Student of NIU Business – Student Intern Louie Zmich

 

As some of you may know, it has been my job for the past two years to find, interview, and write articles on the various students of NIU Business. I thought it would be a wonderful idea to find students who really embody the meaning of scholarly education, and have them voice their stories, with the goal to inspire others to keep making themselves, and the world, a better place. So far, I personally think our efforts have been quite successful.

Naturally, given the scope of the project, I was avoiding doing an article on myself. However, I have decided that the first Student of NIU post of the semester would be of myself given the demand for such piece, and the fleeting time I have left in this position. Below is a summary of my advice for those who are currently or will soon enroll at the College of Business for class. This is simply my opinion, but advice non-the-less. I look forward to producing my last semester of content to those who will read, and I wish the best of luck to all of you in the New Year.

 

Louis Zmich
Marking major
Social Entrepreneurship minor
CoB Marketing and Social Media Student Intern

“I think that everyone should pave their own personal path through life, confronting the difficult times in order to make way for new, innovative, and personalized experiences. That’s what’s great about living in today’s world; we have incredible resources at our disposal that so many of us get to take advantage of every day. Some people have taken these opportunities and vastly succeeded, but some of us simply don’t have access to said resources. With that in mind, I find it imperative to soak up every last bit of knowledge we can, because it truly is a gift.

You know, I’ve heard a lot of quotes that have really stuck with me over the past five years of college, one of which was said by Warren Buffett, “We only truly learn from mistakes, but those mistakes do not have to be our own.”

How profound is that, right? Collaborating and pooling your networks with other like-minded people, is the perfect way to continuously learn without facing the sometimes-harsh misfortunes life can bring. One of my biggest recommendations is, find a mentor and surround yourself with good people. But be honest with yourself. Do a personal inventory and really evaluate whom you associate with. Sometimes we make excuses for those around us who bring us down, but your life is too valuable for that. Make the most out of it by reading the words of those who you admire, and surround yourself with people who will help you grow and support you when you fall.

The next bit I could offer is to take every day as a new opportunity for growth. Make yourself a better person when you go to bed, than you were when you woke up. Set the building blocks today, so you have confidence in yourself when adversity comes your way. I think a lot of us lean on others to find happiness, which is great, but I believe that true happiness comes from within. If we can all be happy within ourselves, then finding others who provide positivity is the right path to pure joy. Continuously try to be the best version of yourself, each day. If you can achieve that, you no longer will be comparing yourself to others, you will start to only see you for who you are, and love yourself in the process. Too much time can be wasted worrying about what others are doing. As a result, we never stop to see who we really are.

In The Book of Joy, The Dali Lama explains how human beings only know how to be humans, by other humans. We simply cannot survive in this world without each other. He goes further into the explanation with an example. Without the help of outside elements, a flower could never be a beautiful piece for all to see. Without proper, constructive human interaction, we could never thrive either. So make sure the interactions you have are the proper ones.

And lastly, I leave you with this. Do yourself a favor, and stop worrying about things you cannot control. Now, worry and anxiety are simply emotions triggered by the fact that you care about what is currently or has happened in the past. If you didn’t feel a sense of worry, you probably didn’t care much about what was going on. So, look at those feelings as a token of your appreciation for what is happening. We worry about failing that exam because we care about our potential grade in the class, but what sense is worrying when the exam is over? Are our worries going to fix the situation? Unfortunately, no, as I’ve found out often enough, unnecessary stress is certainly not an ingredient to success. If we worry less, we will think clearly and get angry less often. Only worry about what is truly worth your time, control your emotions and make the right decisions in order to keep moving towards a prosperous future.”

Of course, this is easier said than done, but I think we all have things to learn from each other. Which is why I am excited to continue to meet other fascinating people throughout this semester. I hope this can relate to some of you out there, and until next time, have a wonderful start to your 2017!

– Louie

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

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.

Hunger on College Campuses

Image

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.

 

**************************************************************************************

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!!

 

The Birth of The House Press – How Joe Dzwonnik is Living His Dream

Joe Dzwonnik

Editors note: I first had met Joe when I had the idea of a Beard and Mustache club here at NIU. After much consideration and other obligations, the club has taken a back seat for the moment, but regardless, Joe was one of the firsts to jump on board. From there I have always been in touch with Joe on some level, and once he launched his company here in DeKalb I knew it was a great opportunity to sit down with the young entrepreneur and pick his brain on the secrets of starting your own successful company. As you’re about to see, Joe has what it takes to get off the ground, and quickly make success. As always you can follow me on all social media @LOUIEZMICH and on Instagram @louie_zmich. From there give the NIUBusiness Instagram page a like as well! Let’s dive into Joe’s interview, enjoy!

