NIU Business student maps Health Care for Immigrants

If you ask accountancy major Yosue Perez “So, how’d your summer break go?” you’ll hear anything but the usual type of responses.

Instead, Perez participated in NIU’s Summer Research Opportunity Program and spent his time developing a website with health care resources for immigrants. Check out his great website and also a wonderful WTTW media story about his efforts. Way to go, Yosue!!

Just remember, the possibility to conduct paid research with a faculty mentor is available to every NIU student.  Find out more at the NIU’s Summer Research Opportunity Program webpages.  It’s never too early to investigate things that motivate you!

Louis Zmich – Student Intern Farewell Address

CAUTION: This is a longer piece than normal. I have a hard time saying goodbye. Enjoy!

Here we are, the final weeks of my undergraduate career. It seems like everyone tells you, “These years will fly by so fast” and you think to yourself, “Yeah, whatever.” But five years later, and here we are. I remember walking into the main halls of Elmhurst College, working late hours as a custodian and thinking to myself how the days were dragging along. Fast forward to my first semester here at NIU, walking down the street from the boarding house, which I shared with 12 strangers on Augusta Ave., to the Art Building basement auditorium for Business Calculus.

Does anyone else remember that class? I seriously thought I would never pass, and I started having thoughts of changing my major because, if being a business major was anything like that class, I didn’t think I would make it. But something happened that made me work through it, and I’m not entirely sure what that “something” was.

Once I got my bearings of NIU, I started to feel like I was actually growing as an individual. I began to take more classes at Barsema Hall, classes like OMIS 259 and MGMT 217, soaking up as much of the College of Business as I could. I knew this place was going to be my home, and I wanted to race through my classes in other areas of campus, just to come to Barsema.

A lot of memories have been made here. I remember barely squeaking by in ACCY 206 and 207, literally getting a B by the exact number of points needed, in both classes! Man, I will never forget the moment I calculated my scores, what a rush of relief. Then came UBUS 310, the class that kept me, and many others, up late at night. This was the class that fostered my love for Marketing. From there, it seems like I blinked, and now I’m writing this. I got involved in a lot of different clubs and organizations and tried to volunteer my time whenever I could. The struggles, successes, failures, trips taken, countries visited, and competitions attended, all contributed to who I am today. In a way, the College of Business morphed me to who I now portray to the world. The College of Business helped me identify my personal brand. Wow, I never really thought of that before. I didn’t want to be left out of making a difference, which led me to Social Entrepreneurship, CAUSE, DSAB, DSP and my current internship, for which I am writing this article. These organizations allowed me to do so many things, and get involved in making others’ lives, and the world a better place. All of those organizations are more than just acronyms, they’re an opportunity, a chance to grow, learn, and set yourself up for success.

From sales role-plays to class presentations, every moment seems so small. Every obstacle seems to be a burden, and we tend to race to the finish line to then look around and realize we didn’t enjoy the ride. This last reflection for me as an intern is unique because I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many wonderful people. People, who come from all different walks of life, have different reasons for being at NIU, and most importantly, have different opinions and lessons to share with others. This internship has allowed me to meet the many individuals who have shaped my life. I urge you to press pause on your day and look around. Enjoy your little victories and relish in the beauty around you, what you have, what opportunities you should capitalize on; because if you don’t, you may run too fast and realize you didn’t enjoy how you got there. Or worse, realize you chose the wrong direction to go! Enjoy this journey, you have the opportunity to be whoever you want to be, so embrace yourself and who you are. I promise there will be other people who like the same things as you do. Don’t succumb to a specific agenda, instead, write your own and others will follow. Love the skin you’re in, and people will love you for you, and not a fake representation of you. You do this, and these next few years will be some of the best of your life.

I want this farewell address (wait, he’s not done?) to serve two purposes: to let me say goodbye, for now, to this position and the school I have come to love, but to also say welcome to those students who are new here, traditional or not. Yes, yes, your time will fly by, (insert any other cliche thing to say), but I want to let you know what college is all about. Well, from my perspective anyway, and hope you get something out of this. If nothing else, enjoy it here, don’t let the small things get you down. My biggest piece of advice, if you read nothing past this line, is to step back and ask yourself, “Does this make me a better person?” If the answer is no, don’t sweat over it and walk away. Naturally, you ask, “Well, does Louie’s article make me a better person?” I’m glad we both agree that you should keep reading.

 

Your competitive advantage

In business, we often times talk about competitive advantage, what do you have that separates you from your competition, and your answer cannot be a degree anymore. When you look around at graduation, everyone is on the same playing field, we all have our degree. What separates you are the things you do, what you were involved in, the jobs you held and connections you have made. You have a choice to make, and the only force stopping you is you.

The biggest resource you have as a student is just that, you are a student, not competition. Companies are more than happy to tell you what they know, offer up shadow days, and make connections. You never know when you’ll use those connections down the line. Find the time to contact companies and be proactive on going after new businesses. Once you go on those trips and meet those people, do the unexpected! When was the last time you received a hand-written letter? Or a thank you email, just for sacrificing your time for someone? Those things matter and they seem like common sense, but let me tell you, they are not common practice. Do the extra steps and buy someone lunch, or a drink, and continue to do small kind things for others. I promise it will pay off.

We all are creatures of habit, we get up, go through the motions and then, when it’s too late, realize all of the things we should have done. In funny memory of Shiah Labuff’s “Just do it!” video, he has a point. What is the advantage of sitting around? You never want to look back on your life and say to others that you should have done X, Y or Z. You want to look back on your life with accomplishment, something to hang your hat on, and be a role model for others to come. But I can’t convince you to do those things, you come to school each day, you have the student loans, you know your reasoning as to why you’re here, reading this right now. Battle through, take the time to do things right and do things once.

 

What if I fail?

Do it quickly and keep moving. Learn from your mistakes but don’t let them define you as a person. In fact, embrace failure! That’s the only way you get better. Ever met a perfect person? Me neither, so who cares! Be ready to run for positions and lose, be ready to volunteer an opinion and have it shut down, be ready to submit an assignment and get it torn to pieces! It’s life, and if you’re ready for it, embrace it, who can get you down? No one. Be yourself and embrace who you are, never live your life in the light of which another casts you in. If you’ve been labeled the “Lazy Person” in your friend group, prove them wrong, if your parents have said that education doesn’t match a well-paying job, prove them wrong. Invest in yourself today, so you reap the rewards of a great career down the line. You are laying the building blocks of your life right here and now. You’ll be glad you took the time to do so.

 

Closing Thoughts. 

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to publish work and interact with all of you. This journey has been fantastic and completely turned my life in a new direction and had made the person I am today. There is so much I could tell you about college, but really, it boils down to being yourself, getting involved in as much as your can, and be curious. Ask questions and continue learning, even when you leave college. Keep improving yourself intellectually, and don’t be afraid to stand out. It’s never too late to go after your dreams, and just remember, the only one who will ever stop you from doing great things, is you.

 

Thank you again, and I hope to speak to all of you again, sometime in the future.

~ Louie Zmich (05/01/2017)

Reflection – A Student’s View

Editors Note:

My perspective on meditation has completely changed from being a waste of time to being vital to our success as business people. This realization came when I volunteered in Mexico as part of a social entrepreneurship class. We meditated for an hour each morning, forcing us to utilize other senses, connecting our mind and body, reflecting on our past days, while mentally planning for the days ahead. We were required to rid our minds of all the violence, hate, and harm in the world, and instead focus on what we did right, what we did wrong and how we can get better. I encourage you to celebrate the little victories throughout the day and find some time for you. Find some time to relax. I hope you enjoy!

 

We are all busy, there’s no way around it. Work, school, group projects, organizations, family issues, and extracurricular activates. At times, it seems like too much. In reality, it probably is too much. We essentially are required to do more than what is asked of us.  One of the most popular questions beyond the standard interview list is, “What have you done that you are proud of, beyond your school activities?”

