Combining Economics and Service-Learning: Rollins Connects with Ten Thousand Villages

April 20, 2011

Lisa Dunaway, Micki Meyer, Jennifer Trombino-Schroeder and Anca Voicu
Photo by Laura J. Cole

Cat Ward (Class of 2011), Director of Community Engagement Micki Meyer, co-manager of Ten Thousand Villages Jennifer Trombino-Schroeder and Assistant Professor of Economics Anca Voicu model scarfs made by artisans that are for sale at the Ten Thousand Villages store.

When Assistant Professor of Economics Anca Voicu boarded a plane for Bali last summer, she knew the trip would be a memorable experience. Voicu didn’t realize, however, how much the connections she made there would impact the courses she taught back at Rollins.

Joining a group of 17 Rollins faculty, staff and emeriti, Voicu participated in the President’s Internationalization Initiative (PII), which provides faculty and staff with experiences and opportunities to enhance their teaching and international perspectives. After hours of exploring the tropical Indonesian island, the group would meet for long dinners of traditional Bali cuisine and discuss the adventures of the day. With the smell of sambal and jaja in the air, they discussed the Balinese culture, the beautiful beaches and how to bring their international experience back to Rollins.

Often, the conversation would turn to promoting Rollins’ mission of global citizenship within the classroom walls. Many departments had already incorporated international and service-learning components into their courses. While on the trip, Director of Community Engagement Micki Meyer advocated for the effectiveness of service-learning within a classroom, which influenced Voicu to re-evaluate her classroom approach.

“Micki talked passionately about service-learning,” said Voicu. “Our conversations on the topic opened my eyes and mind. I started to see how I could incorporate service-learning into my International Economics course. By the end of the trip, I was 100 percent convinced that I should.”

When the group returned to the U.S., Meyer and Voicu set to work revamping Voicu’s International Economics course with a service-learning aspect that partnered with Ten Thousand Villages.

Founded in 1946, Ten Thousand Villages is one of the world’s largest fair trade organizations. A nonprofit program with more than 390 retail outlets throughout the United States, Ten Thousand Villages sells unique handmade items, such as jewelry, home decor, art and textiles made from artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Product sales help pay for food, education, healthcare and housing for tens of thousands of artisans in 38 countries.

“The work of 10,000 Villages has educated the Central Florida community on the importance of fair trade,” said Meyer. “When consumers purchase certified fair trade crafts and items, they give back directly to the global communities that make these products. This important transaction helps that community become more financially sustainable while helping serve a need in our community for high-quality crafts, food and goods.”

As a part of the course, Voicu’s students conducted research projects on how fair trade benefits artisans in developing countries around the world. Applying their academic, social and personal skills, students researched the lives of artisans in developing countries, studied their working conditions and analyzed the role that gender plays in their status in the society.

“In our class, service-learning was applied with structured intent that linked the course content and the students’ skills with the needs of Ten Thousand Villages,” said Voicu. “This experience helped students not only gain a better and deeper understanding of the world they live in and the importance of fair trade, but also a better understanding of themselves. They grew as individuals, gained respect for others and worked as a team. Most importantly, they demonstrated their abilities while helping others.”

After conducting their research, the students shared their findings with the organization. The Ten Thousand Villages retail store in Winter Park benefited from the students’ research project by gaining a fresh perspective on how fair trade helps artisans living in developing countries around the world. They then used this information to educate patrons and the community about the important role fair trade plays in lifting disadvantaged workers out of poverty.

“The research that Dr. Voicu's students have done will better enable us to educate our customers about the positive impact fair trade is having in the developing world," said Jennifer Trombino-Schroeder, co-manager of Ten Thousand Villages. "Our job is not only to sell products made by artisan partners, but also to inform the community about how their purchase is making a difference in the lives of these artisans. The students did an exceptional job gathering data related to fair trade, as well as finding personal accounts from artisans who are benefiting from fair trade.”

“During this semester’s journey we learned a lot about fair trade and its importance for artisans and farmers in developing countries as well as its importance to the world as a whole,” said Voicu. “But most of all, this experience allowed us to enter the lives of the people in developing countries—to walk into their world and their homes. I always wondered if teachers can meet academic standards through service-learning. I can now say with confidence that they certainly can. This is an experience that I shall never forget. It inspired my teaching—my pedagogy.”

In honor of Ten Thousand Villages Winter Park's 5th Anniversary, Rollins is presenting "Fair Trade Travels: Compelling Stories from the Field with Doug Dirks" on April 21 from 7 - 9 p.m. Learn more.

By Brittany Fornof (Class of 2011)

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
For more information, contact

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