As the title says, Joe Dzwonnik started his dream of owning his own custom clothing company on September 5th of this year right in downtown DeKalb. From there, his company really has never looked back. Starting with his roommate’s business making shirts in their basement, to then moving into The House Cafe. Joe started to make partnerships and acquaintances from all over town which really gave him an incredible advantage over others in the marketplace. Joe simply realized that there was a need for quality and good customer service in the custom clothing business and really took the opportunity head on. As we take a look at some of the questions I had for Joe, we will see just how much NIU helped him move forward professionally, and how being a Marketing graduate really helped with how he battled, and continues to avoid, challenges while overcoming them.

Everyone should take a chance to check out Joe’s incredible work on his Facebook page, and even reach out to him for anything custom printed that you need. As his motto states, he certainly delivers on quality at the best prices in town. I can say that those statements are accurate as many clubs on campus have already purchased t-shirts, banners, and sweats from Joe. I speak for everyone at CAUSE by saying the overall experience was fantastic. Now to the interview!

What was some of the history leading up to your business? How did you choose this path, and what inspired the name, “The House Press”?

This process came together through my parent’s intuition and my roommate, Jake Cronins’ own printing business. I had received mentoring from my mother who was an art and graphic design major, along with my father who was well versed in computer programming and website design. Those three really pushed me forward, and gave me the tools I needed to succeed. They really paved the road well for me. Brian, the owner of The House Cafe started to take and interest in me, as I had always come there to play shows or do stand up, and we eventually developed a professional relationship. From there, I started to become Brian’s promoter and marketing guy for bands and other shows that come in through The House Cafe. I actually put in a lot of work, and most of it was for free to really establish that I cared about his business. That ended up serving as an asset later in my career because when I brought up starting my own business, Brian offered me space in his basement in return for the marketing I had done for him in the past, and the current marketing and promoting I am doing for The House Cafe right now. The name, “The House Press” was really the least I could do when I was working underneath the Cafe. The name just made sense, and it didn’t cause people to misunderstand where I was located. My plan from here is to reintroduce The House Cafe as more of a music hub, and have The House Press be the promoter and supplier for all the gear that the bands usually provide themselves. From there we could be the provider of video editing, bookings, promotions, and live events. The first step of all that was the production of “The House Cafe Live.” It’s good to give yourself room to grow, and having future goals is something I feel will really take my business to the next level.

What made you decide to dive in head first into this business?

It really was a collection of the right opportunities at the right time to be honest. Kind of like the perfect storm if you will. I really wasn’t able to, “dip my toes in.” I had to either make the decision or not, and that really put the dog on my heels to keep running to my goals. I knew that if I just applied myself 100% that there was no way anything was going to stop me. I organized deals with a bunch of people to get the tools that I needed to push the business forward instead of going out and being in debt to others. I was able to trade my skills for the tools that I needed to run my business, it was as simple as that. With this model I was able to use the marketing knowledge that I had, to self promote the business on social media and really form connections and a clientele that knew who I was and everything that I brought to the table. I wanted to be as transparent as possible, and never let people think that the door was closed for them, everyone knew The House Press as Joe, and not some phony person.

How does someone start from ground zero like you did? How do you build a business from the ground up?

In my opinion you always have to be finishing one thing as you’re starting another. This way you’re never board of one project and the ideas are always fresh. When you start from zero, the door just gets swung wide open and you can choose how you enter. If I didn’t jump through that door, then I knew it was going to close in my face and I would be back to square one in an office, and that wasn’t something I wanted to do. I realized the opportunities I had, and I took them, simple as that. After moving on from the printing division in NIU’s design department, I knew that the thrill of being a business person was something that I had to do. I had a taste of what it was like to be an entrepreneur, and that feeling was something I could never give up. That feeling is what keeps me going, the same feeling that keeps me up until 3am then waking up at 7am to keep printing and making excellent products for people. It’s that entrepreneurial drive that you have to have to succeed. In my opinion everyone can be a business person, but you just need to find what you are good at and find ways to improve people’s lives with that skill. From there you’re not working, you’re using your passion to make people smile. That sounds so cheesy doesn’t it? But it’s true, you won’t work a day in your life if you’re just living your dream, this is my dream. The biggest piece of advice I can give here though, is to maximize your time to better yourself and your business. Your business is like a child that you created and need to tend to at all times. Everyday when you wake up, you’re continuing to bring your business to life. Anything and everything you do is making your brand, your company, and ultimately your career. Everything you say is a reflection on you, so make the best impression possible on people and you cannot fail.

