Archive for June, 2011
Wednesday, June 29th, 2011
Danielle DeLuca is a Senior Masters of Accounting major at the Smeal College of Business. She worked through Intrax Internships to identify a quality business internship for this summer in Barcelona Spain. Here is her first post regarding her experiences so far.
I am an average Penn State girl, who lives in a boring, small town just outside of Philly. I needed some excitement in my life and a summer job, so on a whim I applied to Intrax Internships Abroad. To my surprise, I was accepted into the program a week later. I wanted to experience something completely different from my everyday life, so I booked a flight to Barcelona, Spain!
I just arrived in Barcelona about two weeks ago. I was so excited because this was my first time in Spain and I really didn´t know what to expect. Taking the taxi from the airport to my apartment was an exellect preview of the beauty that awaited me. The architecture was like nothing I had ever seen before and the atmosphere was so lively!
When I got to my apartment, Intrax was waiting at my doorstep with a key and some city tips. The program set up not only my internship, but also my living arrangements. My three roommates and I each have our own room, a balcony overlooking the street, and amenities I would expect in the U.S. (though they are not as common in Spanish homes; i.e., air conditioning or WiFi). I did not waste any time unpacking or catching up on rest; I went sightseeing right away. The metro is easy to use, fast, and takes you into ideal parts of town like Las Ramblas, Plaça de Catalunya, Plaça de Espanya, the beach, and more. Luckily, our apartment is a brief walk or metro ride from all the tourist sites and the heart of the city. The only downside with metro transportation is the high frequency of pick-pocketing and blatant theft. Nothing has happened to our group yet, but Barcelona is one of the worst cities in the world for theft, according to TripAdvisor.
The first thing I wanted to visit was the Sagrada Familia church. I could see the towering spires from blocks away on my apartment balcony. It was massive! And absolutely stunning up close. It is still under construction, so when I come back to visit it in a couple of years there will be something new to see. The locals seem to think it will never quite be finished; it has been under construction for 129 years! It is a true representation of Gaudí and Barcelona. From there, I walked down to see the Arc de Triompf. It´s a beautiful rose-colored piece of Catalán history. Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya, so if you think you know a thing or two about Spain, that doesn´t mean you know anything about Catalunya. Here, the people speak Catalán. I tried to learn a few phrases to impress the locals.(“Si us plau” means “please,” for instance).
Honestly, what I found is that when in Barcelona, just wander around. There are literally surprises around every corner: artwork, architecture, monuments, sculptures, parks, gardens, statutues, and culture. While wandering, I got lost a couple times trying to find my apartment. So next time, I will bring a map.
My favorite location so far is the Barri Gótic. It´s as if the creators of this part of the city wanted to cram as much cool stuff into one location as possible. The streets are made of cobblestone and they wind through the city in no particular pattern. The newer part of Barcelona (L´Eixample) is more grid-like, but the old town is a maze. In the old town you are guaranteed to find street performers all around and maybe even a protest by the government buildings.
I am interning at a company called Habitat Apartments located in the posh business district L´Eixample. We offer short-term and long-term apartments for vacationers and travelers abroad in Madrid, Rome, Marbella, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and soon to be in Paris, Berlin, London, and more. Our apartments are hand-selected, centrally located in cultural cities, safe, high-quality, and come with many amenities. Upon first meeting everyone in the office, we did the “dos besos” or kiss on each cheek. My Spanish isn´t that great so they speak to me in English. They call me the Customer Service Intern, but I do the same day-to-day tasks that they do, like answering emails and assisting customers via the web. In addition, I have written English blogs for various websites, posted ads, and updated our website. Most of my time, however, has involved financial research because I am an Accounting major. The company wanted to incorporate my knowledge into their business.
Now, I´m sure you´ve heard about the famous Spanish siesta, which is taken from 2 to 4 p.m. Most shops close so people can gather socially for lunch, the largest meal of the day (generally an inexpensive, delicious 3-course lunch with wine or beer, fresh bread, and dessert. ¡Que rico!). So, la siesta isn´t actually a national nap time. Unfortunately, it´s not practical for a global company such as Habitat Apartments to take a full siesta, so we get a standard hour break. However, the Spanish are very flexible and relaxed, especially in regards to punctuality.
