This semester, students enrolled in the social entrepreneurship class have the opportunity to provide remote mentorship to a group of business owners located in the Dominican Republic. The course, classified in the Academic Catalog as BUS 359, is taught by program coordinator for the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, Cassy Dorsch.
“Our students are meeting with a women’s community group in the Dominican Republic, and they are meeting with four different leaders of this group, and they are training them in business principles,” Dorsch said.
BUS 359 was offered for the first time last spring. However, the class was structured in a slightly different way. Instead of providing mentoring, students enrolled in the class were expected to work on a social entrepreneurship project themselves. Dorsch said that student feedback prompted her to change the way the class was taught.
“Some of the feedback that I received from that initial class was that they wanted to work on something more together or something that was already in the works and in progress before the class already started,” Dorsch said.
According to Dorsch, COVID-19 has forced her to adjust the format of the class several times.
Last spring, Dorsch had to adjust the class format in the middle of the semester after Waynesburg University transitioned to remote learning in order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Dorsch said that the pandemic once again forced her to change her plans for the class.
“Our goal for this class was initially to take the students, or some of the students on a service trip after the class ended to the Dominican Republic,” she said. “Of course, COVID switched us up again and that had to be canceled. At the time, in the summer we were brainstorming, and that’s when this idea really came to me and develop a remote pilot mentoring program.”
Dorsch said that providing mentorship remotely has presented several challenges. In her experience, the internet connection in the Dominican Republic is not as good as it is in America, which makes virtual meetings difficult. Dorsch said that the class has sent technology to the women that they are mentoring to try to alleviate some of those difficulties.
Technological issues are not the only difficulties that the class has encountered. According to Austin Deutsch, a senior business administration major and student in the class, the language barrier has been difficult to navigate as well.
“Obviously, with the difficulty of having a translator, and we’re virtual, so two in one, two of the most difficult things is a different language and you’re virtual so it is hard to communicate that way,” Deutsch said. “I’m specifically in the marketing and sales group, and we’re going to be teaching them what marketing and sales is, and we are going to be teaching them that in the most basic way possible because of that language barrier and they might not understand some of the ways that we phrase things.”
Dorsch said that the class is split into four focus groups: management, finance, marketing and sales, and product development. All four groups work towards the main focus of teaching the women the basics of business. Part of this includes teaching the leader of the community group about effective management and showing the women how to develop their products. As a member of the marketing and sales group, Deutsch said that he wants to work with the women on developing their reputation and using their backstory to market their product. Deutsch said that the next step in the mentorship process is working with the group on their potential mission statement.
“The next [meeting] that we are going to be focusing on a mission statement, what their mission statement for their business would be, we’re going to do some interactive back and forth through the translators as best we can to make that session a back and forth conversation to what they think is a good idea for a mission statement and what we think is a good idea for a mission statement,” Deutsch said.
Dorsch said that this is not the first time that she has interacted with this community group. As a student at Waynesburg University, she traveled to the Dominican Republic twice to meet with these women in person. Now that she is a professor, she hopes that she can teach her students some of the things that she learned when she visited the group.
“I was really just impacted by the community, by listening to their story, the women told me about their faith, their life, their work, their community, how much their community is focused on family and also their struggles, they do live in extreme poverty so they don’t have access to clean water, and they struggle with other basic resources,” she said. “But even though we come from different cultures, I was really able to connect with these women and I think that is the biggest thing I want our students to learn, being able to connect with someone from a different culture and being able to use their skills and serve someone through their educational experiences.”
According to Deutsch, that goal has been realized. He said Dorsch’s passion for the project is obvious, and that the class has put things into perspective for him. He said that the class has opened his eyes to the rest of the world.
“The way we live here, our life is luxury if you’re in poverty here in America, it is a luxury compared to what it is in the Dominican Republic. The world is a fragile place, and we kind of live in a bubble here in America,” Deutsch said. “Like wow we do have it good here and that people in other countries need to have those opportunities. Enrolling in these kinds of things empowers you to help other people.”
Deutsch who owns his own landscaping business and firearms brand, said that he hopes that he can pass some of his own knowledge on to the women.
“I’m a small business owner myself, and I know how it feels to be a small business owner, and the satisfaction and pride that comes with it, so whenever I see their circumstances and their opportunities, I think that I could have an effect here one way or the other, just being positive and giving positive information, he said. “What I want to get out of it is for those people to develop a successful business and generate a lot of income for themselves”
Ultimately, Dorsch said that the class does a good job of reflecting the goals of the University.
“I think that the emphasis in this class in the Faith, Service, and Learning from the University mission is really important because our training has different components, the business part is one of them, but we also have empowerment principles and teach our faith and share our faith in these sessions,” Dorsch said. ‘I think that it is something that is really at the heart of Waynesburg’s mission, and I am really excited to see what happens with this program”