“What? More?! More than what I am currently doing?” Is probably what you often ask yourself. But we do it, we press on, pulling all-nighters and run on three cups of coffee and a Red Bull every day just to get by. What I can positively say is, we learned how to manage, squeak by, figure it out. We learn the beauty of balancing everything and make our degree more than a piece of paper, it is now a visual representation of how we managed to juggle so much and still perform well in school. Our degree represents so much more than education, it represents our ability to survive in the adult world, the world of business.

But could you have missed that perfect opportunity? Are you working so hard in school, yet you still don’t see the opportunity in front of you? Job searches are coming up blank, but why? I struggled with the same things. I never found fulfillment in what I was doing. This is why I want to talk about reflection. The power of a personal detox, the ability to step back and think about yourself and the day you just had. The power of meditation is essential in gathering your thoughts and making time for yourself. Sitting down and pressing pause on your life is necessary for determining your goals and the direction your life is heading. We get so busy throughout the day that we forget to think about the opportunities around us, and which align with our priorities and which do not. If you’re blown away at the thought, the possibility of making some time for yourself, please read on.

 

If you read nothing else

If you do not have time to read this entire piece, I want to make some points for you here. Meditation can come in many forms, and really can be anything that puts your mind at ease. I would argue that we often call “me time” is used incorrectly. I used to consider “me time” as the point of the day when I was alone, but that’s not enough. Furthermore, if you are anything like me, you will only justify leisure activities when you feel productive enough, but guess what? You will never be satisfied. You will always find some new assignment or project to tackle. You should take some time to ease your mind. Some good things for me to do is to journal, read, listen to vinyl records, draw, play music or meditate. This allows a few things that I will touch on in more depth soon. But in short, easing your mind will allow you to evaluate what you did well that day and what you fell short at. You gain insight on your life, who’s in it, and evaluate if you like the directions you are heading. Often we never appreciate the journey, we only want the finish line to arrive. But when that time comes, we wish we had more time to soak in the experiences we had along the way. Isn’t that odd? We rush to get things done, but then wish we did things differently. So if you cannot read on, I understand, but do yourself a favor and allow some time for you, just make sure you use that time wisely.

 

Relax Productively

Now the first thing that comes to my mind when I read back over the statements above is, “Well, I can just sleep or zone out, that can be my ‘me time’.” Here is my counter argument to that. In my opinion, we should all have this determination to continuously make ourselves better people. Become better human beings when we go to bed, then we were when we woke up. Our meditation and reflection time should still be productive in that we are detoxing our minds from the clutter from the day and seeing how to tackle tomorrow in a productive manner. There are times and places to relax and have fun, and I completely agree that those activities are healthy as well, but from a student in school’s perspective, evaluating your week, or your day is not only going to destress you, but it will prepare you for the uncertainty that could possibly come your way. In order to grow as a scholar, as an individual, we need to be self-aware of what we do well, and what we can improve upon. Keeping a one-sentence journal, for example, is not only a good way to start journaling, but this allows you to zero-in on one thing, a sentence about your day. Clear out your entire minds worth of thoughts into one sentence. Then, after a month, four months, a year, you can look back and see your previous thoughts blossom into a collection of your journey.

 

Okay great, how?

How can one possibly learn to unwind when we are literally wound-up all day long? My recommendation is to take an hour of your day and dedicate that to you. For example, I wake up at 6 am every morning. I am a morning person, I know, gross. But the morning is wonderful for me. I seem to get more done when the world is asleep. Anyway, I use my mornings to go for a run, make breakfast and lunch for the day, and read/listen to the news that happened the previous day/early morning. My morning routine is about 2 hours, and those hours are strictly dedicated to my thoughts on the previous day and the hours ahead. By forming this routine, I have developed more awareness in my day-to-day activities, and I also have found that my competence in and out of class has increased. I feel like I have removed the junk from my head, and made space for useful information. Not a morning person? You’re not alone, but find at least an hour in your schedule to do something for you and relax. Even an evening walk down the block can be enough to go through the decisions you are making/going to be making in the future, and realign them with your values and priorities at that point in time.

I’ll give you another example. It wasn’t until my final semester of my senior year that I decided to change career paths. My whole life I never thought about going into education, but this semester I dedicated every morning to me and my thoughts. Through those morning routines and the mentors I have formed around me, I decided that the path I was headed down was not going to allow my dreams to come true. I realized that I had all of these resources and opportunities in front of me, that I never capitalized on. It wasn’t until I took some time to take a deep breath and think, that I saw the opportunity in front of me.

 

Lastly, make it a habit.

Okay, you’re feeling good and looking forward to starting your morning meditation routine. How do you keep it up? That rush of a new habit is going to fade and you will be at the crossroads of continuation and abandonment. I remember all of those broken New Year’s resolutions… dang. You must choose if this is a short-term or long-term goal. If this is for the long-run, I strongly encourage you to form your routine into a habit. Repetition is the only way to form such a tight bond. You should be dedicated enough to push through those slacking days. Eventually, you will get into a path that can’t be broken, because you are seeing results. Habits are hard to form, and good habits are even harder to maintain, but learning to build time into your day for yourself, will produce dividends in the form of sanity, happiness, and productivity.

 

Oh, one more thing. 

All I can offer you is an insight into my day, but what I can tell you is to trust the power of your mind. We are complicated, wonderful, complex beings and our mind can be the catalyst to your success, but it can also bog us down, limiting our productivity. We get into this GO! Mentality, and forget about resetting. Our bodies need to recharge, rest and recover. Our mind is no different. Think about all the possibilities you could have in your life if you simply find some time to relax. Don’t go through life wondering what you could have done differently. Instead, take the initiative into your own hands and make a change you think is right. Make a change to be a better you.

My Personal Reflection on my College Career

 

I finally made it. Last semester of senior year… and yet, time seemed to slip through my fingers even when I thought it was going to take an eternity to pass. Life seems to do that to us, doesn’t it? The old cliché rings in my head, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” As that may be true, I often find that time flies when we’re busy and mindlessly suffocated by our daily routines. There were countless occasions when I didn’t know what the time was once I made it home, simply because when we go class to class, meeting to meeting, we tend to lose track of what’s around us.

That being said, I tried to make more time for myself in this past year, simply because I thought I was going through my daily grind and not really experiencing life. “Experiencing life” can be a bit vague, I’m talking about the little things, like looking around when I walk to and from class, or taking the time to mentally detox in the mornings and evenings. Normally, I would wake up in a rush and then that anxious feeling would continue all throughout the day. I would finally lay down in bed and immediately fall asleep, never having a chance to reflect on my experiences.

So this reflection is more of a piece for those who feel the same way as I, stressed and too busy for our own good. This is for people to take a moment to look back on the years we have spent at NIU, reflect on how we have grown as adults, while also looking forward to the future. I want this to serve as a reminder to everyone, not just seniors, that you do not have to know exactly what you want to do with your life. You don’t have to be a traditional student to be successful. Being honest with yourself and doing what your heart desires instead of what others want you to do, is the best way to your own personal happiness.

So I urge you to please kick back and do a personal reflection on yourself, it may just be what you need to get through your final semester.

 

First/Second Year

When I first came to NIU, I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my career. I originally thought I wanted to be an architect when I was in middle school, but that quickly changed to wanting to be an engineer. Unfortunately, I had a pretty nasty physics teacher in high school who changed my opinion on engineering in just one semester. Isn’t it a shame how some teachers in high school can really alter your view on a subject? Oddly enough, it turned out to be okay in the end. Once I graduated high school I thought I wanted to be a Psychologist, so I majored in psychology and philosophy at Elmhurst College (in Elmhurst Illinois) my freshman year. I started to come to terms with the reality that I could not afford Elmhurst College, nor were my majors something I wanted to make into a career.

Sure, the majors were interesting to me, but I didn’t want to take traditional classes on them. I would rather read about Psychology and Philosophy in my free time and make a hobby out of those subjects.

With all of that said, I wanted to go to a school that was close to home, but far enough for me to live on my own. The cost of school, in general, was an issue, so I spent my second year at Harper College (in Palatine, Illinois) where I could save some money, while also finishing my second year of Gen Eds at a community college. It was after taking all of those introductory classes that I decided to use my interest in psychology and bring that into the business world. That’s what lead me to NIU.