The main difference I´ve noticed between business in the U.S. and Spain is that the Spanish work to live, where as many Americans live to work. What I mean is, Americans tend to use work as a means to achieve success and esteem, etc. Whereas in Spain, many people are working simply for money so they can live and be social, not so much for power. The government and economy of Spain are currently in turmoil. But in our office, people still love to laugh and have a good time.
The desired outcome of an internship is either a job offer, a broader network, cultural intelligence, and/or other general business skills realted to your field. Essentially, you want to put it on your resume and discuss it in any future interviews. If I were interviewing for a position in the U.S., the skills I would say this internship helped me gain include: personal independence, confidence when working on projects with vague guidelines, intercultural sensitivity, Spanish language skills, networking across cultures, critical thinking in regard to business functions, interpersonal and communication skills in Spanish, English, and other languages, and the most important skills I learned were adaptability and flexability in the workplace and in my personal life. This was the experience of a lifetime for me: so much more than a summer job or a trip to Spain. I learned more here than I would have in a classroom or on a vacation, not only about foreign business and foreign culture, but about myself, too.
Monday, June 20th, 2011
Anaerobic Digester Venture in Nicaragua
With the conclusion of the anaerobic biogas venture in Nicaragua we have successfully conducted a market assessment, validation of our technology, collected some very valuable data, created relationships, and a promising product for Nicaragua. Nicaragua is a beautiful country with enormous lakes and volcanoes, friendly people, and a rich culture. From this venture I have learned, experienced, and understood more of the impacts a social venture has on a region of small country. From my venture, the three key learning experiences that have noticeably impacted my professional development have been: leading the market assessment and market validation project, managing international teams, and gaining a greater global understanding of entrepreneurship.
Being the only business student amongst a large team of mechanical, civil, biological, and agricultural engineers I took the responsibility in handling the business development side of the biogas venture. From our current situation, a market assessment and validation were needed to truly make sure there existed a market for this technology and to validate or define who our market really was. Prior to arriving onsite I communicated with our UNICA team (Catholic University of Nicaragua) to gain some preliminary understanding of demand, needs, and locations that we could serve. However this was an idea of what the market could be, and therefore we need to complete this market assessment and validation to have a basis and understanding of the true market, and not just that of the hypothetical one. This process included many responsibilities such as creating the actual market assessment plan, creating the surveys that would be conducted on site, IRB (International Review Board) training, IRB paperwork in order to have the legal rights to conduct this survey, training of both PSU and UNICA teams, leading the onsite surveying process, data compilation, data analysis, and finally presenting results to UNICA faculty, staff, and students. This aspect of the project was crucial for the project, design team, and the overall success of our venture. From a developmental standpoint, I have greatly improved my project management and leadership skills. Project management includes many skills such as meeting deadlines, contacting the right people at the right time, and creating documents prior to and during our arrival to guarantee the success of this market assessment. I must say the preparation and project anticipation are some of the most crucial for such a project because there were times where we had no internet access to reach references and to have materials already created such as the market assessment plan, training packets, and other such information already printed and available for the team made our surveying process smoother and successful. I know that skills such as these will be important in the professional world especially when many companies like to have team managed projects. However the onsite venture may be over, but the project is still in progress where I am now conducting and organizing the publication aspect of our market results and data.
We spent over three days surveying with temperatures over 90 degrees and with high humidity. There were five teams of three and we were able to survey over 93 households providing us with some very valuable data and information. As the team member in charge of the market assessment I practiced my leadership skills to be able to conduct these surveys in an efficient, ethical, and complete manner. This venture provided me with new aspect of leadership- international leadership. I have never been placed in a situation where I had to manage a project with team members that spoke two different languages and came from different backgrounds culturally. Fortunately for the PSU team, I had three members (including myself) who are familiar with Latino culture and spoke fluent Spanish. Prior to leading the surveying effort, we met with the UNICA team on an informal basis to create relationships and to become familiar with each other. This was important because from PSU standpoint we were assimilated to the Nicaraguan version of Spanish as well as share our versions with them. This greatly created a team culture amongst both teams and helped me be able to create small, compatible survey teams for the field. During the surveying effort it was important to abide by the host countries daily schedules such as creating time for siestas, avoid surveying on weekends because that was time for family, and during our visit we had to postpone a survey day because of the Spanish mother day. Overall all I learned a lot about leadership from an international perspective and plan to keep working on this professional skill during the creation of our publication and future contact with UNICA for technology results and business planning.
Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere behind Haiti. From visiting the households of farmers, caretakers, teachers, store owners, and of other occupations it is evident that given their economic status that the people of Nicaragua are very hard working, humble, and intelligent people that make the most of their situation to provide for their families. Evidence of innovation such as creating crafts to sell made from sugar cane to creating a special machine to repair tires for the common motorcycles are some examples of the entrepreneurial spirit I witnessed. Our venture is more than just testing our biodigester, completing a market assessment, but to provide an opportunity for a sustainable business for the people in Tisma. I have had some entrepreneurial experience from owning a small business and through the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program I wanted to improve this skill, especially in an international setting. During our venture I gained a greater awareness of the perspective and understanding of entrepreneurship because besides leading the market assessment I have to keep observations on possible business plans, models, and strategies that could successfully be implemented in Nicaragua. I spoke with many potential business owners within the co-operative, university, and individuals to gage effective and sustainable business ideas. Currently with the market data that we have collected and with the relationships that we have created, come a variety of opportunities for a business to arise either from being owned and operated privately from an individual standpoint, co-operative effort, or even a UNICA oriented business model that include the partnership of the Tisma co-operative. Prior to our arrival I had detailed a few options of what an appropriate, sustainable business would look like and with our visit I have greatly increased an understanding of a supply chain for materials, financing through co-operative banks or microfinance institutions, and marketing approach and strength (learned from the data collected). With the work of our publication we will be detailing more businesses opportunities through the HESE created e-spot canvas (a unique, entrepreneurial business model creator). I am now more aware of entrepreneurship from an international perspective and plan to improve my understanding and use of this skill with our ongoing relationship with Tisma, UNICA, and the through the creation process of our publication.
This venture was an opportunity of a lifetime to really put my academic degree to work, improve and develop my professional skills, and help those at the “bottom of the pyramid” or those who are marginalized. Through this venture I have improved my project management skills by leading the market assessment and validation aspect, developed international leadership experience, and increased my knowledge and exposure with entrepreneurship from an international level. With the market data collected, the relationships created, technology tested, our work does not end but continues to evolve and prepare for the next steps ahead for a sustainable business and technology for the people of Nicaragua.
Antonio Bryant worked with a team from Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship focused in Nicaragua. See his initial post here.
Thursday, June 9th, 2011
Dan Connell, a recent 2011 Smeal Graduate of Finance, traveled with Ed Babcock an Accounting Instructor this summer in an endeavor to help homeless Children in Nyeri, Kenya. Dan is now currently working at Johnson & Johnson in their Finance Leadership Development Program, but chose to give his time before he started work to use his business skills to help those in need. Dan was a receipient of Smeal’s Community Development and Engagement Program sponsored by Target. Here is a summary of his experience:
The past few weeks I have been over in Kenya, Africa. I was working with an initiative called Children and Youth Empowerment Center in Nyeri, Kenya. “The Children and Youth Empowerment Centre (CYEC) is conceived as a convergence point for people of different backgrounds to share experience, debate, research, experiment and consolidate knowledge concerning the empowerment of young people. Street dwelling children and youth are the central focus of the Centre’s activities by virtue of being one of the least empowered categories of young people in society.” (http://cyec.net)
I was blessed with an opportunity to partner with several Community Environment Development (CED) majors as well as two horticulture majors. Our cross-functional team paved the way for success while over in Kenya. Our objective was to help those children to secure a better future, while creating sustainable food sources. Our ways of securing a better future for these children was to develop an exit strategy for the older youth to successfully leave the center. The issue before was that once the children were too old, they would leave, and most would end up on the streets of Kenya. Our strategy provided these children with a plan that enabled them to create their own businesses or work for the center. These businesses would be created by the children, but funded through a micro-finance loan program developed by myself and Caroline Gimmillaro (A CED major/Econ Minor). Caroline led the micro-finance program development, where I was there for business knowledge support. These businesses would be created based upon the business plan process, that of which I was the project lead. These business plans were documents that helped to get the youth thinking about all aspects in their business field that would enable them to be successful. Several of these businesses were based upon sustainable food sources, like honey, rabbit, goat, and crop production to name a few.
As my time grew to an end, I was able to look back and see our work in action. As the time passed while in Kenya, we were able to develop several key documents and processes that gained the approval of the CYEC’s governing board. With the help of our business partners (CED and horticulture majors), who teamed up with a current youth at the center, we were able to put into place key processes and documents that would help create a more sustainable CYEC. While these processes and documents are a work in progress, having the governing board on our side, while fortifying our relationships with the contacts in Nyeri solidified our ability to continue communication while back in the United States.