What are some the challenges you have ran into with your business? How did you combat these problems?

Everything that is common in business, people already know how to do. Most of it is common sense in some regard, but the biggest issue is your mind. My biggest challenge is keeping myself in one place at one time. I have my fingers in so many pies right now and it gets overwhelming sometimes. I just have to realize I have my self on my side, and that everything that I have ever really wanted to happen had happened. I just need to keep my head in the game and keep on trucking.

What did you learn from the College of Business that you use in your business today?

Well I think that the competitiveness in the College of Business is fantastic. Competition breeds success, there’s no other way to put it. When your back is up against the wall and you’re always trying to be your best, how can that not produce successful, smart people? The college really set me up with a skill set to branch out and be anything in the business world. I never thought I would mention this one, but looking back, UBUS 310 was really something special. Every decision I make in a given day involves; marketing, management,operations and finance. No kidding, I have to think about all four of those categories every single day. It’s insane! How much will it cost me to market my new design this way. Once I market the design, how am I going to manage my time to complete this operational task? It really gave me an aspect that I literally could not get anywhere else, and I’m grateful for that, no doubt. You’re going to have five different people coming to you in different angles all the time. The class was as close to small business as you can get without having your own small business. The last thing I will touch on, because I can go on for hours, is the marketing department at NIU. Literally every resource they offer, you should take advantage of. There was so many tools that really helped me market my company today. It taught me how to carry myself, act professional, and reach as many people as possible. My time here really was the best return on any investment I have made.

Joe’s story is really something that can relate to just about everyone. I think most people, some time or another, have dreamt about owning their own business. As you saw in this interview if you have the drive to move forward, you too can be your own boss and make all the decisions someday. It’s interesting to see how much drive a person can have when they REALLY want something. Drive and determination is what gets you up in the morning, and what makes you succeed. Joe, just like many other NIU alumni, had that ambition to push forward and make their dream a reality. I thank you Joe for your time with me and I wish you the best of luck in everything that you’re doing! I look forward to seeing The House Press logo all over campus eventually. Take the time to go check Joe out on Facebook and Instagram, and support his awesome cause!

Thank you everyone and as always, don’t forget to be awesome!

Louie

What’s Your CAUSE?

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Editors note: It seems like when you start to join organizations, a snowball effect starts to form and you simply cannot stop joining and making a difference. It’s so true though, the feeling you get when contributing to something bigger than yourself is truly amazing. As everyone knows, when you start to get very busy, you can only pick one or two of the best organizations to be part of.  CAUSE is the staple of all organizations in that it is fit for everyone, so taking a look at what these people do for the school and the community, was a no brainer. As always, if you like what I do, feel free to follow me on social media @LOUIEZMICH. Hope you all enjoy!

 CAUSE, we see it everywhere, you smell it on Thursdays and join us on events such as the Social Impact Summit, but what is CAUSE? (And what is the Social Impact Summit, you say?) CAUSE is the Collegiate Association of Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs…I hear the typing right now, “Why Unreasonable?” Well, Gerorge Shaw, said it best…in fact it’s his quote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” This is the foundation of CAUSE, and this student run organization is anything but reasonable when it comes to establishing itself as  the top dog in fundraising and community contribution.

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 Who are those people selling glorious pizza on Thursdays? CAUSE, the idea was simple, CAUSE wanted to offer pizza to students, that seemed to be the only thing that student count not manage to receive when studying in Barsema. This was the idea that sparked the prestigious phenomenon that fills the atrium with hungry people and smells that intoxicate. The students at CAUSE hand make the Pizza Pros’ pizzas on Thursday mornings at 9:45am sharp and literally top, spread, and bake all the ingredients by hand and personally deliver the pizzas to Barsema Hall to sell them promptly at 11am. Only challenge? Staying in stock! The weekly fundraiser is from 11am-1pm, and the organization almost never makes it past 12:30pm, as the demand is just too high. CAUSE has even maxed out Pizza Pros’ ovens at 24 pizzas, and we still cannot keep enough on hand. Sounds like people need to order up right when they can. Louis Zmich HD:Users:LouisZmich:Downloads:photo2-e1406646253633.jpg

Besides having long lines for their fantastic pizzas, CAUSE goes way beyond fundraising. CAUSE is most definitely leading the charge in donations around the world. This year, CAUSE has decided to do donations a little bit differently  by donating 50% of profits from pizza sales each month to a helpful organization of the student body’s choice from around the world. This month, CAUSE is donating their proceeds to Nicole Swedlow and Entreamigos! (Pictured below). CAUSE is also doing something amazing, and offering a scholarship to qualified NIU students at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Simply a testament of how powerful and large this organization is becoming.

