Working with Community Bank, Chicken Farm and Artisans, Students Gain New Perspectives

A young woman in a pink t-shirt talks to a young man outside while holding her phone Image by courtesy
Rising senior business major Enitsamar Gonzalez, right, speaks with a small business owner in the rural community of Membrillo during a recent service-learning trip to Panama.

By Ed Brennen

Business major Corey Perez gained a new perspective on life while visiting a chicken farm in Panama this summer.
Perez and nine other Manning School of Business students traveled to the Central American country for a weeklong service-learning trip run by Global Brigades, a nonprofit health and sustainable development organization that provides volunteer opportunities for college students.
Working in the rural village of Membrillo, the students divided into four teams and served as consultants for a community bank, a poultry farm and soapstone and handicraft artisans.
“To see that this wasn’t just their business, but also their life, was humbling,” says Perez, a rising junior finance student from Methuen, Massachusetts, who wants to pursue a consulting career and is president of the Manning Consulting Group.
a group of young people have a meeting around a table covered with papers Image by courtesy
Rising senior business majors Jason McKeon, left, and Justin Baez, center, consult with members of a community bank in Membrillo.
Teamed with business major Angel Molekunnel and computer engineering major (and business minor) Fidel Castro, Perez helped the poultry farmer come up with a name — Pollos González — and logo for his business. 
The students also recommended a new business model: Rather than raising chickens all at once and selling them in 45-day cycles, they suggested staggering production every 15 days so the farmer could more consistently meet the demand of local markets. They also recommended he sell eggs, which he had not been doing, and they taught him how to better organize his Excel spreadsheets.
“He had a really small profit margin — just $15 or $20 every 45 days,” Perez says. “It really changed my perspective on how fortunate we all are. Coming back to school, I don’t want to take my opportunities for granted.”
The Manning School sponsored the trip, covering the students’ program fees and airfare. Assoc. Dean of Undergraduate Programs Amit Deokar, an associate professor of operations and information systems, accompanied the group.
“The students got to apply what they are learning in class and get that client and consulting feel,” Deokar says. “They were learning by doing while also making an impact, which was amazing.”
A smiling man holds a mobile phone with the logo for a chicken business Image by Ed Brennen
Rising junior business major Corey Perez shows the logo he and his team created for a poultry farm in Panama.
Rising seniors Justin Baez and Jason McKeon worked with a community bank to develop a microlending program for small businesses in the area. Baez, an international business and management student from Norwood, Massachusetts, couldn’t wait to apply what he’s learned in school to a real-life bank that serves nearly 1,000 members.
“When we met with them the first day, I was so excited to say, ‘I want to see your statements!’ That’s something I’ve wanted to say my entire life,” Baez says. “I was actually looking at the primary books of a business for the first time.”
Baez and McKeon, who are president and vice president, respectively, of both the Class of 2024 and the International Business Association, also helped the bank create a contract for customers making one-year investments.
“Ten years from now, we’re going to look back and be like, ‘We actually went to Panama and created a community bank’s contract that hundreds of people have used,” says Baez, who also helped create a loan balance sheet — and added the business to Google Maps.
Two young men hold a poster board while a young woman makes a presentation outdoors Image by courtesy
Manning School of Business students make a presentation during their service learning trip to Panama.
Deokar notes that in many developing countries, people are “pretty savvy” about doing business on mobile apps like WhatsApp and Instagram. 
“Our students are knowledgeable in that aspect, as well, and seeing them bring those new, creative ideas to leverage social media was interesting,” he says.
Rising seniors Melody Veloz, Iain Gillies and Enitsamar Gonzalez and rising juniors Lorenzo Oliveira and Danny Tran also participated in the trip.
The students opened the week by leading mini-workshops at their lodge for all the business owners on marketing, customer service, accounting and inventory. The student groups then worked with their individual clients for several days before giving “capstone” presentations to the entire group back at their lodge on the final day.
Before returning home, the students visited the Panama Canal and Panama City.
“I love new experiences, but I was initially a little nervous about the trip,” says Molekunnel, a rising junior finance and management information systems student who is originally from Kuwait. “But I love helping people and seeing their happy faces, so I’m glad I did it.
“Going on a trip or studying abroad is something everyone should do at least once. It’s eye-opening and gives you a global perspective that you can use in your future.”