It’s great to be aware of this now so that I can be sure to support the companies who are actively working to make our world a better place.” The class will be offered next January, so students can ask your advisor about this offering.
COBA professors and students were world travelers this summer, as we have covered in parts 1 and 2 of our blog series on our study abroad trips. This July, professors Laura and Mark Phillips took students to Central America where they received course credit in MGMT 419 (Global Entrepreneurship) and MGMT 340 (Fundamentals of Life Design). We asked Dr. Laura Phillips to tell us about their experience. We hope you enjoy the third installment of our four part blog series on the 2018 travels of the COBA Study Abroad program.
What made Central America a unique place to study?
Central America is a unique place to study Global Entrepreneurship because while the culture, laws, and economic environment are different from the United States, Central America is a place with lots of start-up businesses. Also, the people are very hospitable which makes visiting start-ups easier. In addition, Central America is small geographically but the different countries are unique. Some of the challenges of starting a business in Costa Rica are different from the challenges of starting a business in Honduras. Finally, we were able to see first hand how the government can drastically alter the business environment; the recent unrest in Nicaragua is an unfortunate example of the instability inherent in emerging economies.
What businesses were you able to visit?
I’m not even sure where to start here. I guess I’ll just make a list.
San Jose, Costa Rica
- Yuxta Energy–solar energy
- e.e.d.–legal services for social ventures
- VivaIdea–a think tank for increasing the impact of entrepreneurship in Latin America
- Vida Adventura–adventure camp
- Hotel Las Tortugas–small private hotel in Playa Grande
- Taco Star–taco shop on the beach
- Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat
- CATIE University and the Sustainability House
- butterfly farm
- dairy/cheese making business
- beneficial plants business (medicinal, herbs, etc.)
- pueblo tourism business
- Mission Lazarus–here we also
- made organic fertilizer
- conducted a half day training session for the students and teachers at the vocational schools on basic business topics
- hardware store
- trash collector/recycler
- restaurant owner
- coffee farm/barber shop/tienda owner
For the most part we visited with the entrepreneur (or an employee for the larger organizations) to learn about what they do, what the biggest challenges are, how/if they plan to grow, etc.
Did you take the students on any sight seeing tours?
- Walking tour of San Jose
- Ziplining at Vida Adventura
- Horseback riding at Vida Adventura
- Surfing lessons at Playa Grande or
- Canoeing on the estuary at Playa Grande
- Birdfinding nature walk
- Hike to waterfall and swimming
- Cultural scavenger hunt (milking cows, Latin dancing, making tortillas, etc.
- Archaeological tour
The students enjoyed the sightseeing activities. They were a lot of fun.
What is it like to be able to spend so much time with students in another country? How does it differ than being in a classroom setting in Abilene?
This particular study abroad is different from going to Oxford or Leipzig because we really are all together most of the time. There were even a couple of places where we stayed in one big house. It’s very different because in Abilene you are with your students in class and then they do their own thing the rest of the time. On this study abroad we usually eat together, we travel together, we spend much of our free time together, plus we have class together. You really get to know each other and, as the students said, you become more like family.
What were your favorite moments/experiences of the trip?
Well, I love the fact that we are outside so much and that even when you are “inside” you are usually outside. In many ways life is harder but in many ways it’s simpler. The pace of life is slower and the people put more emphasis on relationships than on to-do lists. Most of our students found the Latin pace therapeutic. There were many great experiences but one of my favorites was going in the butterfly house. The house was full of flowers and the butterflies seemed like flying flowers. It was beautiful.
I also loved watching our students conduct the business training for the people at Mission Lazarus. That activity was a real challenge and stretch for our students, especially since we were having to work through a translator. They students rose to the challenge and did a fantastic job!
If students could only learn one thing, what do you hope they learned?
I would want our students to learn that people are people everywhere; we are more similar than we are different. I would want them to learn that there are business opportunities everywhere but that to be successful you MUST know the culture and context of the place in which you are operating. I would want them to know that the fast-paced, individualistic, climb to the top American business style is not the only way to live. I would want them to know that being happy and being successful are not directly tied to a salary amount or prestige. (So…that’s four things, but they are kind of related.)