 

Third Year

My first year at NIU was spent in classes all around campus, which was fun for me to see the campus in its entirety. At the time, I only was taking one class in Barsema Hall, and I remember myself feeling anxious to finally spend my time there. I actually spent most of my studying in Barsema Hall, even when I had exams for other classes. The building felt like the place where I could build a future, an area that encourages scholarly success. Something about that feeling made the College of Business seem refreshing and inviting.

I have to admit that in high school I thought I needed to get my hands in everything. I played four sports while also being in multiple organizations, so once I got to college I told myself I would only play golf and that was it. Naturally, once I stopped playing golf at Elmhurst College and came to Northern, I thought I would simply go to class and come home to study. Luckily, I snapped out of that way of thinking, because I immediately felt like I had wasted two years by not getting as involved as I should have. I felt like I was at a disadvantage to other students by not being in organizations, but at the same time, I was working until five in the morning at times at the police department on campus. That was the only job that would allow me to work more hours than normal while working at night when my classes were over. Regardless, I thought getting involved would not only bring me around likeminded people but also make friendships, both of which I didn’t have at that point in time.

I knew I wanted to join something, and so in my second semester of my first year at NIU, I choose to join Delta Sigma Pi, the business fraternity. It was through Delta Sigma Pi that I was introduced to my current position, being the Student Intern for the College of Business marketing director. I finally started to feel a connection to the College of Business with this position, and it also allowed me to get a feel for a business oriented job, instead of one in Public Service. After leaving my supervisor role at the Police Department, I started to spend more and more time at the CoB, which was certainly a benefit, becoming acclimated with traditional business culture. The first year I spent here was certainly a wild ride, but it was after that second semester that I really started to call NIU my home.

 

Fourth Year

It was in my fourth year when I finally declared my business major in marketing. It took me a while to finally decide because the decision felt so daunting to me. How are we supposed to decide the rest of our lives at 21 years old? It was crazy to me, but UBUS 310 brought my vision into focus, and marketing was certainly something I could see myself doing in the long run. It just felt right, and I think that’s something important here. Sometimes you don’t necessarily know why you want to pursue or do something, it just feels right, and that’s okay.

Neil deGrasse Tyson said something rather profound on a Podcast I was listening to. He was talking about how our society, rather, our language insists on all of us coming up with words to describe our actions and how we feel. Is it black or is it white? Are you male or are you female? We demand to know exactly what people are feeling, and we don’t accept that sometimes there is not an answer for something, it just feels right. Sometimes words simply cannot describe our feelings, but we are demanded to come up with something to say, so we settle on what to think based on what we can articulate. Instead of limiting your thoughts based on the words you know, people should make decisions based on logic, reasoning, and how you feel about the situation. Of course, we can’t make decisions based only on feelings, but there is something to be said about listening to that feeling in your stomach, telling you if a decision is right or wrong.

Going back to Delta Sigma Pi, the fraternity also lead me to my love for Social Entrepreneurship, the first semester back in my fourth year of school. A brother in DSP was talking to me about my outlook on life and how my ideas matched up really well to Social Entrepreneurship, so I talked to a couple professors and I immediately fell in love, knowing that would be my minor. Social Entrepreneurship lead me to CAUSE, where I was able to pursue my passion of making the world a better place.

That fourth year was wonderful, I was taking classes I loved and making connections with professors that would eventually lead me to bigger and better things. I was working for the college, while also getting really involved with organizations and sitting on boards that were making real decisions for the College of Business. It felt like I finally found the right place to be.

 

Fifth and Final Year

Well, after all this hard work, I’m staying here even longer. I thought all I wanted to do was be in sales and make a living on my own hard work, and don’t get me wrong, I would still love to do that, but not at this current stage of my life. It wasn’t until the first few weeks of this academic year that I came to visit a professor I had a few semesters ago. She sat me down and we talked about my plans for the future. I honestly was feeling a bit uneasy about my future at the time. I really wanted to do something that would make an impact on people, but I simply didn’t know what. She asked me if I had considered teaching in higher education, and that’s when the “lightbulb” went off in my head. Yes, yes I had, but why didn’t I fully think of that before? I guess I never really took the time to think about it clearly. I was always moving so fast through my undergraduate degree that I never really evaluated my true feelings about my future. I never stopped to reclaim my days as mine and reflect on what had happened that week, analyzing what stood out to me. It wasn’t until I had someone else slow down my crazy life, that I began to see the last puzzle piece I was missing. After thinking more about it, teaching would be the perfect career for me. Constantly learning, the opportunity to impact young minds, and continuously being progressive through the power of education. It was then that I decided to stay and be a GA while obtaining my Masters at the College of Business here, the home I have come to love. It couldn’t have worked any better for me.

 

Final Thoughts

So what now? Well, more school. But I was trying to get at the constant change in my career path. I changed my major more times that I ever would have expected, but I think it was my open-mindedness that allowed me to audit so many different majors, and experience such a wide variety of subjects to finally make up my mind.

There seem to be many people who know what they want to do with their lives right out of high school, which is completely fine. However, it’s the student who doesn’t, who may feel a bit behind, like they are missing out by not knowing exactly what they want to do with their future. I’m writing this to tell you, that’s okay. You don’t have to know. Be open with the fact that there may come a time when you figure it out, and then it changes. That’s the beauty of enrolling at a wonderful school like NIU, you get to choose your future.

At the end of the day, I’m happy with the way everything turned out, and if you are too, good luck moving forward. For those of you who are looking deep down inside yourself wondering if your choices so far are really yours or something someone else told you, it’s not too late. Take the extra time to evaluate your life and do what truly makes you happy, because, in the end, it’s not anyone else’s decision but your own. Your way to true happiness and fulfillment is gaining control of your life.

I hope this inspired someone out there, and for those of you graduating this semester, cheers to you and see you in May!

–   Louie

Part 4: Students of NIU Business

Editor’s Note (Louie here):  Here’s Part 4 of “Students of NIU Business,” our new and ongoing initiative project modeled after Humans of New York.  Remember if you’re an NIU Business student who wants to be featured in “Students of NIU Business,” send an email to Social Media & Marketing Intern extraordinaire Louie at lzmich1@niu.edu!!

Part 4: Students of NIU Business 

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untitledMaria is a transferred junior Business Administration major, with a Fashion Merchandising minor. She’s from Palatine, IL, and this is her first semester here!

She was really excited to have the opportunity to go to and transfer from, a community college before deciding on a major. Here is what Maria had to say about her transition to NIU, “When I got out of high school, I thought I was going to go to California, to a high-end fashion school. I decided to switch to business because I felt like fashion wasn’t the best fit for me to grow as quickly as I wanted. I was thinking of going to Minnesota or Indiana, but then I looked at NIU. When I was on the initial tours of the campus, Barsema Hall completely hooked me into the college. I picked Business Administration because it has all the aspects of business, funneled into one degree. I think the College of Business is going to personally fuel my goals by trying to get involved with Women in Business, Delta Sigma Pi, and CAUSE. I want to take the skills I learn and become a CEO of a company some day. My main goal there would be to reduce the carbon footprint the company leaves on the world. I want to be among the many women that have already achieved major success in the business world, I get that passion from my step mother Bobbie. She encourages me to be an empowered woman in business. So that has always been really important to me. My advice to others would be to take the initiative to do something today! Oh yeah, and a fun fact about me, I love cats!”

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Senior Accountancy Major, Sarahsara-woo Woo! Sarah took the time to share her story on how she came to NIU, and what kind of tips she could offer other students before she graduates.

“What really interested me at NIU was the Accountancy program here. It was always ranked in Business Week’s top Accountancy programs. When I came to visit NIU, I really got the sense that this is a community that helps develop the student body. When you compare universities of comparable competitive standing, professors have a focus solely on research. However, here at NIU, research is certainly important but the development of the students was the highest priority. That was immediately evident, and I was impressed by it.