The truth is, CAUSE is about sharing and increasing the impact in the community. Going beyond NIU is simply another facet of being unreasonably bold. It’s like a pond ripple effect and CAUSE is making a big splash. Expanding out to other Universities and schools over time, just feel like the only way to move forward that would fully satisfy everyone’s hunger in this organization. It really is amazing to think that something that literally started as pizza sales in the atrium has blossomed so much that the thought of expansion is now a legitimate idea being discussed. Who knows, maybe down the line, high schools and universities across the country could have their very own CAUSE!

Louis Zmich HD:Users:LouisZmich:Downloads:Selling+CAUSE+Pizza.jpgCAUSE has become, over time, it’s own Social Entrepreneurial business. The meetings are run like a business, finances are conducted like a business. When said plan becomes a hit, the only thing an unreasonable person would think, would we be to go and get more people around the world to care and help out with others. The leading factor in the outreach is by far the success of the Social Impact summit.

The Social Impact Summit was started in 2013 and had the goal in mind of combining students, professionals, and professors with expertise in the social space into one large summit where networking, startups and entrepreneurs could thrive. This is the big time, this is what the entire team works for through the year. The Summit is held every April in the Barsema Alumni Visitor’s Center and consists of a full day of keynote speakers combined with breakout panels and a networking lunch giving opportunities to students just like you who want to make a difference. The entire event is funded by the pizza sales and companies willing to donate. This is amazing, companies are willing to sponsor a completely student run event because that’s the kind of people they want! Innovators, risk takers, and people who just simply get things done. Louis Zmich HD:Users:LouisZmich:Downloads:Social+Impact+Summit.png

The Social Impact Summit also goes a step further and conducts their annual “Pitch With A CAUSE” competition. This is a competition for anyone who has an idea for a business that makes a positive social or environmental impact. It basically is Shark Tank but for NIU, literally. There is a panel of professionals in this field, who work together to ask questions and pick a winner for the grand prize of $1,500! People from around the world come to pitch their cause. No joke, a group from Hungary came last year, simply wonderful! The day is full of wonderful things for everyone, good food, and great organizations to network with and sometimes purchase goodies from, not to mention the keynote speakers who will most definitely catch your interest. April should be your go to month to really jump start your career in a fantastic direction.

Innovate. Impact. Be unreasonable, that has always been the model for CAUSE and never straying away from that model has brought ample success. When asking a CAUSE member, “What does CAUSE do?” you will never get the same answer, simply put, we do so much. CAUSE never puts down a new idea and not only has become its own pizza business, but has also become a networking powerhouse and central hub for innovation and excellence from speakers to donations.

Thank you all for letting me try to express exactly what CAUSE does, and maybe this sparks your interest in something else to join. If you’re interesting in joining, feel free to stop by Barsema Hall Room 219 on Wednesday’s from 5-6pm and don’t forget to go to http://www.niucause.com for all the updates on what is going on in the CAUSE world, and as always, hope to see you on Thursday’s for pizza!

As for now, as always this is Louie telling you to stay awesome and do something to change the world!

Thank you everyone,

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~ Louie

One step in the right direction.

As a student here at Northern Illinois University I was intrigued by the possibility of joining a business organization. During my freshman year I had already solidified the opportunity to participate in an honors society where they only selected 44 members of the sophomore class. It was a great way to meet people who were as motivated as I in bettering my education. In my mind the journey had just begun in terms of getting involved on campus. As I attended my first Honors course of my sophomore year I was looking for something new to take my ideas and passion towards. Jacob Ferguson and Ben Clark have become two of my better friends over the past year and were the first to introduce me to NIU Cause.

One afternoon I chose to follow them after class to a meeting where I then began to understand what I was going to invest my time in. NIU Cause is a social entrepreneurship organization and it’s unique because of how we solve real life problems using business principles. We work with real life organizations that help actual entrepreneurs who live in third world countries. During my first couple weeks at the NIU Cause meetings I wasn’t very willing to speak up or get involved. Not sure why at the time I guess it was just a little intimidating at first. It all started to change one weekend when the President Zach Fiegel my former Community Advisor noticed my coverage of the baseball winter meetings. Along with all my other activities, I also write for three sports blogs CLNSRadio.com, FishStripes.com which is featured on SBNation.com as well as Viewfromthebleachers.com which is on the ESPN Sweet spot Network. He brought it up at the meeting and asked the group if I could take over the social media for Cause. What happened next is history. Over the next several months I not only improved my communication skills but made lifelong friends along the way.

