Seventeen students from Fordham’s Graduate School of Business Administration (GBA) ventured far from their classroom this past March to learn about sustainability.

More than 2,000 miles, in fact.

The students and three faculty members spent a week in Puebla, Mexico, as part of a new course to increase awareness and promote action toward socially and environmentally responsible business practices.

Patricia de la Palma blesses MBA student Elena Tkachev during a Last Reflection and Ending Ceremony. Photo by David De Armas

The trip was the a result of a challenge made last fall by James A.F. Stoner, Ph.D., professor of management systems, to students in his GBA seminar “Making Global Sustainability Happen.” Stoner asked the class to develop an immersion course around the theme of sustainability.

Paul Francis, a GBA student and director of Fordham’s Global Outreach Program, came up with the idea of traveling to Mexico. He and other students, such as Heena Virani, Stoner’s graduate assistant, put together the trip and the curriculum.

That meant studying books and films to prepare themselves for the experience, as well as arranging the logistics of the trip, from visas and airfare to lodging and immunizations.

Stoner said that all of his seminars feature a team-building exercise; this one just happened to lead students to places like the Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla. He’s eager to replicate it next March.

“If we have that level of student talent over and over again, then it suggests we need to get out of the way of the students as they create their own learning experiences,” he said. “These are grad students; they’re smart people.”

A favorite part of the course was how the students watched documentaries, such as Flow, which is about water shortages, and then visited Puebla, where two showers a week are the norm.

While people are waiting for the shower to warm up, they catch water comes out in the meantime and use it to water plants and wash dishes. They wet themselves when the water is hot and then turn the faucet off again. They soap themselves and then turn the water back on to rinse off.

Sharon Livesey, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and media management, noted that although hey had the opportunity to travel to several countries, Mexico made the most sense because its economy is most directly affected by the United States. In fact, she said, Puebla has a direct link to New York City.

“Since I’ve been back, in every restaurant I’ve gone to, there have been at least one, and often four or five people, from Puebla. The people who pour your water? They’re from Puebla,” she said. “So there’s a big nexus between Puebla, Mexico, and New York City, which is something that we didn’t expect to uncover.”

Livesey said the course was a successful example of how to subvert the traditional pattern of a teacher producing the curriculum and texts for a course.

“The ball was thrown back to the students, and we said to them, ‘What do you think is relevant to learn? Go out and start learning, because the Web is a great resource, and then make some decisions, because this is a very complex topic,’” she said. “We believe it will be more meaningful to you if it’s something that you actively participate in.”

David DeArmas, FCLC’87, who is working toward an MBA with a concentration in finance and management, and who was the group’s unofficial photographer, said he was inspired by conversations with people directly affected by maquiladoras, the predominantly U.S.-owned factories on country’s northern border.

“An activist told us about water that escapes from a blue jeans factory that is high in chlorine, so the prevalence of disease has gone up since it opened,” he said. “This would never happen here, but it happens there because the Mexican government is complicit.”

DeArmas said meeting native people and seeing how they live under tough circumstances gave him a better appreciation for economic systems that are different from American-style capitalism.

“Looking at things there, where it’s based more on community and economic sufficiency, it’s not capitalistic, but it opened my eyes to other systems that work and why they can work,” he said.


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.