Students from the College of Business and Management, along with Stritch faculty and staff, took an experiential approach to discovering the balance between people, planet and profit during a weeklong trip to Belize.
The students represented various programs within the College of Business and Management, including the Lifetime Learners program, traditional undergraduate program, and the graduate MBA program.
Led by Dr. Mark Gesner, faculty chair of community engaged learning and leadership for the College of Business and Management, and Sarah Sweeney, coordinator of international education and study abroad, the trip included a service project, onsite learning at the Cotton Tree Lodge in Punta Gorda, Belize, and engagement in local commerce.
The group stayed at the Cotton Tree Lodge, which Gesner refers to as a terrific example of a“triple bottom line” business – one that focuses on sustainable relationships with people and the planet, in addition to profit.
“We were able to provide our students with a rich mix of feeling connected to people and land while also gaining a holistic understanding of how business and culture are intertwined,” explained Gesner.
The lodge’s staff is comprised of individuals from local communities. Owner and founder Chris Crowell makes a deliberate effort to embrace the values and traditions of local cultures.
Crowell is also mindful of the lodge’s impact on the environment. The lodge, a pioneer in sustainable tourism, is completely “off the grid.” Solar panels generate power; housekeeping staff use only biodegradable cleaning products; and a reforestation program has been implemented on the property.
“The highlight of the trip was its ‘off the grid’ nature,” said undergraduate student Nicholas Pauc. “We were in the middle of the jungle and got to experience all sorts of things that we don’t get here in Milwaukee.”
Pauc also enjoyed learning about the Belize culture, which he described as optimistic and "jolly."
In addition to studying operations at the lodge, the group visited an all-organic cacao farm, participated in a service project with Sustainable Harvest International, and went on a cave diving expedition through Blue Cave Creek.
Katherine Harvey, a current MBA student, described the excursion as “the most ultimate and physical definition of teamwork.”
“We had to work together as a group to hike upstream for three hours and past three waterfalls of increasing difficulty before returning back to the mouth of the cave,” she explained. “At one point, everyone felt there was an obstacle they couldn't conquer - a strong current, a fierce waterfall, or a jump into black water. The group worked together to ensure everyone made it all the way through the cave to the last waterfall.”
Both Harvey and Pauc experienced a shift in their managerial perspectives, citing a renewed appreciation for the importance of relationships and respect in business.
“This trip showed me that no business is successful without compassion,” said Harvey. “People and love run organizations – not email, computers, machines, or supply chains. Those who embrace diversity are the ones that are truly successful.”
Though Gesner has visited Belize several times, he experienced a similar renewal of perspective.
“To experience Belize through the eyes of students- that made it brand new again,” Gesner explained. “It was fulfilling to see how fascinated they were. The entire trip was very rewarding.”