This time over in Kenya has been quite an experience. It has touched my heart in more ways than I could have ever imagined. My heart goes out to all those who continue to work alongside this great initative and I continue to look forward to continuing my participation in this project.
This trip has opened my eyes to the many issues facing not only our country, but all countries in the world today. I am so thankful that I have been given this opportunity to travel to help try to make a difference along with the team of highly dedicated students and faculty of Penn State. Without each one of you, this initiative would not be where it is today.
This picture shows the children during an assembly. Every morning before they send the children to the local schools, they meet and pray together.
This picture is of the Shamba, which means farm/garden in Swahili. The person in the picture is one of the Graduate students who documented the entire trip.
This picture is from where several of the students dormed at the center. The buildings surrounding the are both other living quarters and cafeteria.
We went to the Kenyan National Museum. This is a picture as we were walking towards the entrance.
This picture represents much of what we saw when driving from Nairobi to Nyeri (where the CYEC is located). Many people seemed to live in houses that were constructed with whatever materials they could get a hold of. The roofs of these homes were re-used metal found elsewhere, many of which are rusted through and have holes.
This picture is of one of the beginning businesses, the rabbit production. This is a hutch that the children at the youth built.
We were able to go to a Giraffe Sanctuary, where there were several Giraffes and Warthogs. We got really close to them!
Written by: Dan Connell
Monday, June 6th, 2011
Weekly Reflection #2- Nairobi, Kenya
The past week was a hectic week with a trip to Nairobi to cap it off. Most of my time was spent talking to towns people of Nyeri. My goal was to understand their way of living how they interact with others using their cellphone and how we could connect people. Many of the people I spoke to were mothers and part of chama groups. These groups serve the membership by helping to facilitate small loans, investments, and help to cover special events like weddings, deaths, etc.
After speaking with them I was able to understand why and how these groups operated with the individuals and the group as a whole. Each women was typically in several groups. With each group having a slightly different purpose and combined they served the person’s needs. Although the conversations were slightly unhelpful for how WiswhVast could interact with them it did help my understand of how these informal and formal groups formed.
My time in Nairobi was fantastic. I met with people from the NaiLab and iHub who were extremely helpful and set up a meeting this upcoming Thursday to meet with developers from those technology centers. With the upcoming meeting in mind I’m looking forward to how other projects and goals at the iHub can intersect with WishVast and potentially mean a fully developed partnership and the ability for WishVast to grow to it’s full potential.
View more about the team in Nairobi at:
Wednesday, June 1st, 2011
Antonio Bryant, Senior Finance Major at the Smeal College of Business, sent his first reflection on his trip with the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship team working in Nicaragua. The Nicaragua team is partnering with the Catholic University of Nicaragua (UNICA) and working on creating a bio gas system for cooking fuel.
Dr. Thomas Colledge, PhD, PE, leads the mission to Nicaragua and sent this description out via the listserve recently:
“The goal is to design a technology which will enable the rural population of Nicaragua to minimize the cost of cooking fuel, reduce or eliminate the deforesting problem, and have the young girls not need to gather the cooking fuel and thus attend school. The technology developed must be amenable to development of a business – to allow fabrication and installation of such systems which are economically sustainable.”
Antonia comments on his first week in Nicaragua:
It has been a week so far with my project with anaerobic biodigestion in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is an amazing country, with beautiful landscape, friendly people, and very hot weather. This week we have started our product validation process and market assesment. Our product validation involved reamping our design a little with the help of our Nicaraguan team here (UNICA) and building several prototypes to try out different technologies and their effects gas production. The weather is alot hotter here than expected and think that with the help of a heating system during the night will greatly increase gas production- however this testing will begin in 2 days. The market assesment is going great and we are getting some really great respones. My team, with the the collaboration from our UNICA team are capturing some really valuable data and insight of the market demand, needs, and definition within our target location of Tisma and other regions of Nicaragua. These interviews are alot of work especially walking miles under the hot sun from one farm to the other, however it is very cool to talk to these people and understand their culture. I have been putting in long our hours of data compilations and such to really get ready to present a presentation to UNICA teams and potential investors. This is an amazing experience and thank you again for your help!
For more information see: http://www.cede.psu.edu/ed/colledge/ed/