As far as what I am up to now, I wrapped up my internship with BDO USA, LLP last semester. They asked for me to come back for a second internship during the spring semester and then offered a full-time position upon my graduation. I have accepted that offer, and I couldn’t be more excited to get started! I really commend the Accountancy program, the career fair, and the classes here, as they give me the tools to be able to find these opportunities for growth and success, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

My first internship was in audit, and the second internship will be in tax. The firm was really flexible in offering different accounting opportunities and they ultimately gave me the choice of what my full-time offer will be in, and I am excited to start my career in public accounting with them.

As I leave NIU, I think there are a few things I could say to those who are in or just entering the college. The College of Business offers so many rich opportunities for students to explore. One very important thing to do is to dive on in and get involved. Get involved with the student organizations around you and get to know your peers. These people are going to be your greatest resources and your largest support groups. Also, get to know your professors; you never know who could possibly be your next role model. The professors here really have impressive backgrounds. They all have accomplished really important and great things, and I’ve found they’re all willing to share their experiences. Ask questions, stay curious, and have a positive attitude. If you do that, nothing can stop you.”

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cordnei-gibsonCordnei is a Sophomore Business Management major and is planning on getting the Sales Certificate. Here is what Cordnei had to say about her life, and how she came to NIU!

“I’m from Canton Michigan, and a lot of people have asked me why I came to NIU, with all of the other universities around my hometown. The cool thing about NIU is, the school reaches out to a lot of students in the US, and the world for that matter, reaching a much greater audience. So, I checked out the website and it was really easy to navigate! The virtual tours and student resources were a huge help for my friend and me, and as a result, we both ended up applying. I called my dad all excited and visited campus 3 times to make sure it was the right decision. I ended up falling in love with the atmosphere here, the campus is gorgeous and the entire time all the advisors talked about internship opportunities at the COB. At NIU, the College of Business gives you hands-on, real-world experience and I couldn’t pass that up. I definitely made the right decision; it’s impossible to fail here. Anyone will be successful here, I’m confident in that.

I honestly feel like I have a leg up on people at other schools, simply because I’m in the College of Business. The opportunities they give us here are phenomenal. The way the COB does orientation is very uncommon, they make their students feel comfortable in all areas. Anyone is willing to sit down with you and go through your career plan. I haven’t seen that with any other college, so early in your college career. I’m only a sophomore, but I feel comfortable with my career choices, moving forward.

In high school, I was really involved, and that’s when my dad explained what project management was to me. He saw the leader inside of me, and how to achieve goals in teams, so I researched it immensely and decided that I should major in Management to fulfill my passion for driving people to achieve their goals. Management is going to allow me to motivate people and get team objectives completed.

After joining PSE, they encouraged me to network with others and gave me opportunities to meet managers and recruiters right away, my freshman year. That opportunity was and still continues to be an amazing experience. It’s always nice to get out and meet business owners and managers, no matter where you are in your professional career.

Here’s a fun fact for everyone: my mom decided to name me Cordnei to match my twin brother’s name, Cordell. We were born on Valentine’s Day, and we are two minutes apart (he is the oldest, and he never lets me forget that). And another fun fact is that we were both born on Valentine’s Day.”

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kenzie

Kenzie Niestrom is a senior Business Administration major with a minor in Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship! Louie had the chance to sit down and discuss all that she has accomplished in her time here at the CoB!

“When I first got out of high school I went to a different college and then transferred to College of DuPage after my first semester, so I could continue working. When I was at COD, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I chose Business to get the most out of my career. NIU has a lot of partnerships with community colleges, including COD, which means if you get your associate degree before transferring to NIU, you don’t need to take your Gen Eds. I really liked the transferability here; other schools were not as accommodating. I only applied to NIU for this reason. It worked out perfectly, I’m from Lisle so it was close, and I liked the accreditation and prestige the College of Business here has.

I choose business administration because it seemed like I could do so much with the degree, and once I got settled in; I realized I could get just about any job with the skills I would be obtaining.

When I got here I joined BASA (Business Administration Student Association). At the time there were about 5 members, 4 of whom were graduating that year. I was the only member left, so there was a lot of motivation to rebuild the organization and give Business Administration a voice. I helped rebuild BASA and now it has a full e-board with 35 members strong. I had to essentially redo everything last fall; I made a new vision and bylaws while working with Brittany Buis (my academic advisor) a lot to get everything finalized. We marketed it and with the help of BA majors being funneled into the same classes, the organization grew. By having all Business Administration students in one area, the organization had a chance to have people strengthening the major and getting to know each other at the same time.

Overall, my time here has been really awesome. I’m in BASA and MBSAB (Management and Business Administration Student Advisory Board). I’m also on DSAB (Dean Student Advisory Board) and Women in Business. Being involved in all of those has helped personalize my experience at NIU. I was able to network with so many people, which can be difficult when you come in as a junior. I love the classes I’m taking and the professors have been so supportive throughout my time here.

As far as my career after college, I am working in the professional development labs at Abbott. That was fostered in the ELC program where I worked for them and then landed an internship. I loved that internship, which ultimately led to my job there.

I’m a Business Administration major who went into IT, and I know of BA majors who went into retail, sales, logistics, distribution and a few who went into IT as well. It’s so cool how we can be marketed to so many different areas of business, simply because we took such a wide variety of classes.

If I had to reach out to students who are not ready to go away to college or do not know what they are going to do, so ultimately you go to a community college first; I would say that it’s okay not to know. College is scary and some people are ready to go away and some are not, it’s okay to not have a concrete plan. It’s okay to figure out what you like and what you don’t like when you take a wide range of classes, now you are better versed and immersed in so much more than you would be if you only had your mind set on one major.”

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phillip-wilsonPhillip Wilson, om&is major

“Junior operations and information management major Phillip Wilson of Chicago, IL, had a different start to his college career, due to the influence of his mother. Wilson went to work immediately after graduating from high school and was successful in his job, making good money. But even with this success, his mother continued to push him to enroll in college and to pursue the path of a higher education. ‘I thought I’d come out here and be a middle of the road student,’ Wilson said. He hadn’t excelled in high school and had mediocre grades. But things are different for him at NIU. ‘I didn’t think I’d be getting a 3.4-grade point average and joining honor societies.’ He maintains a high-grade point average and is going to be a mentor for incoming freshman through the John Henrik Clarke Honor Society. If it wasn’t for his mother, Wilson admits that he would have probably stayed where he was, doing the job he was working at, for the next 50 years. His mother is happy to point this out to Wilson. ‘She brings it up as much as she can,’ he said. ‘She drops it in every conversation.’”

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Learn what Prajakta Kale is up to after graduating with an MIS degree in 2015 from the Department of OM&IS! Presently, Prajakta is Lead QA Analyst/Business Analyst with Duluth Trading Company, in Belleville, Wisconsin.

“Grad school is far more academically intense than undergraduate study. Whether you’re a recent undergraduate student or a mid-career professional, you’ll need to set aside some of the preconceptions you have about college lifestyle and prepare for the rigorous and rewarding experience of grad school. While my peers and I were going through this life changing experience of grad school, I witnessed that the staff in the OM&IS Department made extra efforts to smooth the transition for students. The faculty were dedicated to helping all the students achieve excellence. I appreciate the way the department designed the curriculum to match industry standards. The knowledge you gain definitely makes you an efficient employee and gives you an extra edge over your colleagues. I am grateful to the OM&IS department — they were always concerned and committed to bringing out the best in every student. In terms of what the experience helped me learn about myself, I would say it brought out my confident side. I learned that if I want something, I shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, raise concerns, and most importantly, realize it is okay to say ‘I don’t know.’ During my OM&IS project seminars, I understood that “the best way to learn something is having to explain it to someone else.” No matter how clear you are on a subject in your head, you always gain a new perspective on it when you try to explain it to a peer/colleague. I also found out that I can be more patient than I ever knew, work excellently and multitask under pressure.”

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Find the complete list so far of “Students of NIU Business” in posts labeled Part 1,  Part 2, Part 3,” and so on!

