University of Southern California

Business Students Develop Projects in Africa
Students Demonstrate how Writing Abilities can Help Small Businesses
November 11, 2009 • by News at Marshall

A summer in Mozambique is not usually part of the required writing class at the USC Marshall School of Business.

However, professor Sandra Chrystal took nine students to the east coast of Africa to demonstrate how their writing abilities could help small businesses and nonprofits.

“For the first time, I realized you don’t have to come with a big checkbook or a box of goods,” said junior Hillary Buckner, 19, a business administration major. “But come with the idea of bringing your experience back home so you can spread awareness.”

When the students returned from their nine-day journey, they shared their experiences and developed real-world projects with classmates who had stayed in Los Angeles, including:

• supplementing learning materials for a medical school with a one-room library that provides health care for local residents every week
• a business plan to obtain computers and provide training for people who care for AIDS orphans
• a business plan to create mosquito nets that prevent malaria for a sewing cooperative
• a grant proposal to partner with a not-for-profit agency in the production of a juice drink.

“I see learning as most beneficial when we can dive in and experience [it] firsthand,” Buckner said. “You truly learn more.”

For a decade now, Chrystal has taken her students in “Advanced Writing for Business” out of the classroom and into the neighborhood to help nonprofits and small businesses as part of the USC Community Based Learning Collaborative. That’s where Sharon Stewart of USC Civic and Community Relations introduced her to Malena Ruth, president of the African Millennium Foundation.

Ruth suggested Chrystal take her class to visit the region just north of South Africa to see how the students’ skills could benefit real businesses - and real people - half a world away.

“Hearing about what is happening and raising funds from far away is so different than seeing the look in the eye of the children and the face of the mothers,” said senior Meital Basi-Cohen, 22, an accounting major from Israel.

Students in upcoming writing classes will be asked to consider following up on these projects and further develop them in concert with their Mozambique counterparts.

“It’s just amazing,” Ruth said. “Any person in the developed world can be of service. They may seem like small things. But mosquito nets? That thrills me. Almost 3,000 a day die because there are no nets.

“These students don’t see the reasons why this hasn’t already happened. They just ask: ‘How can we make this work?’ ”

The students learn how to write a business plan, a press release, a proper e-mail and the art of the interoffice memo, but the class is so much more than theoretical papers and classroom assignments.

“I figured if I had to take ‘Writing 340’ anyway, why not go to Africa to do something you can’t learn in the classroom?” said junior Julia Lipton, 20, a business administration major. “I’m a huge advocate for community based learning and I think that’s how students benefit the most.”

Added Chrystal, “My goal is that students learn that their critical thinking and writing can make a difference.”

The program was funded by a $15,000 grant from the USC Fund for Innovative Undergraduate Teaching and a matching award from the USC Marshall School.

“This was an innovative learning experience,” said Gene Bickers, vice provost for undergraduate programs. “It’s hard to imagine something that would better fit our strategic plan - a global focus, working with undergraduates, service learning. This is the most ambitious and innovative that I know of.”

USC Marshall School of Business Dean James G. Ellis agreed. “This is groundbreaking,” he said. “There are a lot of things we do with a global perspective, but the fact that this is based in a communications class is huge.”

The students realized this effort likely would provide no instant gratification - it takes time to apply for grants, start a business and make a profit. What many students did witness was their ability to help others with the skills they are learning.

“I am not sure if I made a difference for the people in Mozambique, as they have not yet implemented the business plan we created,” said 21-year-old Einy Paul, a senior business major from Norway. “But I do know that I, along with my classmates, have made a difference ... because we have shown that it is possible to use our business knowledge to offer help to others.”

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About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.