Students often take advantage of summer courses to receive credit in a compressed amount of time and effectively use block tuition. Those summer courses can sometimes be a little more creative in the way they are taught – even in deciding the location for the class. MGMT 320: Social Entrepreneurship is no exception to that rule. Social Entrepreneurship is taught at City Square in downtown Dallas by Dr. Laura Phillips over the course of five days. Business students are not the only students who take the class. Phillips says, “The social entrepreneurship course is appropriate for business majors and non-business majors alike. We’ve had students in the class who are studying art, English, architecture and political science – just to name a few. It’s also relevant for students at different points in their academic career. I’ve had students who just finished their first year of college in the class as well as students who are taking it as their very last class. It may seem overwhelming to squeeze an entire class into a week, but it’s an engaging and inspiring week!” We asked a couple of the students who completed the course to tell us a little about why they chose to take the class and what they took away from the week.
Ashleigh Price (’18) management major from Sunnyvale, Texas said, “I had one more class I needed to take to complete my degree and was really looking for classes in that last semester that focused on the field I wanted to go in to – poverty and development. It was convenient since I lived in Dallas and I had heard so many great things about it, so I jumped on it!” Jordan Eason, senior accounting major from Keller, Texas said, “I had always wanted to take this class, because I had heard from others that it was a great class. I am also very interested in social entrepreneurship from my time volunteering with various non-profit organizations.”
Tell us a little bit about the format of the class. What was a typical day like?
Jordan: “In the class, we had a lot of guest speakers come to us but we also went on field trips to businesses, too. A typical day included hearing from guests and then engaging in a lot of discussion to process what we were learning.”
Ashleigh: “There is no such thing as a typical day! Every day is special in its own way. The first and last days included a few speakers but we were also taking care of administrative tasks and assignments including group work. On Tuesday through Thursday, however, we had a networking lunch (Tuesday) and breakfasts (Wednesday and Thursday). We were able to sit down with the guest speakers and talk about our passions. We were also able to hear the coolest testimonies of business owners and people who are in prominent positions in large companies like Southwest Airlines and HKS. Every day, we had additional speakers along with the networking. In those sessions, we heard about real life situations and learned applicable skills to apply to our potential business models.”
Tell us about some of the speakers and/or experiences that stood out to you?
Jordan: “We visited a restaurant in Dallas called Café Momentum and heard from the entrepreneur that started it, Chad Houser. At his café, he employs and trains teens that have been in juvenile detention. His hope is for them to be placed in a job and leave the café once they finish the program. We actually were able to eat at the restaurant, which was named one of the top restaurants in Dallas. It was great to hear him talk about his mission and the passion he had for what he was doing.”
Ashleigh: “One of my favorite speakers was Todd Spinks who works for Southwest and possessed a love for people, wanting to unite them to work for good. Another was Chad Houser who runs Cafe Momentum which helps to rehabs kids, get them jobs, and gets them off the streets. There were others that I loved (and honestly all of them were really great) but these two people had a lot of impact on me.”
What was your favorite thing about the class?
Jordan: “My favorite thing about the class was getting to have conversations with the guest speakers. On two of the days of class, we were able to have breakfast with them. There was one guest to a table of 3-4 students, so we were able to have great conversations and ask them questions. The guests were all so kind to take that time out of their day to talk with us.”
Ashleigh: “The connections made and the subjects talked about – any and all things having to do with social enterprise.”
What surprised you the most about the class or any of your experiences in the class?
Jordan: “I learned a lot in this class, specifically of ways to help people without hurting them. It was surprising that different ways of poverty alleviation were useful in certain areas but not in others. We really learned how there is not a one size fits all solution and that was echoed by speakers through the week.”
Ashleigh: “I was expecting it to be a lot of work but it wasn’t like that at all. It was constructive and thought provoking. It reminded me a lot of Leadership Summit. It was basically a mini LS but it focused on doing good rather than leadership.”
Ashleigh went on to say that the class has, “Changed how I view poverty and what people in those situations need versus what I think they need. They know what they need better than I ever could. It showed me how much more diverse I need to make my friend circle. The class also confirms my love of this career path and it has given me tools to use in the future at either my own business or in a position with a company or organization.”
