Twelve high-achieving undergraduate students from the Robert H. Smith School of Business spent thirteen days in May in Cape Town, South Africa, as part of Smith Stars, an outreach program for underrepresented students. With a focus on social change and innovation in a South African context, the program provided the students with opportunities to engage with the local community of Cape Town, explore cultural and historical landmarks, and learn from local social enterprises and changemakers in the country.
“The goal of the program was really to help students see themselves as part of a big world,” Jeanette Snider, academic advisor and program organizer, explains. “The students built a connection to the purpose of the work and the people that it affects, and that understanding is very valuable in business.” Jeanette was joined by Sharon Strange Lewis, a director at the University of Maryland’s Department of Alumni Relations, in guiding the students throughout the course of the program.
In order make these connections deep into the community in Cape Town, the Smith School partnered with the Students’ Health and Welfare Organisation (SHAWCO), affiliated with the University of Cape Town. This powerful relationship allowed Smith students to access a deeper and more hands-on involvement with social change in South Africa.
During the program, small teams of students volunteered with social enterprises in Cape Town. One such host organization was the Lentegur Spring Project where the students contributed to the “greenification” of a local psychiatric hospital, learning about minimizing carbon and water footprints, developing pro-environmental and self-employment projects, and how these actions can help uplift a community. The students also assessed Mould Empower Serve (MES), an NGO that creates various job creation projects and programs, and submitted innovation plans to Proudly Macassar Pottery, a music-focused organization that works to empower at-risk youths and the local community.
The students were able to experience South Africa’s wealth of cultural sights as well. From natural wonders such as Table Mountain, a flat-topped mountain that overlooks Cape Town; to cultural landmarks like Robben Island, the island prison where the late Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life, students discovered experiences that allowed them to build a stronger relationship with and understanding of the people, the country, and the continent.
The South Africa program provided students with the opportunity not only to learn about social change and innovation, but also to understand the reason for it. When comparing with their own experiences, students found a connection with the people of Cape Town that was stronger than they had expected.
Snider made this a point of emphasis throughout the program, saying, “The landscapes are great and the culture is fantastic, but the people are what make Cape Town amazing. They are how the students learned of the importance of where people come from and how this knowledge should change how they approach a situation. The understanding of diversity, connections, and relationships across boundaries is critical in a global business world.”
The format and experience of the program has made an impact on Marketing major Christopher Lane’s career and personal development, as he states, “I now consider myself an agent of change. I have a deeper understanding of other people due to the course being a place of engagement rather than note-taking.”
The South Africa program will take place again in January of 2015 as a for-credit opportunity. 30 students will join Associate Dean Victor Mullins to engage with the South African community and explore social entrepreneurship in the local context. Find out more about the program on the South Africa program page. Application deadline is October 1, 2014.