While most students booked their flights or prepared for road trips to popular spring break destinations like South Padre Beach, Texas, or Panama City, Fla., 23 students from McCombs were preparing for a completely different kind of spring break–a week-long global business service learning trip in Belize.
The trip is part of the Leadership Program, a McCombs student organization that currently has about 260 members. It’s a flexible, four-year program that aims to create “engaged global citizens.”
The members participate in a variety of leadership development activities on their own, whether they serve in leadership positions in organizations, take an extra course on ethics or leadership, attend retreats, conferences or write book reviews.
“[Belize] is a student initiative,” said Stephanie Hinojosa-Galvan, program coordinator. “We have helped them, but the students have planned the curriculum and will be providing the services.”
The students will be teaching entrepreneurial and job skills tracks to vocational students at the Belizean college ITVET. The entrepreneurial track will teach general business skills such as budgeting, forecasting, putting business plans together, attracting investors and targeting appropriate audiences. The job skills track will teach resume, cover letter and thank you letter writing, professional dress, how to conduct yourself during an interview and conduct mock interviews.
“We believe we can really make an impact on the Belizean community and their economy,” said Justin Turner, BBA ’11, who is studying management information systems and is one of the four project champions that coordinated the curriculum to teach the vocational students in Belize. He is a member of the 2007 cohort and has experienced the full four years of the program.
“Belize is a really great way to cap off our senior year,” said Turner. “It’s going to show us how we can use our leadership skills and education acquired at UT to benefit the global community.”
Belize was chosen due to the lack of a language barrier (English is the official language in there) and its status as a third world country.
“I decided to go because I think this cause is really important,” said Tam Le, BBA ’11, studying marketing, and also in the 2007 cohort. “We have the opportunity to improve the economy of Belize and change people’s lives.”
Fourth-year members in the program, like Le and Turner, learn about global leadership and are challenged to become ethical global citizens.
“As college students we aspire to do big things in the world, that’s the reason we choose to attend McCombs–one of the top business schools in the nation every year,” said Turner. “We want to have a global impact on the world.”
Le also sees the importance in having a global impact on the world: “I’m interested in the global track because I feel like that’s where our economy and companies are heading. The world is becoming more global and connected, and those skills are going to be the ones that are really important in the future.”
During the last year the students have attended at least three workshops with guest speakers, including one led by Gary Hoover, former entrepreneur-in-residence. During the workshops they have learned what the Belizean society is like, how to dress and the best ways to interact with people there.
“We really feel like we know their culture, attitudes and beliefs,” said Turner. “We know how to present our leadership skills to better benefit them after going through these four years of leadership training.”
For instance, the leadership program students learned that Belizeans read very literally.
“We fall asleep when professors write down everything they’re going to say in lecture on a PowerPoint,” said Le, who will be teaching the job skills track. “But in Belize, they like things to be explicit and stated out.”
With this information in mind, the students have written in full sentences and have typed everything they will be saying in the job skills packets, so that the vocational students can follow along.
“This will be a project that not only changes the lives of the people we’re working with,” said Turner. “But it will also create lasting memories for us, and gratification knowing that we helped out students abroad.”
Both Turner and Le are looking forward to applying the skills that they have learned through the program:
“The most important lesson I’ve seen emphasized throughout all four years, is that leadership is not an ability you either have or don’t have,” said Le. “It’s a skill that you work on–it’s something anyone can improve on.”
Turner agrees: “A lot of people have this misconception that leadership is something you’re born into. That’s not the case–you have to realize that every person has a unique set of skills and leadership traits. Anybody can be a leader.”