Professor uses class to spread awareness of global problems

Bo Gemmell

Aisha Ajayi did more than just go over the syllabus on the first day of her Business Policy and Strategy class this semester.

Ajayi, assistant professor of management and information systems, introduced the class to the lives of the Tsavo tribal people in Kenya. She divided the class into two teams that work to improve the living conditions in the Tsavo region by raising money for supplies. She said the class is about “applying real skills for real issues” with the goal of sustainability.

Ajayi has taught the class for six years, and previous classes helped people in other parts of the world. She wanted her students to think internationally and experience real-world training.

She said she originally wanted to donate computers, but she went to Kenya last year and saw the people there didn’t have basic necessities such as water or infrastructure. Despite their poor environment, Ajayi said the villagers were motivated to learn.

“Those kids were begging – not for money – they wanted pencils and paper,” she said.

Ajayi’s new goal is to buy one generator for each of the five villages. She said one way people can help raise money is to donate sellable textbooks to A419 in the Business Administration Building.

“If they considered just giving one of their textbooks, that would be an immense help to us,” she said.

Jen Millar, senior marketing and communications major, said students can also help by competing in a Nov. 18 Guitar Hero competition at the Bar’n at 8 p.m. She said students can register at 7 p.m. in exchange for a small donation to the project.

Millar said a new class takes over the project every semester. One of the goals for the project is to achieve non-profit status. Millar said the project will get more recognition if it earns non-profit status.

Diane Ohman, senior business management major, said the class’s two teams work together to raise money for the project. Team Tumaini established coin collections at area businesses and a book drive, and Team Mageuzi set up the Guitar Hero competition at the Bar’n. She said “mageuzi” is the Swahili word for “change,” and “tumaini” is Swahili for “hope.”

“What works so well for this project is we have accounting majors, finance majors and marketing majors,” she said. “We’ve been able to draw on the expertise of those specialties.”

In addition to the other fundraising ideas, Ohman said Team Tumaini scheduled a Tropidelic concert at the Robin Hood for Nov. 21 to help support the cause.

Ohman, who is Team Mageuzi’s project manager, said the students were drawn in to the service-learning project when they saw the conditions in the Kenyan region, where people only receive one meal per day. She said the people are “amazing crafters” who make jewelry and baskets. Predatory buyers come to the villages to buy all the crafts at unfair prices and sell them on the Internet for profit.

She said she hopes classes in the future will help the villagers establish online businesses as a way to help achieve sustainability.

“We have to satisfy basic needs first. Ultimately, we want to help establish for them fair trade and e-commerce,” Ohman said.

Ajayi said she’ll return to Kenya to deliver electric generators and supplies to the villages.

Contact general assignment reporter Bo Gemmell at [email protected].