Honors students explore Mexico, microfinance

During the fall of 2012, University Honors students Melissa Welsh, Erica Cogswell and Isabelle Bourgeois traveled to Mexico as a part of their Management 411 class.

Their instructor, Dennis Barsema, helped students develop an understanding of the basics of microfinance through various interactive activities, engaging case studies and colorful discussions. These discussions helped prepare the students for their four-day trip to Punta de Mita, Mexico, to work with the microfinance institution, Aspire.

Among the NIU students on the trip were Jeff Lamble (top left), Isabelle Bourgeois (kneeling, front left), Melissa Welsh (middle, white shirt) and Mike Cahill (kneeling, front).

Among the NIU students on the trip to Mexico were Jeff Lamble (top left), Isabelle Bourgeois (kneeling, front left), Melissa Welsh (middle, white shirt) and Mike Cahill (kneeling, front).

In addition to learning about microfinance, students Jeff Lamble and Isabelle Bourgeois started a school supply collection for PEACE Mexico, and organization that both had interned for this past summer and that works closely with Aspire.

Collaborating with various DeKalb community partners, including NIU’s University Honors Program, students collected numerous items; they even sacrificed taking a large number of their own personal items to Mexico in order to fit the donated shoes and school supplies into their luggage.

While in Mexico, students met with various microfinance clients to observe their different living situations. Students expressed how these interactions were life changing.

Melissa, Erica, and Isabelle noted that they began to think more critically about global issues and develop a new sense of social responsibility: “We [Americans] have so much and give so little, where they have so little and give so much.”

Dennis Barsema

Dennis Barsema

This nontraditional class gave the students the opportunity to undergo great personal developments.

Not only did these students had exceedingly positive things to say about their transformational learning experience in Mexico, they also have many kind words to say about Barsema, a past recipient of the University Honors Great Professor Award.

Students said Barsema is dedicated to helping his students learn to change the world. After their course with him, they felt that he transformed them into agents of change who are capable of making a positive difference in the world.

Barsema extends his Management 411 instruction by offering a customized Social Entrepreneurship and Microfinance Series exclusively for University Honors students each year. This series includes five sessions in which Barsema discusses his experience in granting small business loans to entrepreneurs in impoverished countries.

The workshops are interactive with extensive group discussions and activities.

Interested University Honors students can register by emailing their full names and Z-ID numbers to Vanessa Segundo at vsegundo1@niu.edu. Only University Honors students can register for this series. Space is limited to the first 30 students.

The first session begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in Room 211 of Barsema Hall. For more information, email vsegundo1@niu.edu.

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