After doing the social media for a few weeks I was introduced to a new role on the NIU Cause fundraising committee. This was definitely out of my comfort zone as I participated with three other members narrowing down restaurants and stores to look for donations. As time passed one of our members Chris Leifel introduced the idea of doing a weekly pizza sale. Four members became the pizza makers of NIU Cause Pizza: Laine Smid, Rachel McBride, Chris Leifel and I. As the first semester came to a close we began a pizza sale on Thursdays where we would go to Pizza Pros’ located in DeKalb to make pizzas. In my mind I was thinking there was no way I could accomplish this as my skills in the kitchen were very limited. To this day I’m glad I took that leap of faith and went with them that Thursday morning. These were skills that yes might not be transferable to business classes but definitely earn me some points someday by calculating costs or using teamwork skills in making the pizzas. Rough estimates on our sales last year included making 200 plus pizzas. In addition, due to the sales and money we raised through other avenues we were able to donate 350 dollars for the Nyegina Library and Community Resource Center in Tanzania. We also contributed $500 to Rebecca Clark one of our members who with other college of business students collectively raised over $2500 for Mari Chuy. The campaign was started by the NIU Micro Finance Class where they wanted to help Mari Chuy achieve her dream of building a family restaurant in Bucerias, Mexico.

I have attached a video that better explains Mari Chuy’s restaurant project. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qGn8jWdtiU

Overall it was an amazing experience just in those five months something I’ll remember for a lifetime and will always treasure. Excited for what the future holds within this great organization and can’t wait to see it grow.

On being Unreasonable


This is a guest post on how NIU students are changing the world through the college’s social entrepreneurship program in the Department of Management.

NIU CAUSE, a social entrepreneurship student organization

…a CAUSE to Live Into

Every generation has its moniker:  from the Boomers, Hippies to the 20-somethings of today.   But what’s really in a name?  Just ask a closely-knit group of current NIU students who in early April pulled off their first university-wide Social Impact Summit.  The event brought together more than 170 industry experts, students, and faculty for a day-long conversation on social entrepreneurship.  And while the students surpassed their goal of 150 attendees, they didn’t rest on their laurels.  After the event, they returned to their studies, which included refining the business plans they had been developing in their Social Entrepreneurship class.  Because in early May, these students will put their ideas to the test yet again.  During the 2nd Annual NIU Social Venture Competition, each of their business ventures will be judged by a “shark tank” of angel capitalists who will evaluate how their proposed new ventures intentionally add value to the Triple Bottom Line:  people, profit, and planet.

So when you ask this particular group of students to explain how they’re typically typecast, they’ll tell you their swagger has nothing to do with the label “entitled.”  Instead they’ll describe deeply rooted expectations.

They expect to change the world for the better.   Plain and simple.  If that sounds unreasonable, well, they’ll admit they have every cause to be.  Consider this:

  • 50% of the world’s population lives below the poverty line.
  • Over 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day.
  • Around 1 billion people do not have access to clean water.
  • An estimated 14 billion pounds of garbage is dumped into the ocean each year.
  • The world’s population is outstripping the planet’s natural ability to replenish its own resources.

These sobering stats and more were presented by national experts in social entrepreneurship during NIU’s April 5th Social Impact Summit.  In spite of the magnitude of the challenges, somehow the attendees remained not only hopeful but energized.  Junior NIU College of Business student Zach Fiegel explains:  “There are so many incredibly intelligent, amazing individuals in the world.  If we focus together on these issues, imagine what we can accomplish.  And why not?  One of the motivations behind the Social Impact Summit and our student organization is an idea that was originally expressed by George Bernard Shaw.  He said:  ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’”

For Fiegel, that’s a philosophy that resonates.  Fiegel is currently president of NIU CAUSE:  the Collegiate Association of Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs.  In fact, as a sophomore Fiegel helped found the organization.  Just one year after its formation, NIU CAUSE has grown from a group of 7 students who were inspired by an idea – being unreasonable enough to change the world – to a full-fledged student organization that focuses its mindshare on that purpose.  More than 30 participants attend their weekly gatherings.  The group is overrun with enthusiasm, achieved the old-fashioned way.

“CAUSE has grown organically, through relationships and conversations with friends and friends of friends,” Fiegel shares.  “The students represent a variety of NIU majors – business, geology, anthropology, health sciences, engineering to name a few.  Our members include international as well as non-traditional students.  We’re a diverse group with different backgrounds and perspectives.  The thing that unites us is that we’re all individuals converging around this one idea:  to make the world a stronger, better place.”