Social Entrepreneurship at CitySquare is pushing students to think outside the box and time again, they state how much they love the class. How about the professor? We asked Dr. Phillips a few questions about the course as well.
What is your favorite thing about teaching the class?
Dr. Phillips: “Almost every day one of the students makes a comment to me about how a particular speaker or a field trip has ‘blown their mind’. I think that’s my favorite thing about teaching the class. Some students are blown away by the inequalities that exist around them that they’ve never noticed before. For some students what blows their mind is the variety of creative ways people are using their business to achieve social impact in their community. For other students the most eye-opening aspect of class is the wide variety of backgrounds our speakers come from – the fact that there’s not a prescribed path to social entrepreneurship. I love being able to sit back and watch their eyes open up to a whole new world of possibilities.”
I know you have many speakers that come in to talk to the students. Who are some that have made a big impact on the students?
Dr. Phillips: “This question is hard to answer because the students have different favorite speakers. That’s one of the nice things about bringing in a wide variety. While they may appreciate and learn from all of the speakers, students typically really connect with a handful of our guests and who that is varies from student to student. A couple of speakers who are perennial favorites are John Siburt, President and COO of CitySquare, and Chad Houser, CEO and Executive Chef at Cafe Momentum. Both are charismatic, innovative, and inspiring and they motivate the students to have big dreams.”
What do you hope students will take away from the class?
Dr. Phillips: “I hope that students will leave class with the understanding that they can choose to do good through their business regardless of what that business is. I also hope they leave class with a set of tools and contacts that make them feel empowered and capable of launching a social enterprise – maybe soon, maybe not for 20 years.”
The College of Business seeks to inspire, equip, and connect students to honor God and bless others. We can’t wait to see what these students do to change the world. Any student wanting to learn more about the next offering for MGMT 320: Social Entrepreneurship can contact their academic advisor or Dr. Laura Phillips.
Graduation is only a few days away and it’s the time of year we sadly say goodbye to our graduating seniors. We are proud of our students and we’d like to introduce you to a few of them on this blog, letting you know how their time at ACU has molded them, where they are headed after graduation, and what advice they have for the new freshmen class coming in the fall.
Allie Cawyer, Marketing major from Plano, Texas
After graduation, I will be moving back to Dallas and hoping to work in the corporate event industry.
For the last year, I have been working with University Events here at ACU and it has only made me more excited to pursue events full time. So, getting to actually do events all the time and working in that position is making me excited for graduation. Plus, no event is the same so I will not have to worry about doing the same thing every day.
My favorite ACU memory was probably when I studied abroad two summers ago. The experience was unlike any other and I not only learned about all of the other cultures but also about myself.
My favorite class was Leadership Summit because I got credit for taking a class in the mountains of Colorado, but the takeaway was much more than just the credit hours. So many people poured into us during that week with life lessons, truth and God’s word that nothing can compare to it.
My advice would be to be as involved as you can within your department, no matter what it may be. Get to know not only your classmates but also your professors because they truly care about you and your life. Start it early on, so that you get the full experience all four years.
Steven Yang, English major and COBA Student Worker from Chiang Rai, Thailand
After graduation, I am going to Regent University of Law in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I am excited to be done with my undergrad and be able to travel home and see my family in Thailand.
Steven (tan jacket in the middle) and friends hiking over Spring Break.
My favorite memory at ACU is climbing different buildings, having game nights, and biking around Abilene.
My favorite class was Literature for Young Adults because reading stories from this class connects me to my past and helps me find my identity.
I would tell incoming freshmen to work hard
but never lose the ability to see the silver-lining in life. Life is too short and too hard to not be happy.
Katie Isham, Accounting major from Decatur, Texas
After graduation, I plan to work at PwC in Dallas as an Audit Associate. I’m most excited to go out and use the skills and knowledge I’ve learned throughout college to bless others. I’m not sure what that will look like, but I know that God has big plans- I’m just glad to be a part of them!