If you’re an NIU Business student who wants to be featured, let us know!  We love learning more about each and every participant!  Send an email to Louie at lzmich1@niu.edu!

 

Impact Beyond DeKalb

Forward

The Social Entrepreneurship program at NIU is one of the most innovative, progressive, value-added sets of classes I have taken in my collegiate career. As part of my Global Social Venture Consulting class with Dr. Christine Mooney, we received a fully immersive education, unmatched to what you can learn through a textbook.

The class is divided into three teams who are assigned a company with a social mission of some kind. “Social Mission” being that the company has a double or triple bottom line consisting of profit, but coupled with people or planet. For example, TOMS Shoes has a double bottom line of profit and people. That company then gives a few business issues for the teams to research, ask questions about, and ultimately provide recommendations for the client to enact at some point in time if they so choose.

The class also includes an international trip to one of the companies, and this year’s client was Entreamigos, who operates in San Pancho, Mexico. This article is about what I learned from this trip and the lessons learned with the underlying psychological realizations uncovered from my experiences.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this article and at the very minimum, choose to think about Social Entrepreneurship a little more than you did when you started reading. After all, this world is one that we all share, and problems that we may not be effected by initially, certainly are worth acting on. For our actions today can work towards giving everyone the same opportunities to succeed, that some of us take advantage of every day.

Thank you, and enjoy – Student Intern: Louis Zmich

Louie on the beach of San Pancho, Mexico

Louie on the beach of San Pancho, Mexico

A Whole New Outlook

It’s incredibly easy to overlook the problems that affect today’s world. Our lives are increasingly busy; we have so many ways to become distracted from what is going on around us. Too many times are we rushing to class, hurrying to a meeting and studying profusely for an exam, it’s completely understandable that social issues are overlooked. (“Social Issues” Include, Poverty, Hunger, Climate Change, etc.). Why wouldn’t they be? People simply do not have time to read deeply into an issue as broad and complex as poverty, hunger or education. Media today portrays these issues in such a brash and intimidating light, it’s much easier to swipe past the negativity, instead of accepting it and making changes. So, if these issues are broken down into digestible, daily changes to our everyday lives, we can slowly start improving the broader picture. This is why Social Entrepreneurship is so important.

The goal of a Social Entrepreneur is to innovate and exploit these issues in a cohesive and friendly matter, where the busy person can stop and learn something new, continue with her day and then when shopping for her daily items that night, make decisions that are socially responsible and end up helping those in need at the same time. That, in my opinion, is what progression is, not changing the status-quo entirely overnight, but showing people that small tweaks in our daily habits can eventually make tremendous headway on the issues that lurk overhead.

That being said, we are all busy in our own endeavors, we have to take classes in order to graduate, or check another thing off our mental to-do list. So, if this is a requirement for our graduation and ultimate career success, why not take a class that provides the credit we need, but also makes an impact at the same time? That’s where Global Venture Consulting comes into the mix. This Fall, myself and 9 other classmates were split up into teams and are continuing to help consult and provide recommendations to their business issues. Consulting is inherently a face-to-face interaction, thus part of this class involved going to Entreamigos in San Pancho Mexico to speak directly with Nicole Swedlow, CEO, and Founder, on these issues, while she showed us the reasons why we need to think more intensively on the issues that are at hand.

One of the first beautiful mural walls you see when entering San Pancho, Mexico.

One of the first beautiful mural walls you see when entering San Pancho, Mexico.

 

The Destruction of Tourism

When you have a community, rich in heritage and tradition and close to the water, you inherently attract tourism. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it often leads to communal destruction. When anyone foreign settles in a place like San Pancho, they immediately fall in love with the culture and the people. This love will naturally cause people to want to buy property, and they can do so for a very reasonable amount, something you could never do in the United States for example. But this could end up being toxic to the social structure. The way the social structure works in these small towns is started with your great ancestors who first move there, and the cycle is as follows:

  • You buy land when you first enter the town, or when the town is first established.
  • As you have children, the land you own is distributed equally amongst your children.
  • The children then use that land as a source of income; farming, fishing etc.
  • When they have children, that land is split up in the same fashion previously mentioned.
Diego, standing in front of the recycling center at Entreamigos.

Diego, standing in front of the recycling center at Entreamigos.

This continues, all the while skills are being passed down from generation to generation. That is the form of income and education that has made these small towns thrive for so long.

This cycle will continue and as someone’s business continues to grow they will buy up more land and so on. As previously mentioned, the importance of education stretches only as necessary for your job. Sure, there are people who are educated, but it’s in their own profession, which is fine until they give up their land.

When a tourist comes in and offers more money than some of these people have ever seen, for their land, these people rightfully so, jump on that opportunity and are left with a lot of money and no way of making anymore. When education is lacking and you sell off your only asset, it’s hard to find another job because all of what you knew was rutted in your property. This has led to people in these towns thinking that anyone who is a foreigner and is making money in their village, must be corrupt and must be taking advantage of the locals. When looking at it in this light, it’s easy to see why people who travel to these villages are looked down upon.

Entreamigos

“Everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach.” This is the motto and notion behind Entreamigos. Here in the United States, education is engrained in our culture. What people are doing after high school is most likely something that has to do with more education. Beauty School, Trade School, Community College, Universities, it’s all the same premise, continuous education. In a town like San Pancho, what measures success is owning a local business or being a successful fisherman and this model works, but only as long as the town stays a secret to everyone else. As explained before, when tourism hits towns like San Pancho, business like Entreamigos can’t be trusted by the locals.

Main entrance to Entreamigos

Main entrance to Entreamigos

Thankfully, Entreamigos was able to break through this stereotype and over the past decade and has built nothing short of a communal movement. Everyone we talked to in this town, simply loved Entreamigos. Besides Nicole, everyone who works there and studies there are all locals.

Everyone has a gift, so why not teach others what you know? People who come and tour the facility, instantly want to help in some form, teaching the staff about leadership, or teaching children a new useful skill. This model brings the town together, and everyone feels invested in each other. It works, and I got to see it firsthand. I was even able to teach some children English while I was there, and in return, they taught me Spanish. Skills we both know fairly well but never have the chance to teach in our home countries, it was truly an opportunity for growth, and one I will never forget.

Morgan, in the black t-shirt on the right, is laughing along with the children at Entreamigos.

Morgan, in the black t-shirt on the right, is laughing along with the children at Entreamigos.

 

Changing Lives Through Education

Entreamigos goes one step further and offers opportunities for people anywhere to sponsor a child in Entreamigos. The sponsorship allows children to receive a proper education in the public schools and universities surrounding these villages. We had a chance to meet the man who was sponsored by Dennis and Stacy Barsema, while we were in San Pancho. Christian was a phenomenal person, and after receiving his education, he came back to Entreamigos to give back to his community and continue the circle of education for the younger generations in his town. The opportunity to talk and spend time with someone who had benefited directly from another person two-thousand plus miles away was not only touching but inspirational too. The role-models that we have in class, are the same people making a change in the world,

Mural drawn by local artists, in the courtyard of Entreamigos.

Mural drawn by local artists, in the courtyard of Entreamigos.

 

Closing Thoughts

One of the biggest takeaways I brought back with me was the concept of happiness. It certainly is subjective, but we all have different standards of it. As a whole, technology Is intended to bring people together, separate the distance between us and constantly keep everyone up-to-date, but it may seem that these luxuries actually push us apart. The people in San Pancho were so happy, eager to help and never complained about the things they didn’t have. Instead, they cherished what they do have, a roof over their head, food on the table and a healthy family surrounding them. That’s happiness, and it was emotional to think that success and happiness to some, is judged internally by the amount of money we make, or the title associated with our names.

Everyone has their own definition of happiness, but I think there is something to be said about appreciating the big things in life and not sweating the small stuff. We get so bogged down with the things we don’t have, and continuously compare ourselves to everyone around us, never stopping to self-reflect and look in the mirror. We seem to be so focused on impressing others that we actually forget to love and understand ourselves and those who matter the most to us. I often, on this trip, stopped and wondered what life would be like if we all took some time every morning to self-evaluate and be thankful for what we have. Unplug for just a moment, and connect with our inner-most thoughts. Maybe, if we took the time to connect internally, our connections externally will become exponentially stronger, more genuine, and last longer.

