Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Value of Hands-On Learning

Nathan Henshaw
Nathan Henshaw
Business Council Member
Senior in Economics and International Business
Last Summer I was able to participate as an intern for the Small Enterprise Education and Development program, commonly known as the SEED program, in Ghana. Prior to leaving I never imagined I would have learned so much through personal experience. I learned several skills and lessons that have been, and will always be, valuable to me personally. However, perhaps the most important skill I was able to develop is my ability to think critically and solve problems. The autonomist nature of the program empowers the interns to take personal ownership of their experience and enables them with a real hands-on learning opportunities. Here are two simple illustrations.

Critical Thinking

One day a man came to my assigned partner and me to ask for a loan. He had some mechanical skills with cars and wanted to start repairing tires and changing oil in a neighboring village. We considered the potential risks and returns from the proposed investment and we visited his village several times to analyze the industry. We made the decision to issue a loan for his business idea. He was able to service several cars each day and paid off his loan within a few months, despite his loan being a 12-month loan. This experience helped me gain confidence that I can analyze real situations and not simply textbook problems.

Problem Solving

Part of the SEED experience is teaching classes. After class one day, I was approached by three men who had started a fish farm together. They had received a loan for approximately $600, between the three of them. This amount of money is nearly twice the average income for a single family in that area because most people live on less than one dollar per day. With some hesitation these men asked if they could speak with me about their loan payments. They explained that their fish farm dried up and they had lost everything. This was a big problem for them and their families.
Nathan Henshaw and a fellow student with some Ghana children during their time with the SEED program.
Nathan Henshaw and a fellow student with some Ghana children
 during their time with the SEED program.

After several days of considering different business ideas and consulting with our professor, we came in contact with a friend who was looking to start a business. He had an idea to have these three men start managing a snail farm for him. They were able to do this and paid off their debt rather rapidly. They also qualified for another loan to grow a pepper farm.

These types of experiences don’t occur in the classroom. However, I know I was prepared to analyze these situations because of the preparation I received from several professors and mentors. I have loved my experience at the Huntsman School of Business — the quality of teaching is exceptional. I enjoy the classroom setting and learning from fellow students and the faculty. I am grateful for hands-on learning opportunities and to be able to put into practice some of the business principles I have learned. I believe the education I received in Ghana last summer was invaluable.