You have to wonder why individuals so young possess this particular focus.  There’s a tangible wisdom in their commitment.  You sense it and feel it in their energy.  And then when you engage in conversation with them, you come to realize that many of them lived through the effects of a parent being laid off.  Others felt the impact of financial disruption around their dinner table.  All of them continue to witness the world’s challenges on a real time basis through social media channels.  When one of the Social Impact Summit keynoters asked attendees if they ever lived at or below the poverty level, nearly half of those present – many of them current students – raised their hands.

These are old souls in young bodies who identify with the radical idea of creating hope in a sometimes cynical world.

Fiegel describes the rationale.  “Social entrepreneurship in itself is an idea that people can rally around.  Plus, there’s the benefit of knowing that people who join a new organization like NIU CAUSE join for the right reason.  They get to build something the way they want to see it built.  They get to make an impact and they get to know that they do.”

Indeed, Fiegel and his fellow change makers have a great deal of latitude to shape NIU CAUSE.  Still, they don’t fly solo nor do they want to.  Their entire culture – their tribe, if you will – is about marshalling forces to effect real change.  They are guided by two NIU Business faculty members who advise them.  As members in the NIU CAUSE tribe, these professors foster a faculty-student relationship that is more a collaboration than anything else…where everyone stands to contribute and to learn, even the professors.

“The students came up with the idea for the Social Impact Summit,” NIU CAUSE faculty advisor Christine Mooney says.  “They wanted to do it from start to finish:  creating the theme, dealing with the logistics, finding the keynote presenters, securing event sponsors, getting the word out and running the entire Summit.  None of them ever created an event before.  I am so amazed by their commitment and creativity.”

An NIU professor in the Department of Management with background in strategic leadership, Christine Mooney recently received the Bill and Paula LeRoy Professorship in Social Entrepreneurship.  Mooney works with her NIU Business colleague Dennis Barsema, who is no stranger to making a difference.  Both the NIU College of Business facility and the university’s Alumni & Visitors Center bear the Barsema name.

Like the LeRoys, Barsema is a member of the NIU alumni base, having earned his degree in the department in which he now teaches.  And like the LeRoys, Dennis and his wife Stacey are passionate about making a genuine difference in the lives of others.  Along with giving back to his alma mater and developing the social entrepreneurship program, Dennis Barsema is currently on the Board of Directors for five for-profit and non-profit organizations including Oportunidad Microfinanzas, Mexico of Opportunity International.

Denise Schoenbachler, Dean of the NIU College of Business states,”I am so grateful to Dennis and Stacey for getting the NIU College of Business involved and vested in social entrepreneurship.  They’ve ignited passion in the students, faculty like Christine, the administration, and other alumni like the LeRoys.  This is only the beginning.  With Dennis and Christine at the helm, they are part of a group of national leaders focused on the important work of applying business expertise to some of the world’s most pressing problems.”

Since its inception, NIU’s social entrepreneurship program has garnered media attention from the Chicago Tribune to the Boston Globe (which described a short-list of three college level programs in this field and included NIU in the group, along with Harvard and MIT).  What makes NIU’s approach distinctive is its range and popularity over such a short period of time.  NIU’s program includes courses in social entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, a certificate program in social entrepreneurship, and a newly created social entrepreneurship minor.  The program capstone is the Social Venture Competition, where students pitch their business ideas to social venture investors.  The competition transforms the winning ideas into reality and in its first year, helped launch social business “Light Up Africa.”  Shortly after its formation, “Light Up Africa” went on to be named a semi-finalist in Dell’s Social Innovation Challenge and won a coveted spot in the 2012 inaugural class of Impact Engine, a social business accelerator in Chicago.

“The Social Venture Competition is testimony to the character and resolve of the NIU student,” shares Dennis Barsema.   “This is a generation that has volunteered more than any generation since the Great Depression.  They have a passion and concern for the social issues of our world.  And, they have the courage to follow their passion.  Our job, as educators and business people, is to give them the tools, guidance, and mentoring to do something positive with that energy.”

Indeed, NIU’s social entrepreneurship program is distinctive in large measure because of the way Mooney and Barsema teach the topic.  Their approach is as much in the doing as it is in the thinking.  Supporting Zach Fiegel and his cohort’s idea for the Social Impact Summit and putting all the students’ business ventures on the line for angel funding…those are just two examples out of a multitude.