Overall, San Pancho completely changed the way I look at, not only my life but the lives of others. Doing the right thing isn’t often the easy choice, but making steps to impact the lives of others is something we all should have at the forefront of our conscious decisions. When it comes down to it, being born in a developed country is not only luck, but it’s statistically improbable. So I think the important statement is one said by Warren Buffet when talking about humanity and our quest to help others, “If you’re in the luckiest 1 percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent.”

Photo on site of the location the entire class got to stay.

A photo on-site of the location the entire class got to stay.

Students of NIU Business – Alumni Edition: Jeff Kamholz

I had trouble thinking of a way to integrate alumni into the posts that we do for students, here on the blog. When reaching out to young alumni, a lot of their stories are rather compelling and, on some level, can relate to a wide variety of students. I thought about doing an interview style of questioning over Skype or Facetime, but that seemed too scripted. I wanted people to simply talk, and I would listen. Then it dawned on me, this is just like the Student of NIU posts! So, we have decided to create the Students of NIU: Alumni Edition and the first entry is a recent alumnus, Jeffrey Kamholz! – Louie Zmich: Student Intern 13686626_1225983507425336_6391579270793294833_n

When I was a senior in high school, I started looking at colleges. I was on my own to pay for school, so I knew a mix of scholarships and work opportunities was a criterion I needed when looking for good business schools. I was also looking for a school relatively close to home that was simultaneously going to allow me a chance to succeed, as well as the opportunity to graduate in the best financial position possible. It was then that I found NIU and learned about the opportunities this university provides. I knew that I wanted a school with a good business program, and the proximity to home and financial opportunities on top of that were simply bonuses for me.

My first week on campus, I joined about 5 clubs. While I certainly didn’t stick with all of them, I found a few that welcomed me in and with which I was hooked. One of these clubs was Delta Sigma Pi, a professional business fraternity. That was truly the first step in my professional development. I met many of the people I was closest with through Delta Sigma Pi. Serving in other roles such as an ambassador for the college in the Northern Lights Ambassadors and on the Dean’s Student Advisory Board, I tried to find ways to help the college in any way I could. Even as a freshman and sophomore, the college had given me so much. I got to know former Dean Denise Schoenbachler very well, and she is one of the people who I consider to be my personal mentor.

I was extremely fortunate to have experienced so much during my time as a student. By getting involved in five clubs, working three jobs, experiencing two study abroad programs, and completing a research fellowship, I found myself with quite a few memorable experiences under my belt…and I was only a rising junior in college. I eventually declared marketing as my major with a specialization in sales. I chose marketing initially because I thought it would get me close to advertising, and I was fortunate enough to get to know and work with some of the faculty I originally met as a freshman. Their impact on me was profound enough for me to declare my major as marketing. As I progressed down the marketing career path, sales seemed like the best option in which to start my career; it allowed me the most freedom in a customer-facing role.

“Throughout my senior year, I was fortunate enough to interview with many companies. The sales program not only gave me real-world experience selling products but also taught me how to market myself in order to show the value I bring to companies.”

Throughout my senior year, I was fortunate enough to interview with many companies. The sales program not only gave me real-world experience selling products but also taught me how to market myself in order to show the value I bring to companies. Drs. Ridnour, Peterson, Groza and Professor Howlett all taught with different styles but similar messages. With everything from mock interviews, the sales Corporate Golf Outing, to bringing in dozens of real-world sales professionals to network with, the college’s sales program truly prepares its students for success.13227000_1176521745704846_3470934632335728426_n

I highly recommend that students interview with more than one company; only by speaking to employees of those companies and doing things like shadow days will you be able to realize truly what a ‘day in the life’ is actually like. While it certainly helps to have an idea of the industry you want to get into, it is okay to not know for certain. Interview with a few companies, and figure out where you think you would fit best.

Fast forwarding to present day, I’m in the middle of a year-long sales training program with Bloomberg BNA. Because of the experiences I had during my time in the College of Business at NIU, I was able to stand out enough and put myself into a position to succeed. I have been extremely fortunate to find a company that has been willing to invest so much in me. I chose Bloomberg BNA because of the career development opportunities and the long-term career potential. I felt that the year-long training was unmatched; additionally, the company’s commitment to its employees is rather unheard of at this level of business. I have always looked for that “something more” in a company, and I found it at Bloomberg BNA.

So far, I have directly used skills and techniques that I learned in the sales program. Anyone who has gone through the sales program recently has read both The Challenger Sale, as well as SPIN Selling. I have so far applied the principles of both books in my mock sessions. (Yes, sales students, you should actually read the books!) Learning how to ask the right questions and listening to what the customer says are two of the most important skills that I have developed so far.

“Moving across the country and knowing very few people in a new location was a step I didn’t think I was going to take. Once I thought of it as an investment into my own future, the idea began to grow on me.”

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Jeff, third from the left, with all of his colleagues in training.

Bloomberg BNA’s home office is located just outside of Washington DC, which meant I had to relocate for a year for the training program. Even though originally I had not anticipated leaving the greater Chicago area, I chose to accept a position that I felt was going to set me up for long-term success. Moving across the country and knowing very few people in a new location was a step I didn’t think I was going to take. Once I thought of it as an investment into my own future, the idea began to grow on me.

Recognizing the potential in the opportunity, I knew it would be the best decision and the best place to start my career. I view this year not only as an investment in my professional future but also in my personal life. Aside from a few months spent in Europe, I had never been away from Illinois for an extended period. I never thought I would be relocating- until the right opportunity presented itself, and I could see myself at that company.

If I was to give a bit of advice, it would be the following: It is okay to not know what you want to do; once you figure it out, however, be relentless in pursuing it. Overall, this was the best career move for me and for my future. While moving away from home certainly wasn’t easy, I knew that it was something I had to do in order to meet my own definition of success. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone in order to set yourself up for success.”

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It’s Time To Register For The 2016 Social Impact Summit Hosted By CAUSE

CAUSE Logo

Register Now For The 2016 Social Impact Summit!

The founder and director of Global Orphan Prevention will be among the featured guests Friday, April 8, at the Social Impact Summit, located in the Barsema Alumni and Visitor Center starting at 8:30am!

REGISTER NOW! REGISTRATION CLOSES APRIL 1ST!

The event, hosted by the NIU-based Collegiate Association of Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs, is intended to educate students (and others) about social entrepreneurialism, to inspire them to increase their societal and environmental impacts and to create a forum where individuals passionate about changing the world can network.

Tickets are $5 for NIU students and $20 for all others. Registration is available Social Impactonline. The event is sponsored by Product Development Technologies (PDT).

The event will include presentations by social entrepreneurs, including Katie Hilborn as the keynote speaker. Katie is the founder and director of Global Orphan Prevention, an international nonprofit dedicated to keeping mothers and children together through social entrepreneurship, education, and a clean birthing program.

Katie HilbornKatie grew up in St. Charles, Illinois and spent most of her adult life in the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge. Because she lived in a seasonal environment, she had the opportunity to leave the country during the off-seasons. Since beginning to travel the globe in 2006 after she graduated from university, she always incorporated a volunteer project. Now twenty-seven countries and six continents later, she has seen first-hand how the developing world lives and has made it her mission to change that.

Currently, she is working on a social entrepreneurship program to help eradicate child trafficking in Nepal. By investing in cash crops (chili and cardamom farming), her hope is that these income generating activities will help empower the marginalized indigenous populations.

For more information, check out her website, here.

