Friday, October 21, 2016

Local Clark University student expands learning in Columbia - By Elizabeth Richards

In early June 2016, Sydney Tanguay took advantage of an educational opportunity that allowed her to visit another country, feed her love of gardening, and expand her views on entrepreneurial start-ups. The 21-year old senior at Clark University applied for funding through the University’s Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP) program, and was awarded $2,000 towards the 10 day trip.

Tanguay, a Windham native and 2013 Windham High School graduate, is in an accelerated master’s program, working towards an MBA with a concentration in sustainability. Tanguay saw the trip advertised by her professor, John Dobson, who accompanied her and three other students to Bogotá, Colombia. Tanguay said she applied because she had never been out of the country. 

“Declaring my MBA this semester I was looking forward to experiencing cultural differences and a new view on entrepreneurial start-ups,” she said. The research project in urban agriculture also coincided with the love of gardening Tanguay developed as a young girl working in the family gardens with her mother. 

The students worked with Fundación Mujeres Empresarias Marie Poussepin, a nonprofit organization that works to train women head of households as entrepreneurs in urban agriculture and ecological art. 
The organization helps women establish backyard gardens where they can grow organic produce. The students from Clark also collaborated with students from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Bogotá.

Tanguay said some highlights of the trip included experiencing Columbian hospitality and seeing the passion the women had for improving their lives with known skills, community needs, and their love of gardening. “The food was absolutely to die for and the women never let us go hungry!” she added.
On their first day in Bogotá, the students took an eco-tour through the mountains to get a feel for how rich the volcanic soil was. Tanguay described the outing as “just like mudding in Maine, but the scenery was entirely different and just as beautiful!” the days that followed, the students toured gardens at the home of the women entrepreneurs, met with students from Javeriana, performed a market analysis, and formulated methods designed by their professor to help improve the women’s businesses by creating new markets and increasing profitability. Additionally, the students reconstructed a garden for one of the women, Señora Olmeira. “Today the garden is flourishing with wonderful fruits, vegetables, and flowers for both ornamental and medicinal usage,” said Tanguay. 

The Clark University students rounded out their trip by visiting Cartegna for two days, enjoying the beach and another aspect of Colombia’s culture, Tanguay said. 

Tanguay said the only challenge she experienced was a language barrier. She grew up learning French, but had no experience with Spanish. “I strived to be able to talk to everyone face to face rather than through other students who would translate for me,” Tanguay said. “Everyone was very patient with me and I greatly appreciated their acceptance of my lack of knowledge. I just wish I could have connected more with the women in that way.”

Tanguay said her role on the trip was “to learn and observe multicultural business development and
[act] as an advisor to their organization to expand their passions and establishment towards greater profitability.” She was pleased with the collaboration between all parties, and said, “I hope to visit within the next two years to continue work with them and the professor to gain more knowledge of urban agriculture and share advancements in my personal and professional life. I've come to make great friends and possible global business connections because of this opportunity and I am grateful for such an exciting adventure.”

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