On a recent Marriott School of Management field study trip to Ghana, BYU MPA students teamed with a charity powering rural schools with merry-go-rounds to help alleviate poverty.
Empower Playgrounds, which installs playground equipment that converts kid’s energy into real energy, asked BYU MPA students to use their management skills to better place their electricity-generating merry-go-rounds, which are used to power rechargeable lanterns the children can use to study at night.
“Poverty is pervasive in Ghana, but the people are greatly concerned that their children get a chance to learn,” says Jeff Thompson, trip director and assistant professor of public management. His students visited 18 villages off the power grid and determined where five merry-go-rounds would be most effective.
“We wanted the people to take ownership and initiative,” Thompson says. “If the merry-go-round feels like it is theirs, they will be more likely to use it and the electricity it generates.”
The trip started when the students visited the village where Empower Playground’s pilot merry-go-round had been installed weeks earlier by a team of BYU engineering students. During their two weeks in Ghana, the MPA students talked to parents, teachers and students in each village to gauge how the equipment would be accepted in that area’s unique culture and politics.
“In development, there isn’t a one size fits all solution,” says Jordan Wright, a second-year MPA student from Pleasant Grove, Utah. “What works in one city may not work in another.”
Aaron Miller, a part-time faculty member who also accompanied the students, says the field study was an opportunity for students to learn how to apply their training in a real-world situation where they were the experts.
“It gives students the chance to take the skills they learn in their program, such as business presentations and quantitative and qualitative assessment, and put them to use in a very meaningful way,” he says.
Miller says the trip also made them all more aware of the complex issues surrounding world poverty.
“Our students gained a deep appreciation of the need we all have to get involved and solve these problems,” Miller explains. “We just need more smart people thinking about these problems and doing what they can to help.”
The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems and entrepreneurship. The school’s mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School’s graduate and undergraduate programs.
Writer: James Littlejohn