This year, CAUSE will have a similar schedule with a few changes:

  1. 8:30 – 9:15am: Coffee and Pastries with opening remarks from CAUSE
  2. 9:15 – 10:00am: Keynote Speaker, Katie Hilborn
  3. 10:05 – 10:45am: Breakout Sessions #1
  4. 10:50 – 11:30am: Breakout Session #2
  5. 11:30 – 12:00pm: Lunch and Networking
  6. 12:00 – 1:15pm: Pitch With a CAUSE Competition
  7. Closing Remarks from CAUSESave The Date

There will be two rounds of breakout sessions, and guests can choose which panel to sit in on each round. Panels to choose from during the day will include:

Impact Investing Panel:

  • Somya Munjal, is a CPA, MBA, MAS and is the Chief Youth Servant at Youthful Savings.
  • Eric Wasowicz is an Investor and Advisor with Channel Clarity LLC.
  • Joe Parisi is a Co-founder of Guard Lama.
  • Greg Lernihan, is the Co-founder of Convergint Technologies.

Working In Developing Countries:

  • Katie Hilborn is the founder and director of Global Orphan Prevention.
  • Rich Johnson is the Cofounder and CEO of Spark Ventures.
  • Kurt Thurmaier is a professor and researcher at Northern Illinois University.
  • Nancy Economou is the founder and president of Watts of Love.

Technology:

  • Moira Hardek is the President and CEO of Galvanize Labs, Inc.
  • Abby Ross is the co-founder and COO of ThinkCERCA.
  • Mark Schwartz is the CEO at PDT.

Pitch With a CAUSE Competition:

  • Pitch With a CAUSE is a competition for anyone who has an idea for a business that makes a positive social or environmental impact. The competition is open to anyone who’s interested in making a submission- high schoolers, undergrads, grad students, non-students, retirees, kindergarteners, etc. Everyone is welcome. A panel of expert investors and social entrepreneurs will select the top 5 submissions to present at the Social Impact Summit on Friday, April 8th. Each group will have 5 minutes to pitch their idea followed up with 5 minutes of Q and A from the audience and panel of judges. The team selected as the winner at the 2016 Social Impact Summit will take home the $1,500 grand prize! Second place wins $1,000 and third place wins $500!

For more information on the Social Impact Summit or CAUSE in general, please email the CAUSE President, Ilsa, at ilsaachaudhri@gmail.com.

Hunger on College Campuses

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Editor’s Note (Michelle here!):  NIU Business freshman Jenee Carlson is also an NIU Research Rookie whose project examines campus hunger, a situation occurring on many campuses around the country.  The first part of this post invites all NIU students, faculty, and staff across the university to participate in an anonymous food-needs survey that Jenee has created. The remainder of this post contains a story I wrote after meeting with Jenee.  The story provides more detail about Jenee’s incredibly important research project and her goal to identify meaningful solutions based on your input.  Thank you for your help!!

 

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Fight Campus Hunger

Campus hunger is a harsh and far too often hidden reality afflicting many university students around the country.  (See full story below.)  At NIU, the Huskies Student Food Pantry estimates that 1,500 NIU students battle hunger.  In order to learn the full extent of hunger on campus, your input is needed.

Take NIU’s first ever university wide food-needs survey at this link:  go.niu.edu/hunger

All responses are anonymous.  Please share this post or the survey url with your fellow NIU students.  Thank you for your help!!

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full story

The Elephant in the Dining Room:  

Do NIU Students Experience Hunger?

 

For some, the recent holiday season invokes memories of food overflowing on dining room tables.  But for many on college campuses across the country, an abundance of food is far from the reality.

Several national media outlets – The Atlantic, The New York Times , Rolling Stone, among others – recently carried stories about hidden hunger and even homelessness on college campuses.   A Washington Post article entitled “More college students battle hunger as education and living costs rise” conveys the heart of the matter in the title alone and for readers here begs the question:  how many NIU students go hungry?  How often?  Once a month?  Every week?  Every day?

Getting a handle on campus hunger – a conversation gathering steam at a number of universities nationwide – is the central focus of NIU Research Rookie Jenee Carlson’s project.  Carlson’s study shines a light on an issue that often remains hidden . . . an issue for which secondary research reveals unmistakable need:

  • 48.1 million Americans (holding constant at the highest level ever) are food insecure (Feeding America)
  • 600,000 persons in northern Illinois are food insecure (Northern Illinois Food Bank)
  • 14,560 persons in DeKalb County are food insecure (Northern Illinois Food Bank)
  • 1,500 NIU campus students are thought to be food insecure (Huskies Student Food Pantry)
food-pantry

Huskies Student Food Pantry

“Initially, I wasn’t sure what ‘food insecure’ meant either,” the business freshman says in response to a question about the phrase that accompanies those rather staggering statistics.  “I’ve since learned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines ‘food insecure’ as a lack of nutritional food for an active, healthy life at all times.”

It bears repeating:  “1,500 food insecure” represents the number of NIU students thought to be battling hunger.  Right here.  Right now.  Compounding the problem, as noted in the Washington Post story, is that food insecurity is often shrouded in shame and students are often reluctant to talk openly about it.

To address this, Carlson launched NIU’s first ever food-needs survey.  Her overriding goal is to learn the extent of hunger on NIU’s campus and to formulate meaningful solutions for students based on what she learns directly from them.

“NIU students themselves are the key to understanding what’s really happening in their lives,” Carlson says.  “Together, we can figure this out.  Even though the survey-takers are anonymous, no student is alone in this fight.”

NIU Research Rookie Jenee Carlson and her NIU Business faculty mentor Dennis Barsema

NIU Research Rookie Jenee Carlson and her NIU Business faculty mentor Dennis Barsema discuss Carlson’s campus hunger project.

 

Not even Carlson.

For this project, she works with a number of like-minded individuals, many of them well-versed in making an impact.  They range from a highly accomplished faculty mentor to experts seasoned in the battle against hunger.

“After Jenee introduced herself to me to discuss research ideas, the first thing she said was:  ‘I want the work to make a genuine impact’,” Dennis Barsema recalls.

Barsema happens to be a strong advocate for making a difference, and Research Rookies provides a perfect venue to make meaningful things occur.  NIU’s Research Rookies program links together undergraduate first-year, sophomore, and first-semester transfer students with faculty mentors in their major or area of interest to conduct a small-scale research project.

Beyond serving as Carlson’s Research Rookie faculty mentor, Barsema’s long list of accomplishments also includes founding the social entrepreneurship program in NIU’s College of Business.

The field of social entrepreneurship and its underpinnings of doing business differently have gained not only traction but momentum and not only in classrooms but within actual firms across the country in a variety of industries.  Socially responsible organizations measure the impact of everything they do in three key areas known as the triple bottom line:  People, Planet, and Profit.  Ultimately, then, as a management department faculty member, Barsema focuses on redefining what it means for an enterprise to be successful.  Beyond profits, success now must also include, and give prominence to, making a positive impact in people’s lives and in the life of the planet.

Faculty mentor Dennis Barsema and NIU Business freshman Jenee Carlson in the NIU College of Business

Faculty mentor Dennis Barsema and NIU Business freshman Jenee Carlson in the NIU College of Business

 

“Jenee’s intention to make a difference is compelling,” Barsema adds, his smile of appreciation nearly audible.

“She’s taking on a very big issue that requires her to work with a wide variety of people; both learning from them and contributing to the larger effort.  As with most complex problems, lasting impact has a greater chance of occurring when talented and committed individuals collaborate together.”

Shortly after Carlson contacted Barsema out of the blue in Fall 2015 (a first-semester freshman at the time), her path to creating an impact opened up even more.

“I knew about Mr. Barsema and his teaching focus.  It’s incredible that I was able to meet with him especially when he didn’t even know me,” Carlson says.  “I’m very grateful that he agreed to be my mentor.  And it’s because of Mr. Barsema that I’ve met a lot of other really great people, too.”

In fact, barely two weeks into her Research Rookie project, Carlson began working side by side with key members (including a CEO) of organizations at the forefront of fighting hunger.

“I’m learning a huge amount from Dennis and from Julie Yurko, the CEO of Northern Illinois Food Bank,” Carlson says, “and Kelly Brasseur, who is a dietitian and also with Northern Illinois Food Bank.  I’m also collaborating on campus with Kathy Zuidema, the founder of the Huskies Student Food Pantry, which is a member of the College and University Food Bank Alliance.”

