Beth Cavanaugh 301-405-4625
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Eleven University of Maryland students have traveled to Nicaragua this summer as part of a new UMD study abroad program that combines entrepreneurship with service learning. The students, members of the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps, will spend eight weeks (May 19 – July 12) in rural areas, helping develop and promote small businesses that provide essential products, including eyeglasses, energy efficient stoves, and water filters, at affordable prices to local people.
Based in Granada, the students are traveling in small teams with local leaders and development professionals to rural worksites, where they engage in a wide range of activities designed to support economic projects serving community needs. These activities include surveying local communities about life expectancy and health concerns, creating promotional materials to draw attention to local artisans and products, designing educational campaigns to increase local awareness of the benefits of water purification and improved cook stoves, conducting promotional activities to assist women's cooperatives selling eyeglasses, tracking product sales and inventories, and field testing new products and services.
"In many ways this program embodies the concepts of entrepreneurship, innovation, and public service that are so central to the University of Maryland's mission," said Graham Hettlinger, director of education abroad. "This is an important opportunity for our students to engage in substantive, on-site development work with some of the most innovative people working in the field. Students make a meaningful contribution to the communities that are hosting them, gain experiences, and develop skills that set them apart in the competition for jobs, grants, and graduate programs."
Based on research and analysis they have conducted, each student team will award a small development grant to the local project it believes will most successfully improve community conditions.
While in Nicaragua, Robert H. Smith School of Business Professor Susan White will direct the students in preparing and conducing independent research projects. The students will present the results of their work, and describe their personal experiences on the program, during a campus-wide symposium near the start of the fall 2013 semester.
Prior to the trip, students completed 40 hours of intensive Spanish instruction and trained with development professionals from the Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC), an organization founded in 2005 to promote entrepreneurial solutions to economic challenges. Students also completed a two-week class led by Greg Van Kirk, SEC's co-founder and a leading expert on social entrepreneurship.
The Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps was launched by the Office of International Affairs and Education Abroad in collaboration with the Honors College and the Smith Center for Social Value Creation. Support from the Office of International Affairs, the Cora and John H. Davis Foundation, the Honors College, and The Levy-Woolston Fund for Study Abroad also provided financial support to students on the program.
Many of the participating students also cited the opportunity to engage in substantive fieldwork as a major factor in their decisions to join the program.
"I'm excited about working with my teammates on a project that will impact our lives and the lives of others," said Breonna Norward, a junior majoring in economics. "We've learned a lot about social entrepreneurship, and I'm ready to make my personal impact."
"I wanted to participate in the Social Entrepreneur Corps for the opportunity to get fieldwork experience," said Taqwa Rushdan, a senior Arabic major. "This program (offers) hands on experience in development and a chance to learn about social impact and social enterprise."