Photo by Scott Davis
By Paul Fjeldsted
I was terrified in August 2009 when Chris Fawson asked me to lead a group of students to South America the following summer. I had traveled there frequently in my financial services career, but leading 21 students on a month-long adventure through Chile, Brazil and Peru was well outside my comfort zone. Now, having just returned from the adventure, I am not only relieved that we returned with all 10 fingers and toes, but I am amazed at what an incredible experience it was. During the months leading up to actually boarding the plane to Santiago, Chile, the faculty team interviewed each student who applied. I was deeply impressed with the caliber of the students and their motivations (i.e., pursue an international career, understand other cultures, become a central banker in the Dominican Republic). Our final group consisted of 13 women and eight men, with seven native Spanish speakers, one student from Armenia, majoring in journalism, a member of the USU men’s basketball team, a 34-year-old human resources major from Tremonton, Utah, and three married students who left spouses at home. Others majored in economics and finance, operations, international business, accounting and marketing. The group was extremely diverse but had in common open minds and a desire to push themselves into new experiences.
During our time in Peru, the students were divided into small teams to assess proposals for small business loans under the SEED program (sponsored by the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business and DanPer, a large Peruvian agribusiness company). A total of 11 Peruvian entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to these student teams, who then had one week to perform due diligence on the projects and make an up or down recommendation. One student, a woman from Kemmerer, Wyo., sat next to a public bus driver in Trujillo, Peru, for an hour as he ran his route and peppered him with questions about fares, number of passengers, working hours and wages. Other students visited banks and insurance companies inquiring about the availability and cost of taxicab insurance.
Another group visited a small dairy operation assessing a proposal for expansion (buying another cow!) Throughout, I was thrilled to see the students’ willingness to do things they may have never imagined themselves doing and giving themselves a preview of their limitless potential. These students who didn’t know each other before we left became a tight, cohesive group with shared experiences that would last a lifetime. They are going places in life and now have a support group — each other — to get them there.