“All of these individuals are amazing people who care so much and have accomplished so many things, including overcoming their own challenges at various times in their lives.  It’s really tremendous to learn from them and join forces with them.  It’s really humbling.”

And energizing.

Carlson’s typical day includes meetings and phone updates with all four individuals, often at the same time.  Together, they created a food-needs assessment questionnaire customized for NIU, the first of its kind for the university.

Typically food banks such as Northern Illinois Food Bank or Feeding America (the national organizing charity) develop and administer these surveys.  And historically, these assessments tend to cover the county or city levels only.

For Carlson’s campus hunger project, however, she and her collaborators crafted the survey specifically to address the college student population.  In fact, theirs represents one of very few food-needs assessments in the country to target higher education students on a university campus.

“We find ourselves in the position of trying to understand student hunger without a comprehensive national study that breaks the information out by campus,” Northern Illinois Food Bank CEO Julie Yurko says, then adds, “The data – and the solutions – cannot arrive soon enough.  This makes Jenee’s research project vitally important.”

Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, organizes 200 food banks across the country – including the Northern Illinois Food Bank — into a powerful national network.  Through this network, food banks then provide support and nourishment to their coverage areas, which include local food pantries on the ground where community members feel the impact most immediately.

Enter Kathy Zuidema of the Huskies Student Food Pantry.  By day, Zuidema is a full-time employer relations specialist in NIU’s Career Services division.  By night (otherwise known as her personal time), Zuidema takes it upon herself to operate the Huskies Student Food Pantry.  In fact, she founded it.  When asked why, she immediately replies, “I felt compelled.”

food-pantry-2Zuidema goes on to say that her daily interactions with NIU students continue to reveal huge, unmet needs.  Primary among them:  students go without eating – “often for a couple of days on end” – and many battle hunger on a constant or near-constant basis.

“It’s incredible that Kathy created the Huskies Student Food Pantry on her own,” Brasseur says, Northern Illinois Food Bank dietitian and also an NIU alumna.  “It’s such an important beginning.  Yet what we still don’t know is what happens when the pantry isn’t open.  What do students eat when – or if – they are able to find food?”

Think back to those times when you experienced hunger pangs that kept you awake all night and you begin to have a sense of the situation.  Yet in its worst form, chronic hunger does the consuming … consuming every moment.  Eating away at your energy, focus, health and well-being long into an indefinite stretch of days.   Devouring even your choices.  If you could eat absolutely anything at all, you would – empty calories or not.

“Campus hunger is a large, hidden problem that needs attention,” Zuidema says, conveying an insight she’s gained from being on the front line as an evening and weekend warrior when it comes to actual Huskies Student Food Pantry operations and planning. “We don’t usually associate chronic hunger with food-rich nations or universities.  But it’s quite real in the United States.  It’s very real for many campus students right here. ”

Indeed, it’s quite real for many college-level students across the country.

According to the Center for Law and Social Policy (referenced in the January 2016 Atlantic story on campus hunger), nearly 50% of American high-school students qualify for free meals or reduced-priced meals.  A reality that for this group of individuals, CLASP notes, “…doesn’t tend to change when they go to college.”

At NIU, more than 1,500 students have used the Huskies Student Food Pantry since it opened a year and a half ago.  To this stat, Zuidema also counts easily 60-75 students who continue to visit the pantry during its twice monthly operations from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at its current location in the Grace Place Campus Ministry building.  

“I was amazed to learn from Kathy how many of my peers utilize the Huskies Student Food Pantry,” Research Rookie Jenee Carlson says.  “Then I volunteered and saw for myself.”

As campuses around the country look to address the complex issue of student hunger – caused by the perfect storm of a variety of factors, including economic realities, changing demographics, hikes in the cost of living as well as tuition and university living expenses – the number of food pantries on campuses has increased dramatically.  According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, only four existed in 2008.  Fast forward just seven years to 2015 and the number jumps to 199 food pantries in operation on college campuses.

With growth like this the odds are very good that, without even realizing it, you probably know a student who has no idea when they will eat next.

“The choice for students shouldn’t come down to buying a book or buying food.  It shouldn’t be a daily choice between stressing about where the next meal will come from and being able to focus on learning,” NIU business freshman Jenee Carlson says.

 

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Help Fight Hunger  

NIU students: 

  1. Take an anonymous food-needs survey at this link: go.niu.edu/hunger
  2. Or complete the survey on a tablet on March 3rd or April 7th at the Huskies Student Food Pantry, which operates from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. and is located in the Grace Place Campus Ministry building.

 NIU faculty and staff: 

  1. Tell your students about this project and share the link to the anonymous food-needs survey:  go.niu.edu/hunger
  2. Encourage your students to complete the survey.
  3. Complete the survey yourself.

Everyone:  Show your support for the Huskies Student Food Pantry.   If you have the means, be a donor to the Huskies Student Food Pantry.

Thank you!!

 

How Students Of NIU Gave Me A More Open Mind

As some of you may know, I have been interviewing different students around NIU. Mainly in the College of Business. This is a new operation that we put into effect at the beginning of this spring semester, and what started as a small simple project, has turned into an eye-opening experience that really has changed my view on life, in the most positive way possible. These are the Students of NIU.

When you take time out of someone else’s day, you’re starting to step into uncharted territory. Time is one of the most valuable things we have. It’s one of the only things in our lives that is certain, time will keep moving. That being said, seeing how people use their time, and what they have done in their time so far, is simply amazing. From students being the only person in their family to get an education to moving to the United States literally weeks ago. Everyone has a unique story to tell, and I love listening.

This project has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I’m no longer interviewing people, I’m learning about my fellow students and forming new friends. We live in a society where everything moves so fast, and if you don’t stop to talk to your peers, you may never meet anyone beyond your class schedule. Isn’t that a scary thought? Seven billion people and counting in this world, and we only talk to the people that we have to. People’s lives are so amazing when you think about it. Some people have been to different parts of the world, learned new languages, and ventured off into uncharted territory that we happen to call home. To me, that’s incredible. It’s also incredible that someone could go their whole lives not interacting with one another, and not getting to tell their story, simply because no one asked.

At times, I thought to myself, “These people don’t want to talk to some stranger. Even if they did, they’re too busy.” I was wrong, and I’m glad I was wrong. Talking to people could seem like such an easy and mundane task, but in reality, it’s a way to relieve stress, take a step back from your own life, and reflect. I don’t think anyone is perfect in anything they do. There is always room to grow and to learn something new from someone else. I truly believe that the only way to get better and work our way to being “perfect,” is to learn a little piece from each person you meet, on what they do well. Not only did each of you highlight something in life that you did well, but you also made yourselves better by gaining knowledge from one another. But don’t worry about being perfect; it can’t be that fun when you think about it. Once you consider yourself all knowing, that’s the moment you’ll stop learning.

We take so much time to form relationships with people and then we’re so quick to get comfortable, never branching out to meet new people. It’s interesting how hard it is for people to talk about themselves when I ask. Try it right now, what can you tell me about yourself? Isn’t hard it? But once I start, “peeling back the layers” of these scholars, is when I really start to see why everyone we live around is so special and unique. Everyone has unique outlooks on life, and special mottos they live by. So what’s your story? What drives you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Is it as simple as, “well, because I have to.” I just don’t buy that anymore. I think people are deep, unique, and inspired creatures waiting to express their story. Every one of us has the opportunity to uncover that treasure of a new friend, right now. Take the time to talk to someone new sometime soon. You really would be surprised how alike we all are, and what we can learn from each other is endless really.

I think I will leave you all with a quote that I have written in the front of my journal. This quote comes from Tim Augustine, and I wrote it down at a conference in Schaumburg for Delta Sigma Pi:

“The motto that has made me successful, but also has kept me humble throughout my career is to always be the least knowledgeable person in the room at all times, but be smart enough to get by. What I mean by this is surround yourself with people who are more intelligent and better at specific things, than you. That way, you’ll never stop learning, and, more importantly, you’ll never run out of things to talk about.” – Tim Augustine

Remember to keep being awesome everyone,

Louie