Year three of the Upper Iowa University – Pearl Lagoon experience was one of major growth and commitment. Over the past few years, a contingent of UIU students and faculty members have traveled to Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua, to help promote entrepreneurial initiatives to youth and adults of the community as part of the Foundation for Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (FADCANIC) Build to Learn business course. The student-driven project provides entrepreneurial guidance to the native children, young adults and other participating community members. Meanwhile, the Upper Iowa students gain life skills working with individuals and organizations in the developing country.
Unique to the group members who participated in the January 2018 educational mission was that each are Peacock student-athletes: sophomores Julia Szepieniec (golf) and Anna Winter (volleyball), juniors Tanner Thompson (football) and Cory Mullins (golf), and senior Lauren Wombles (volleyball).
Making her second trip to Pearl Lagoon, Szepieniec looked forward to working to assemble the first of four education modules that in the future will serve as a general business curriculum in the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URACCAN) school system in Western Nicaragua. A biology major from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Szepieniec explained that the URACCAN is spread across Nicaragua and is seeking opportunities to expose its students to the world of business.
Szepieniec said that the foundation of trust that has developed between UIU students and residents of Pearl Lagoon and surrounding communities led this year to the successful presentation of an entrepreneurial curriculum that will benefit the students of URACCAN and a technical school in WaWashang. She reported the program was well received and the team is in the process of making the requested adjustments before the expected implementation of the first module in the near future.
“When implemented, the modules will provide more applicable learning for their students within various emphasis such as nursing or farming,” Szepieniec said. “As a critical next step in the expansion and further progression of our entrepreneurial outreach, we feel sincerely tied to this service mission. After all, education is a gift and best applied through the means of teaching others.”
Participating in his first visit to Pearl Lagoon, Thompson said his main goal was to impact as many student lives as possible while sharing the benefits of being exposed to different cultures. As part of a Kid’s Camp, he worked mainly with children ranging in ages 6-12. Day one of the camp kicked off with the Spanish and English translations of key business terms (the children loved learning how to say, “entrepreneur” through games and activities. After highlighting the difference between an invention and an innovation, the UIU students shared the inspirational stories of Walt Disney and Maurice Scales, who at the age of 7 created a device to protect fingers from being smashed in doors.
From this newfound information, the young aspiring entrepreneurs set to work brainstorming inventions of their own and presenting their creations to the rest of the class. Success of the programming carried over to Day 2 when 10 additional children joined the group to discuss goods versus services in the Pearl Lagoon area.
“Teaching the younger group of students was probably my favorite part of the trip,” said Thompson, an accounting and finance major from Forest City, Iowa. “They were a lot of fun and were very interested in the subjects we covered. They were just like American kids and they reminded me of how much fun it is to learn new things at such an early age.”
Winter, a biology, chemistry and mathematics major from Rochester, Minnesota, noted that she signed up for her first Pearl Lagoon experience after being inspired about the project by former participants. A passion for travel and helping other people also fueled her involvement in the UIU venture.
While she too was inspired by the younger children, Winter enjoyed working with young adults of the community who participated in the Build 2 Learn Camp. The 10 campers, ranging in ages 20-24, brought excitement to the classroom setting when discussing small businesses and the issues they face in Pearl Lagoon. In response, the UIU students presented concepts such as mission statements, vision statements, core values, target markets, and ethical problem solving. Vocabulary lessons in data, demographics, entrepreneurship, ethics, global economy, innovation, risk, start-up capital, trend, and visionary were also discussed in detail.
The following day’s Build 2 Learn session focused on the skills of check-writing, ledger-keeping, goal-setting, teamwork and time-management skills. Participants then worked in groups to design Popsicle® stick bridges within an allotted time and budget to create the sturdiest bridge. Two of the women’s teams tied when their bridges withstood over 50 pounds of weight.
“I really enjoyed working with the students in both camps,” Winter said. “The students were enthusiastic and excited to learn new things. It was an eye-opening experience to witness people from a different culture who had a totally different outlook on life than what I am accustomed to.
In closing, each of the UIU students expressed their appreciation to the faculty and staff of the UIU School of Business for their organization and continuing support of the Pearl Lagoon Project, and the UIU alumni who actively laid the groundwork for the planning and development of the successful program.
“The relationships we have cultivated are incredible,” Szepieniec said. “Both of my experiences have made me feel even more grateful for the education I am receiving at Upper Iowa. I love sharing that gift with individuals in another part of the world!”