U of O business students making a difference locally and internationally

Release Date: 6/18/2012

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And so says Dr. Rickey Casey, professor of management and business and executive director of International Studies at Ozarks.

What he's referring to is the 24th annual U of O report on the Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) program. SIFE'S purpose is to establish and direct student-generated free market economic education programs on the Ozarks campus and within the community - and according to the report in his hand, they're doing an outstanding job. So is Phi Beta Lambda (PBL), Ozarks' student business organization. An integral part of the U of O business instructional program, PBL provides professional and academic development opportunities for students to build and enhance career supportive competencies, and to promote civic and personal responsibilities.

"What you have here are two organizations that help develop our business students on multiple levels," said Casey. "I think that between the two organizations, PBL and SIFE, we in the business division here at U of O are producing students who not only meet but exceed any goals we have set. As I say, the proof is in the pudding. Look at the results from this past year in SIFE alone: We've had 48 active members working on 28 effective projects, putting in 2,845 community service hours, and impacting the lives of 44,405 individuals in 11 different countries. The proof is in the pudding."

According to Hidenobu Kameya, co-vice-president of SIFE this year, ethical behavior is as much a part of the SIFE business model as is entrepreneurship or marketing strategies. "Some of the projects we've been developing just this summer, like the ethics awareness poster campaign, empowers ethical messages - 'Don't let bribery undermine your business' is one such message designed to reach out to students in Central America or Mexico, where bribery is an issue they have to deal with. That project also promotes teamwork, leadership, and other vital issues. We hand out big posters and bookmarks to get those concepts out there where they can do some good."

Mario Lopez, SIFE's other vice-president, agrees. "We do try to change the way the message is presented according to the market and the country we're working in," he said. "When performing the activities we do internationally, we always take into consideration the cultures we are working with. Bribery issues are not the same here as in El Salvador, for example, which is my home country. But it kind of works the same everywhere in another way, because the main idea of helping people can be applied both here and in central America. That is the root idea we promote - helping people."

PBL pursues academic excellence

PBL focuses on the academic side of business competition. "In PBL, our students have an opportunity to compete academically against many, many schools in Arkansas," said Casey. "They include Arkansas Baptist, Arkansas State, Arkansas Tech, Henderson, Hendrix, North Arkansas College, Southern Arkansas, University of Arkansas, U of A Fort Smith, and others. How did we compete? Just this last semester we had 14 first-place winners, 10 second-place winners, 10 in third place, six in fourth, and two in fifth. That's 42 total winners. When you look at how many of our students placed, and I remind you these were all in academic competitions, it tells you that the quality of our academic program is definitely there. They're using the skills they've learned at Ozarks, and they're making a difference. They take their skills and say, 'Let me see how I compare with the other schools?' and they're coming out ahead."

Casey said this year's theme for SIFE was "Nursing Our World," which meant every project they undertook had a "green" or environmentally friendly dimension.

"We excel academically, but to prepare for the real world there are some other things you need too," Casey said. "You have to develop team work. How do you develop the teams that make a difference? What about product identification? Problem solving? That's where Students In Free Enterprise comes in. We work with community service projects such as A Structure From Trash, where we led students in Haulover, Nicaragua, and La Ceiba, Honduras, in developing artistic, leadership, and business skills by generating profit from the product of their workshops. In Nicaragua, over 75 children learned how to construct piñatas from recycled paper. The students were also taught fundamental promotion and sales skills by organizing a Piñata Bazaar in the community at the workshop's conclusion. Over 105 children in Honduras were introduced to the importance of recycling and environmental sustainability as well as the application of business ideas and marketing concepts to develop a product prototype from recycled materials."

The list of projects is impressive: ABC Green in Nepal; the on-campus Distinguished Speaker Series, which they support, and the on-campus Eagle's Nest Café Delivery Service; Ethics Awareness and A Stitch For Christ, both of which reached thousands of individuals in the U.S., Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, and Nepal.

How do these projects actually happen internationally? "Generally our students will go back home and return to their high school or elementary school," said Casey. "They'll approach them and say they'd like to work with their students. They get together with the students and talk about business concepts. Then they put them into practice. An example would be our Jam Cookie Factory project. How do you make a cookie? What goes into it? So you make up an assembly line and make the cookies. Add jelly or jam, peanut butter, whatever they've decided on. Then they have to come up with an eco-friendly wrapping idea and a box display. So that covers the product manufacturing and packaging. But you can't forget quality control! So somebody has to look at the cookie and say, "Wait, wait, wait! It doesn't have enough jam on it!" So you're actually putting into practice a series of necessary business concepts. How do they market this product? That's part of the program too. This was a project we started in Panama many years ago, and it's a project we've just continued through the years."

Act locally, think globally

But all the students' work isn't international. "This past week we contacted the Chamber of Commerce so this year we can develop new projects helping in the Clarksville community," said Kameya. "The Chamber has demonstrated itself to be a very strategic alliance for us. They are basically performing the same activities we do here at SIFE, in other words finding different ways to help improve the local community."

SIFE students regularly teach Spanish in town and help with translation for the parent/teacher meeting in Clarksville schools. And that's not all. "We have helped restaurants work out everything from their menus to their marketing," said Casey. "Another great success story is Tailor Express. For a long time the Clarksville community has been in need of a sewing business capable of professionally making, repairing, and altering garments and custom fabrics, so SIFE responded and jumpstarted a small sewing business managed by a talented local family. For Tailor Express, we remodeled a small privately owned building where the actual sewing is conducted, making it a priority to install eco-friendly florescent light bulbs and other fixtures. We are now focused on promoting and marketing the services available. We outlined the management and logistics such as opening hours, costs, payment, drop-off, pick up, and delivery. Later we plan to expand the services of Tailor Express to include upholstery and embroidery. Such an effort will certainly continue to increase the quality of life and standard of living for many families in our community, by providing cost effective, much needed services locally."

Casey said the Caribbean nation of Belize has recently been a part of Ozarks' business outreach. "We actually worked with Donald J. Kerr, a gentleman here who owns a company in town who helped us fund the first-ever solar-irrigated soccer field in Belize," Casey said.  "It's a SIFE project through Paul Morgan, a Belizean student at U of O. It made history in Belize, the first one ever of its kind. We facilitated Bermuda grass as opposed to synthetic turf, improving the playing field's surface for safety reasons and keeping local pollution to a minimum."

Co-Vice-President Lopez reiterated their core mission. "Our objective as an organization is to apply the business concepts that are taught here on campus among students in the real world, and apply them in a way they can use them to improve our community and their own communities. So basically we perform, we create products based on that principle."

With such a broad and diverse set of learning and teaching activities and projects, Casey said, U of O's business students in PBL and SIFE leave the university trained in skills with which they will not only compete but thrive in their professional lives, whether it's in this country or abroad.