University of Nebraska–Lincoln students will travel to Uganda over spring break to complete a social entrepreneurship project to assist an organization known as Kinawataka Women Initiatives. J.K. Osiri, director of the international business program and associate professor of practice in management at UNL, and Bill Dick, lecturer of mechanical and materials engineering at UNL, lead the program.
Students from the College of Business Administration and the College of Engineering combined to assist KWI in streamlining its operations of turning straws into products such as bags, mats and jewelry. The engineering students designed and built a machine that flattens plastic drinking straws, and business students wrote a comprehensive business plan to further accelerate the business. The women currently flatten and clean all the straws by hand.
"I've always wanted to connect science and business," Osiri said. "It's one thing to invent something and another to have an invention become an innovation that makes an impact. When I came here, I saw the opportunity for business students to work with engineering students to assist in economic development in Uganda."
According to its website, KWI helps "marginalized women ... through environmentally conscious economic projects." The straw products provide income for the women in the program and their families. Executive director Benedicta Nanyonga founded the organization in 1998.
"I decided to get involved with this project because of the social impact and the practical business experience I would gain," said Amy Demers, a junior accounting major from Blair. "This is such a unique opportunity to put my business knowledge to use to benefit Madame Benedicta and her social enterprise."
The UNL group leaves for Uganda's capital, Kampala, on March 19 and returns March 27. Six business students will present their business plan at a conference hosted by Kyambogo University while the engineering students install their machine and train women how to use it. The group also plans to give gifts to orphans supported by the KWI program, tour Kampala, sample food and participate in a safari before returning to Nebraska.
"The opportunity to go on this trip is beyond exciting," said Marisa Halfmann, a senior accounting major from Tucson, Arizona. "So much work has gone into this project that it will be amazing to see the results at the end of the trip."
Asked about the students sacrificing their spring break, Maggie Clay, a senior mechanical and materials engineering major from Fort Collins, Colorado, said: "In every college and every major, there are the kids who want to go somewhere and party and goof off. But we're going to have such an amazing experience. We're going to be helping people make more out of their lives. I don't think any of us would take the beach over that."
Other business students joining Demers and Halfmann on the trip are Daniel Balette, a senior accounting major from Lincoln; Kyle Charrlin, a junior accounting major from Omaha; Alan Davis, a sophomore agribusiness and finance major from Elkhorn; and Sarah Huebner, a senior business administration major from Rapid City, South Dakota. The students worked alongside the engineering students starting in the fall.
"We attended several engineering meetings starting last semester so we were kept up to date with the machine designing and fabrication. We made sure to understand their perspective and made sure they are able to understand ours," Halfmann said. "We meet weekly, sometimes many times a week, to ensure we have everything ready to go. It is very fast-paced and has involved a lot of teamwork to accomplish everything on our list."
Besides Clay, other engineering students going on the trip are Zachary Boyer, a senior mechanical and materials engineering major from Clifton, Texas; Dana Fuchs, a senior mechanical and materials engineering major from Columbus; Zachary Gardner, a senior mechanical and materials engineering major from Gretna; Collin Humphrey, a senior mechanical and materials engineering major from Lincoln; Scott Schenkelberg, a junior mechanical and materials engineering major from Omaha; and Josiah Johnson, a freshman biological systems engineering major from Lincoln. Melissa Kesterson, a senior mechanical and materials engineering major from Thurman, Iowa, is part of the team but will not make the trip.