Perhaps one of the most impactful ways is when the students travel with their professors to witness social entrepreneurship firsthand through short-term study abroad trips.  The most recent occurred a week ago, with a visit to entrepreneur Dona Alejandra in Mexico City.  Dona Alejandra is a client of the microfinance institution Aspire.  Aspire provides lending to the “missing middle:”  those individuals who require loans larger than the $500 loans provided by a traditional microfinance institution but smaller than the $10,000 loans provided by a  commercial bank.  The meeting between Dona Alejandra and the students was made possible through the help of Elly Rohrer, Executive Director of Investours, a non-profit in the microfinance space.  Here’s Dona Alejandra’s story:

Dona Alejandra

Doña Alejandra is a third generation baker from Mexico City. As one of 13 siblings growing up in a situation of extreme poverty, Doña Alejandra developed a love for the bread she learned to make in her father’s bakery: it symbolized sustenance. With one kilo of flour, she could provide food for her siblings and make product to sell.

Doña Alejandra’s mentality about bread has not changed, though she is now in her 50s, lives on the Pacific coast, and has a family of her own. She built a wood-burning oven and took out a micro-loan to establish her own small bakery. As the primary (and often only) income owner in a house-hold of four, Doña Alejandra works long hours to bake and sell hundreds of breads and pastries a week. An entrepreneurial woman, Doña Alejandra is always proud to share her story.

“Meeting all the amazing entrepreneurs in Mexico, including Dona Alejandra, was extraordinary because you see the transformation of their lives and families on so many levels,” Barsema says.  “The students were able to see how a small loan could lead these small business owners to a life of dignity, opportunity and hope for themselves and their families, and make tremendous improvements in their local community.  Without a doubt, they are great examples of perseverance and drive.”

Plus, at a very intrinsic level, the students also see their own professors walk the talk.

“The fact that someone like that takes an interest in other people and with this level of commitment…it amazes me,” Fiegel says.  “Mr. Barsema has achieved so much success in business.  He’s been an executive – including President and CEO – in five major corporations.  He could relax and not be involved with finding and supporting new business models to help others lift themselves out of desperate situations.  But he cares so much.  He’s so humble and generous.  He’s someone I hope to emulate one day.”

By all accounts, Zach and his fellow students are well on their way.  Operating funds for NIU CAUSE started at zero.  But after weekly sales of homemade pizza  (yes, the students make them from scratch and their Barsema Hall customer base declares the foodstuff to be “life changing”) as well as from revenues generated at the Social Impact Summit, NIU CAUSE has raised enough money to sustain its operations and then some.  True to form, the students intend to invest a portion of those dollars in a social entrepreneur.

And if that’s not enough on May 2nd at 6 p.m. in NIU’s Barsema Alumni & Visitors Center, the social entrepreneurship students will unveil what are certain to be business plans as ingenious as Light Up Africa…originally an NIU student generated business idea – now a viable business – that brings a renewable light source to a part of the world without access to the electrical grid.

All of which for these students makes for an impressive and uncommon journey, one where their expectations to change the world are emboldened even more.  But it really goes much deeper still.  This is a generation that cut its teeth on an age of disruption.  Now, as they stand at the threshold of life after college, they carry a different worldview.  Instead of getting blown over, they lean forward into action in the face of change.  They’re not lulled by a false sense of security.  They know how complex life is, even if it morphs faster than most can really assimilate or even trust.  But echoing the advice Steve Jobs gave to Stanford grads, they’re wise enough to know that:  “you have to trust in something.”

Where better to place your trust than in your own desire to change the world?  If that level of commitment earns those of this amazing ilk the label Unreasonable, that’s more than fine with them.   …and more than fine for the world.

Event Information

  • May 2nd The 2nd Annual NIU Social Venture Competition, 6 p.m., NIU Barsema Alumni & Visitors Center, DeKalb, Illinois.
  • April 5th NIU Social Impact Summit keynoters:   Megan Kashner, TEDx speaker and Founder-CEO of Benevolent.Net, a digital facilitation site that offers a secure and transparent means for those with the ability to donate funds and help another when it matters most; Amanda Britt, Founder-CEO of Panzanzee, Chicago’s social enterprise incubator, co-working space and continuous community that provides discovery, resources, trust and traction for entrepreneurs and professionals pursuing sustainable financial and social impact; NIU alumnus Alan Hurt, Founder of Light Up Africa, a student-generated idea launched into an actual social business with a distribution strategy that encourages an entrepreneurial spirit in its customers; and Chuck Templeton, Managing Director of Impact Engine, a Chicago-based 12-week accelerator program supporting for-profit businesses working to address today’s societal or environmental issues.

Story by Michelle De Jean, Director of Marketing, NIU College of Business

Making Waves with CAUSE

With all the news lately about NIU CAUSE  and their upcoming Social Impact Summit, we took some time to interview Sophomore Rob Willer to figure out what all the fuss is about. 

What is CAUSE?

CAUSE stands for the Collegiate Association of Unreasonable Social Entrepreneurs.  The organization is a bit complex and for the sake of brevity I’ll provide this link to their about page rather than reciting all their motives, goals, and projects ( http://niucause.com/about-niu-cause).

