Third Global Leadership and Service Project to Thailand leaves growing legacy.

The barren area on the Baan Rachavadee grounds, before the GSLP group created a garden

A new garden at one of two sites at which members of the third Global Leadership and Service Project (GLSP) to Thailand worked stands as a fitting symbol for the flourishing GLSP concept. Now in its third year, the GLSP takes a group of students—this year including a travel grant winner from Auburn University—to Bangkok to engage in community service projects in conjunction with local university service groups.

One group of students returned to the Children’s Creativity Foundation (CCF), a pre-school that rescues children living on the streets. The group knew the administrators, fine-tuned the curriculum—designed to provide cultural, hygienic, and self-promotion education—and enjoyed returning to familiar turf.

The new garden

The unknown awaited the second contingent, led by Maria Polanco (BBA ’06), now change management coordinator, business information group, Cordis Johnson & Johnson and chair of the GLSP committee in the International Business Honor Society (IBHS), the College of Business Administration organization that drives the projects.

This group spent its working hours at Baan Rachavadee, a modern, government-sponsored complex that delivers services to a range of people with special needs, from blindness to severe mental and physical challenges to malnourishment. Their charges were males, mostly children—more severely disabled than GLSP students had expected.

Having to respond to change gives students opportunity to implement classroom learning.

“We were able to use our knowledge from college in a real-world situation, which made it a true learning experience.”
Maria Polanco (BBA ’06), chair of the GLSP committee in the International Business Honor Society (IBHS)

“It was very difficult emotionally for us to confront their disabilities, but as the minutes went by, we saw they were regular kids, and that wowed us,” Polanco said. “Initially, it was overwhelming to have to discard our plans, but it was good because we were in a situation that could apply to any business—you expect things to go one way, and they don’t. As a result, we were able to use our knowledge from college in a real-world situation, which made it a true learning experience.”

Not only was the site unfamiliar turf, but also, part of what the volunteers did, along with their counterparts from Rajabaht University, was to create a garden, transforming a barren piece of land into a beautiful and hospitable spot.

GLSP participants with some of the children from Baan Rachavadee

Taking on the garden assignment provided a microcosm of management for Aydin Bonabi (BBA ’05), co-founder and former president of the IBHS, currently a student in the college’s Master of Science in Finance (MSF) program, and a program specialist for FIU Online. He attended the trip as participant/observer, in preparation for working with Robert Hogner, associate professor, Department of Management and International Business, coordinator of the college’s Civic Engagement Initiative, and development director for undergraduate international business programs, to develop Community Service Program Management—an online course with an embedded service project slated to launch in the spring of 2008.

“As someone not involved in the logistics, I was able to get an insight into how project management unfolds,” Bonabi said. “The garden was an excellent example. None of us had gardened. We understood that we needed a project manager, we identified people’s special skills, and we broke down the tasks. I was able to see the operational structure at work. We can explain those steps in the course, along with much other content that will help create socially and ethically strong business leaders.”

Auburn student takes lessons to heart and to his campus.

For travel grant recipient Suresh Mudragada, an international business major at Auburn University who is active in community service activities, the experience was “really inspiring. We saw kids with disabilities help those who were even more challenged,” he said. “We worked with the kids to teach them how to brush their teeth, we sang in both English and Thai, and we danced.”

Before the trip, he undertook fundraising activities on his campus, and post-trip, he is talking to school organizations urging them to get involved in a similar effort.

GLSP and partnership with Rajabaht University deepen roots.

“This year, the project became a sustainable enterprise without extraordinary management on the part of our business school,” Hogner said. “Having a participant from another university and someone from FIU Online gave us two new avenues to help spread enthusiasm and involvement in this innovative form of leadership development and global community service.”

“We had a very close relationship with the students from Rajabaht University,” Polanco said. “It wasn’t the college group and the Rajabaht group; it became the college/Rajabaht team.”

Next year, Hogner expects an even stronger partnership with Rajabaht University.

“Their university’s administrators want to formalize the relationship with the college and are very enthusiastic about having their students come to Miami to do community service as well,” he said.

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