Counting Down to Matelot: An Introduction.

Hello everyone! My name is Niamh Dawson and in just over a month I will be traveling to Matelot, a small rural town in the sistering islands of Trinidad and Tobago with my Global Service Learning class. This experience was introduced to me through the Certificate of Leadership and Ethics, a three-year program that focuses on adapting leadership skills, navigating through ethical dilemmas, and accountability in real-world business experiences.

With a name like Niamh (Knee-of) you can probably guess that my origins are not from the northeastern United States. I was actually born in Ireland, where the name Niamh is as common as the name Emily in the United States. I lived in Ireland until I was nine when my Dad received a job as a Supply Chain Director in the small town of Florham Park, NJ. With promises to only stay in the United States for eighteen months, I never saw my life leading me to be an undergraduate business student at the University of Pittsburgh; however, just twelve months into our stay abroad, my Dad received a permanent job offer in the town of Royersford, PA where my family currently resides.

I attended all four years of high school in Royersford at Spring-Ford Area Senior High School. Spring-Ford was mostly recognized for sports, but my passion was in performing arts. For three years, I was the high school’s stage manager for musicals that could see crowds of up to thousand people every night. There was something about the uncertainty of arranging set changes and directing of people backstage that gave me a love for leadership and management. Throughout high school, I also worked as a junior manager (coordinator) for a grocery store called Wegmans. I have worked at Wegmans since I was fifteen, and the room they have for personal growth within the company has developed me into the person I am today. Working as a manager at a young age has taught me a great deal in personal communication skills essential for great customer service, being a dependable leader, and the importance of problem-solving skills.

With four years of high school completed it was time to choose a college. The University of Pittsburgh always remained in my top list of universities; however, my older brother attended Pitt for Computer Science which conflicted with my desire to have an independent college experience. I despised the idea of following my brother to college, but ultimately my love for Pitt won out. I could not see myself studying business in any other city as Pitt had the perfect balance of a campus feel and the opportunities that come with living in the city.

I am now a sophomore Supply Chain Management major with minors in Spanish and Economics. Following in my Dad footsteps, I chose to major in supply chain management due to my detailed and organized personality. Additionally, supply chain management involves aspects of math, problem-solving, and analytics, all areas I tend to excel in. Adding minors in economics and Spanish for my interest in learning about other cultures and their economies; my ultimate goal is to combine all aspects of my education by one day managing global supply chains for an international company. Accordingly,  the experience I hope to receive in the global service learning class directly aligns with these goals and plans for the future.

Within the community of Matelot, Trinidad myself and seven other Pitt Business CPLE students will be collaborating with individuals within a group called the DORCAS Women’s group. The DORCAS Women’s group is a community group with the goal of enhancing the lives of individuals in Matelot and building capacity within their community. Their plan to achieve this goal is directly reflected in their mission statement, “Teach, Turn, Travel.” They want to “teach” individuals about the community of Matelot and in return they hope to introduce change to the community or “turn” the community around. Lastly, they want to “travel” to places outside of Matelot to gain knowledge, develop professional partnerships, and experience other successful businesses. These three objectives align with the DORCAS Women’s group’s goals of fostering development to ultimately improve the lives of individuals within Matelot.

Our team of Pitt Business Student Consultants will work with an organization called Amizade (an organization that focuses on making connections between communities through service learning)  to progress towards the goal of effectively developing a sustainable market for ecotourism. As a group, our goals during this phase are to define culturally relevant tools for the DORCAS Women’s group to utilize in future customer service and professional interactions.  Our other goal is to help the group define opportunities for the future by comparing their organization with other successful ecotourism sites in Trinidad. Through collaborative learning, our team and the DORCAS Women’s group will achieve this goal by completing site visits to companies such as KPMG and Nature Seekers.

Service learning is a method of teaching that connects education with concrete experience, allowing students to engage in real-world experience while contributing to both individual improvement and community development. My reasons for taking a Global Service Learning class includes the unique experience that comes with working directly in the country. Not only do I have the opportunity to gain real-world business experience in consulting but we gain a personal connection with the community we are working to improve. Personally, I hope to gain an appreciation for a new culture, one that I would have most likely missed out on without this service learning opportunity. Another reason why I decided to take this class is to challenge myself. As a sophomore student in the College of Business Administration, many of us have little to no experience consulting; therefore, this is an opportunity to study the world of consulting by learning and directly applying our skills in real time.  Academically, I am aiming to acquire experience in working with cross-functional teams. Cross-functional teams are consistently utilized throughout the business school due to their use throughout the professional business world. Each person in a cross-functional team contributes their own expertise to a project. Our team of eight will have the opportunity to listen and learn from each other while carrying out well researched and developed deliverables. Professionally, I hope to gain transferable skills, any expertise obtained from the service learning experience that I can employ in future careers or projects. Transferable skills combine knowledge and experience to create a sense of self-efficacy, an individual’s belief in their ability to achieve their goals. Building the capacity for self-efficacy will aid in my professional development as I discover how to take tasks head-on, learn from my mistakes, and gain confidence in my personal abilities.

Our trip to Trinidad is only a month away and I am looking forward to encountering the hands-on experience that comes with a global service learning class.