Dr. Laura Philips, associate professor of management sciences, and Dr. Sarah Easter, assistant professor of management, led students to Costa Rica for the College of Business Administration’s first-ever Social Enterprise Consulting class in spring break of 2019. They plan to continue the class next spring.
In 2019, the main purpose was to provide students with hands-on experience dealing with a real and substantial challenge faced by a socially-minded organization according to Easter.
“One of the key takeaways was to allow students to obtain real world experience by analyzing a situational need expressed by the client and developing solutions to meet that identified need,” Easter said. “Our clients were interested in better understanding the U.S. market for sustainable rural tourism in Costa Rica and then developing a marketing strategy to reach the identified markets to grow the organization further.”
Students spent six weeks prior to spring break learning about consulting, as well as about the cultural context of the country and organizations they would visit.
“Dr. Phillips and I were impressed with the way that the students took ownership of this complex challenge and worked well together as a team to deliver on the clients’ expectations,” Easter said. “Our clients were also very pleased with the end result, and we are planning to continue our partnership.”
Philips also believed that this experience gave students a broader perspective of businesses and how they run in different countries.
“I think our students got a much better appreciation for how different it is. It’s difficult starting a business in the rural parts of a developing economy,” Phillips said. “It’s difficult to start a successful business here, but this class helped them understand how they can use their business knowledge and skills not only for creating economic value for themselves and their families but how those skills can also be used to minister to and serve others.”
The students experienced Costa Rica in ways that emphasized interactions involved with the local culture.
“The most eye-opening thing about this trip was the cultural immersion,” junior marketing major Luke Stephens said. “To actively participate in activities with the locals gave me a unique perspective into who they are. Instead of feeling like an outsider looking in, I felt more like I was a part of them.”
Easter and Philips plan on bringing a new group of students to Costa Rica next spring break. They believe that it expands the students’ mindsets of the business world.
“I think this class gives our students a broader world view,” Phillips said. “They get to meet people who want to earn ‘enough’ instead of the U.S. norm of ‘as much as possible’.”
The students in the spring 2020 class will work on a more detailed market assessment for Costa Rican sustainable tourism in the U.S. according to Easter. They will also develop and execute a digital marketing strategy for the Costa Rican female entrepreneurs involved in the RETUS project.
RETUS is a network of female entrepreneurs focused on experiential rural tourism offerings as a means to help provide sustainable livelihoods in communities of central Costa Rica.
Eight to 10 students will be assigned to the class as they travel to Costa Rica, March 7-15.