My favorite ACU memory…. hmmm. There’s not a certain memory that sticks out to me, rather my favorite thing about ACU is the people. Finding and creating friendships with diverse people who have the same aim, to love the Lord by loving others, has been instrumental in making me who I am.
My advice to incoming freshmen is don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. You’ll regret the opportunities you didn’t take and the friends you didn’t make. Keep your relationship with the Lord your main priority and join a church and Bible study right away! Regardless of what happens in your next four years, know that God so loved you that he sent his son to die for you as an atonement for your sins, so that through GRACE you are saved, not by your own works. Give all the glory to God!
Jack Oduro, Accounting major from Garland, Texas
After graduation, I am going to take a missional focused trip to Ghana for
the summer. Then, I begin getting ready for my full time job with Weaver & Tidwell LLP in Dallas. I am excited about graduation and grateful that all of my family is in one place for the first time in two years.
My favorite ACU memory is…truly, any time I got to spend time with the people at this school was inspiring. Some of my best moments may include late night strolls around campus and potential trespassing with life-long friends, friendships which began here.
My favorite classes were Social Entrepreneurship with Laura Philips and Leadership Summit with the Lytle Center for Faith and Leadership. They are both up there in the extraordinary classes category. They both live up to ACU’s commitment of creating leaders for Christian service around the world.
My advice for the fishy is to seek to genuinely serve others because big changes start with the little acts of service.
Congratulations to the class of 2018! As Minor Meyers said, “Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”
Dr. Sarah Easter is a professor in the College of Business Administration and teaches classes like Strategic Management, Business and Sustainability, and International Business.
Over the summer, Dr. Sarah Easter attended the Academy of Management (AOM) Annual Meeting: a professional association for over 10,000 management and organization scholars whose mission is to build a vibrant and supportive community of scholars by markedly expanding opportunities to connect and explore ideas. The theme of this year’s AOM Annual Meeting was ‘Improving Lives’ and specifically focused on how organizations can contribute to the betterment of society through elevating the health and well-being of those who live in it. In her dissertation research, Dr. Easter conducted a sixteen-month ethnographic study of a coalition to end homelessness in Western Canada. The coalition involved over forty different governmental, business and nonprofit players and she examined how they worked together toward common goals while considering many different perspectives. Dr. Easter presented a paper over one of the key findings of this research and received the Best Paper Award based on a Dissertation from the Managerial and Organizational Cognition Division of the Academy of Management.
Dr. Sarah Easter was presented with the Best Paper Award for processes of negotiating identity in a cross-sector partnership.
Dr. Easter’s dissertation research centered on the challenge of the coalition: developing a cohesive and unified identity (i.e., its focal purpose and goals) in the face of a variety of different perspectives. Those involved in the coalition had many different viewpoints on what the central issue they were working to address entailed, which was homelessness. Even though all participants talked about the notion that the overall vision to end homelessness was well understood by all involved, the result was that the partnership was often pulled in multiple directions simultaneously. The findings speak to the importance of such collaborative partnerships as being very explicit in terms of the vision they are working to achieve. This involves having ongoing discussions and check-in points to ensure that all players are able to clearly articulate the direction of the partnership, including underlying meanings of terms utilized, particularly as participants are continually cycling in and out. Dr. Easter was fascinated in learning how a diverse body of organizations and individuals from public, private and nonprofit sectors come together to address a significant societal issue over time and was able to develop a deep understanding as to how the coalition evolved over time in the presence of many and very different ways of working.
Dr. Easter took special notice of the pull between both opportunities and challenges that organizations face in carrying out their work while conducting her research. This is something she emphasizes while teaching classes like Strategic Management, Business and Sustainability, and International Business. “I believe strongly that it is important to consider both dimensions in order to develop a more holistic perspective of a given organization’s current situation,” Dr. Easter emphasized. “I bring up this example in my courses: an organization that has incredible potential to make an impact in addressing homelessness in the local region (opportunity). At the same time, though, there are incredible challenges associated with this complex structure.” Dr. Easter continues a passion for studying how people work across cultural and socioeconomic structures especially through addressing major societal challenges and looks for ways to connect with people and organizations as well as share this passion with her students in the classroom.