Puerto Rico: More Than Just a Destination

Hello my fellow travelers!  My name is Jack Conville, a sophomore Finance and Marketing major here at the University of Pittsburgh.  In addition, I intend to complete the Certificate Program for Leadership and Ethics, a well-regarded program offered by the College of Business Administration. I am a very outgoing individual, from Cinnaminson, New Jersey, or as I like to think of it, small town USA. I am a major sports fanatic, primarily with my Philly sports teams. In addition, I love spending my free time hanging with friends, meeting new people and trying to give back to my communities in anyway way, shape, or form. Before I go into depth about my experiences this semester, I would like to step back to before college even started, hopefully to give a glimpse of how this service learning opportunity fulfills ambitions I sought in my college experience.

Service learning is a term, roughly four weeks ago, that seemed quite simple. When registering and applying for this course, I assumed it is taking valuable life skills you learn and apply them to complete a volunteer task or help a neighbor. Yet, through these first few weeks of this course, Global Service Learning, this term has evolved into an elaborate definition. This reflection, let alone this semester, cannot accurately depict the true meaning of this objective. I hope, to some extent, I can explain the value of Service Learning to myself, community, school, friends and groups that we become close within our work this semester.

            Flashback to November 2015, junior year of high school. Growing up in a small town presented me unique path to develop into the man I am today. My outgoing personality, mostly calm demeanor, selflessness and diligent work-ethic was molded in those halls of my high school. All of these redeemable qualities had set me up for success back then; however, I had my sights set on my next four-year adventure: college. The first “big decision” for many is where they are choosing to pursue a post-secondary degree. My peers had their eyes set on different destinations, majors and future dreams. Many pursued four-year programs, yet, there was something more I was still seeking something more. Soon enough, I realized that opportunity was staring right in front of me.

            Going to my first college fair in Philadelphia, I had a mixture of emotions. I was prepared with rehearsed questions, ready to talk to the biggest names and aim high. For as good as I prepared, my plan was not executed to perfection; seemingly, the only question I was able to muster was “Do you have study abroad?” To no surprise, each school said yes, and went into further detail about their programs. Unfortunately, no school, program or recruiter stood out in my memory. However, the wait for finding the right set of programs by the perfect school soon came to fruition. When I arrived at that school, one state, five and a half hours, and 314 miles from home, my future destination for the next four years was discovered.

            Arriving at the University of Pittsburgh, I was instantly amazed. The campus was beautiful, the business school gave the “making the big school small” vibe, and the programs were incredible. As I mentioned earlier, the Certificate Program for Leadership and Ethics really initiated my interest for this service learning program. This unique academic program engages in client projects, further develops my leadership capabilities, and work with a small-knit group for the remaining three years of my college experience.  After the first few weeks into last semester, our class was introduced to the spring break “Service Learning” programs. Instantly, my high school, study abroad intrigue was sparked. To increase my urge to apply for this program, I was a part of three different consulting projects thus far in my college career, working with different clients throughout the Pittsburgh area. The rest seems quite clear. Global service learning is MY opportunity that I have been seeking in my college experience.

            Puerto Rico, an island territory of the United States, has fought to be self-sustaining for decades.  Recently, with the travesty that was Hurricane Maria, this island community was left in shambles. The rebuild since the 2017 natural disaster has taken a tremendous toll on the everyday operations. One non-profit organization, Caras con Causa, has taken on this rebuild in more ways than one. Of course, they assisted in the communities that were destroyed by Maria. In addition, they have taken further strides into fulfilling the mission they live by on an everyday basis. First, their renovations within the school property they own, and turn it into an environmental wetland research laboratory. Separately, they pride themselves in being actively engaged with their community and educate the youth while combatting the social and educational injustices of these impoverished areas. This year, my group of four and three mentors will be traveling to Caras and their community in March, and will assist in developing a future business model, price analysis of different components of their daily operations, while maintaining their strong presence in their community. 

            As Puerto Rico represents a destination of a group project, in my eyes, it represents a lot more. This service learning adventure is an opportunity of a lifetime.  As studies have shown, service learning increases an undergraduate student’s GPA, degree completion, involvement in other organizations, and countless other quantifiable attributes.  However, there are two major takeaways that this class has unveiled in the last month. The first is service learning prides itself on the self-efficacy of all stakeholders involved. In simpler terms, all parties benefit. Our group will learn to delegate tasks so we can complete more as a group, as well as becoming culturally aware of our destination.  We will be satisfied by doing our best to meet the goals of Caras, as well as the goals of our group: success together, as one, and not as individuals going through the motions.  Separately, Caras is able to delegate tasks for us, so they are achieving as much as their personal goals as we are with our own. My biggest takeaway from this course how revolutionary the course is presented. With no tests or exams, there is a heavy focus on application of the newfound knowledge we learn and discuss. This proves not only we are understanding what we are learning in the course, but can directly see how it relates to the real world, unlike some of those high school classes like geometry.

At the end of the day, this service learning trip to Puerto Rico will fulfill my personal values and ambitions.  This experience will allow me to learn the value of working with groups that are different than the Americanized work culture. Primarily, service learning will encourage me to seek courses and opportunities that will test my knowledge and expertise by how I use it with groups, and other individuals, and not based on a test score or a written paper.  Global Service Learning this semester will allow me to flourish as an individual, as a teammate, as a professional, and most importantly, as a human being.