CU-Boulder Business Students and Alumni Help Make a Difference as Peace Corps Volunteers

Combine the youth and idealism often found on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus with a business degree, and the ability to make a difference in the world takes on new dimensions.

Through the Peace Corps' worldwide volunteer program, Leeds School of Business students and alumni have joined thousands of other CU-Boulder alumni who have contributed to communities around the globe.

"Not only do our graduates join the Peace Corps but we also have attracted Peace Corps alumni to our MBA and other graduate programs, which underscores our reputation as a school that values being engaged in the world," said Francy Milner, who teaches business ethics and social entrepreneurship at the Leeds School.

Micah Strand, a CU-Boulder graduate student who is currently working on his MBA at the Leeds School of Business said he was never really a "save-the-world type of person" when he was an undergraduate. But at age 22 he found himself uninspired by corporate America and applied to the Peace Corps.

Several months later, Strand was helping a cooperative spice market hand grind nutmeg and cinnamon on the tiny island of Grenada. Learning business skills, especially communication, leadership and organization -- can go a long way in a developing nation, he said.

"When you're in a developing country, you'd be surprised at what that little bit of experience and knowledge would mean," Strand said. He helped businesses create grassroots advertising, post signs and keep records.

In 2004, after Strand's first year in Grenada, the Category 4 Hurricane Ivan struck, damaging or destroying 90 percent of the buildings. So Strand's second year focused on disaster relief, grant writing and business recovery.

Like Strand, CU-Boulder alumnus Brian Lewandowski also joined the Peace Corps in 2003 to aid in small business development. Lewandowski, who received his MBA from the Leeds School in 2007 and is now a research analyst in the Business Research Division at the Leeds School, was placed with his wife Amber in St. Vincent, another Caribbean island. He helped locals write business plans, led entry-level business seminars, wrote grants and launched a computer skills course taught by locals.

"That was definitely the most rewarding thing, because you walked away wondering if you've had an impact and if any of this is really sustainable," Lewandowski said. "And some of it was."

Lewandowski invented practical ways to teach business basics, such as a poultry project that exposed sixth graders to math, science and commerce. He helped students build a coop at the school, raise chickens and measure food, as well as skin, weigh and sell the chickens after they were slaughtered.

"The unique thing there is that sixth graders came to school with machetes on slaughter day," he said.

Todd Freedman, a 2009 Leeds School graduate with a bachelor's degree in management, is now volunteering in Tonga, a small Pacific Island near Fiji, teaching and advising on business.

"I think business is a good answer to a lot of things," Freedman said. "You can't donate enough to lift a billion people out of poverty. You can help them set up their economy."

Both Strand and Lewandowski said they returned from the Peace Corps with an enriched real-world perspective.

"All these fresh-faced volunteers come onto the island and want to do the same thing: change the world. And they want to do it on the first day," Strand said. But he said nurturing a depressed economy required patience and adaptability.

"Change comes gradually, he said. "The days go by slow and the years go by fast in the Peace Corps."

With 102 alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps, CU-Boulder is No. 2 in the 2009 ranking of large schools producing Peace Corps volunteers. Since the Peace Corps' inception, 2,157 CU-Boulder alumni have served in the Peace Corps, making it the No. 5 all-time producer of volunteers.

To learn more about CU-Boulder's Peace Corps history visit www.colorado.edu/news/reports/peacecorps/index.html, and to see how other CU-Boulder students are making their mark in the world visit www.colorado.edu/news/reports/summer/.

To view a video perspective of Lewandowski's Peace Corps experience visit www.youtube.com/user/ColoradoLeeds#p/c/BB887B4E5FA74C71/5/Uc5pqdt897k.

To read more about the Leeds School of Business and its faculty, students and alumni check out the fall edition of the school's magazine Portfolio at viewer.zmags.com/publication/685223a2#/685223a2/1.

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