How did you get involved?

Well there’s a few reasons.  My old CA (Zach Fiegel)  is the current president of Cause.  He had talked to me about the organization a few times before but one day in class I was talking to a few students who were in the honors program.  They mentioned the Cause meeting that night and they invited me to come.  I wanted to get involved in the actual business program and I thought this was my chance.  Zach pointed to me in a meeting and asked if I had any thoughts on a certain topic and I thought that was really cool.  Since then  I took over the role of Social Media, then treasurer and now I help wherever I can.

So what exactly is your title/duty in the organization?

Treasurer, pizza maker, pizza seller, promoter, social media…you name it.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the upcoming Social Impact Summit.  What’s that all about?

A lot of organizations have been putting on these conferences lately and they involve schools and businesses around their area. We thought, all of these other schools and groups are doing it, why can’t we?  We really want this to be an opportunity to students and businesses to network as well as promote awareness of a socially responsible mindset.

The website states that there are three goals in mind.  To Educate students and social practitioners about the applications of social entrepreneurship, to Inspire students and social practitioners to find ways to enlarge their societal and environmental impacts or just plain get started in the social space, and to facilitate Networking among students and social practitioners who are passionate about making a difference and changing the world.

Who is coming out?

We have two keynote speakers, Chuck Templeton and Megan Kashner along with numerous other companies and social incubators.  Over 130 students are coming out as well and you can still register at NIUCause.com and click Register Today!

1st annual implies that it will be a recurring event….any details on next year’s summit?

One step at a time…we’re putting the final touches on this year’s event but we hope that in this next month once we’re done reflecting and taking a breath, then maybe next year we can hope to get some new businesses/speakers and reach our goal of 250 participants.

Was orchestrating this event more work than you thought?

Definitely, but it’s been very rewarding!  It’s been nice to interact with a bunch of these companies online as social media guy for NIU Cause and get them all together in the same place.  I see lots of the companies that are participating tweeting about how excited they are.  It really feels great that there are  people out there that are as excited as we are.

What skills did you develop from this?  What lessons did you learn?

Teamwork: at first there was just four of us going out to find sponsors for the event.  Then we started dividing the responsibilities out to more members to get more people involved.  You get a little overwhelmed at the beginning because you see all these people so involved but it’s actually pretty easy to find a place, just ask questions during meetings and jump in where you can!

How can students get involved?

Come out to one of our weekly meetings on Tuesdays from  5-6 pm in BH 227.  There’s no application… just show up.  Students can also follow us on twitter @NIUCAUSE  or on facebook for more updates!  http://www.facebook.com/NIUCAUSE

Rob also writes for CLNS radio and the Northern Star.  Keep an eye out for his articles online and in print as the baseball season gets underway!

Life Lessons Abroad

The following is written by Mike Cahill, an Accounting Graduate Student at the NIU College of Business.

The Social Entrepreneurship Program at NIU is the perfect fit for any business student with aspirations to help make the world a better place. The mission of the Program is to show students how they can apply their business skillset to solve the world’s problems. Participating in the Social Entrepreneurship Program was one of the best choices I made as an Undergraduate in the College of Business because it really helped broaden my horizons. Learning from real world examples is what I like most about the classes in the Program

This past November I enrolled in MGMT 411 – Microfinance as part of the Social Entrepreneurship Program.  The class was very unique in that it was a small group (only about 10 students) and very discussion based. In class we were assigned case studies to develop our knowledge of the topic, and at the end of the semester we participated in a 4 day microfinance study abroad trip to Punta Mita, Mexico.

The trip to Mexico, led by NIU College of Business Instructor Dennis Barsema, was a tremendous experience. As a class, we met over a dozen micro entrepreneurs who were clients of a local Microfinance Institution (MFI) in Punta Mita. An MFI provides loans and other financial services (loans) to the poor, or people who would not otherwise have any access to such services. The loans enable micro entrepreneurs to start businesses in their villages, and the earnings from these businesses allow the entrepreneur to earn a sustainable wage. The experiences interacting with the MFI clients allowed us (the class) to see first-hand the powerful impact that access to capital can have on improving the lives of the poor.

Overall, the trip really brought the class to life. It was inspirational to hear the unique stories of each of the micro entrepreneurs. Every so often I stop to think about the micro entrepreneurs that I met, and about all of the hardships that they face on an everyday basis. It is really humbling and makes me thankful for all of the opportunities I am blessed with as an American. In the future, I hope to use what I have learned in my Social Entrepreneurship classes to help make the world a better place.