UTPA student consultant team provides answers to a Mexico ministry's prayers
Posted: 03/19/2012
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Three young female business students at The University of Texas-Pan American recently gained valuable real life skills while providing solutions for real life needs in their community along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Members of the the Pan Am Consulting Group, who as students in a Fall 2011 business consulting class devised a plan for sustainable support for a nonprofit mission in Reynosa, Mexico, are pictured with Dr. John Sargent, UTPA business management professor, who taught the course. The team members are left to right Judith Carrizales (BA '11), Alexandra Aparicio, and Laurem Botelho.
Known as the Pan Am Consulting Group, the women - Alexandra Aparicio, Laurem Botelho, and Judith Carrizales (BA '11) - enrolled in a business consulting course at the University teamed up last semester with a local corporation to become the answer to the prayers of Ray Hansen, founder and director of Rio Bravo Ministries (RBM), a non-profit mission serving children and families in the Mexico border town of Reynosa.

RBM, a well-respected ministry regionally, provides four family-styled homes for 50-60 children who have been abandoned, abused or are impoverished as well as a Christian school for 225 students in grades K-12. It also has facilities to host sports leagues and camps. Since its founding in 1991, its primary funding support came from mission teams, Winter Texans and other visitors who also contributed their time and skills toward construction, maintenance and other services and programs RBM provides. However, recent border violence has greatly affected their mission, Hansen said.

"We normally had about 1,000 visitors per year, last year we had about 100," he said.

The students were connected to RBM through McAllen-based nanotechnology company FibeRio Technology Corp. and its CEO Ellery Buchanan, who became familiar with RBM through his own mission work in Mexico. FibeRio was formed in 2009 following the commercialization of an invention by two UTPA faculty members to mass produce nanofibers. This UTPA connection led Buchanan and Hansen to seek the help of Dr. John Sargent, a professor of management in UTPA's College of Business Administration, who teaches the business consulting course, to develop new ways to attract funding and volunteers.

"Dr. Sargent and his three unbelievably gifted students embraced the project," Buchanan said. "They were engaged and committed. Perhaps typically of really bright young people, they took this to a whole new level, thinking that this may be the way to solving the border violence problem."

The project was a challenge because University sponsored travel to Mexico during the entire semester was prohibited. Nevertheless, the students devised a consulting agreement for Hansen and Buchanan, which focused on strategies to ensure a sustainable stream of funding for RBM to continue operating and grow.

With each team member having an assigned management role, they planned the production of two videos - one for public promotion, now completed, and one for corporate promotion of the ministry, which is still underway, developed UTPA student organization involvement and helped to initiate some lasting relationships between RBM and nearby companies and maquilas in Reynosa.

Creating bubbles is a fun activity for three young girls pictured at the Rio Bravo Ministries (RBM) facility in Reynosa, Mexico. RBM, a nonprofit mission providing group homes, a school and other services in Reynosa, recently benefitted from the student consultancy work by three UTPA students to develop sustainable, long term support for RBM, which has been adversely affected by recent border violence.
The class appealed to Botelho, a junior exchange student from Brazil, because it followed an action learning model.

"It was experienced-based, not just lectures; I wanted to get consulting experience," she said.

Carrizales, who took the course before entering law school in fall 2012, agreed that the class went way beyond listening to lectures and reading a textbook.

"This project got us out of our comfort zone and had us actually apply what we learned," she said.

Carrizales said when they learned that the facility's popular school and community center is located amid numerous factories and maquilas with many of its employees sending their children there, the team aimed to promote recognition by that business community of the practical value that their RBM neighbor brought to their neighborhood and employees. She said she hopes this recognition will transform into ongoing support for RBM from those companies.

"We were hoping to tap into the social responsibility aspect of the businesses surrounding RBM," she said.

Aparicio, a senior majoring in management, said their project has already resulted in some corporate support for RBM, including a large screen TV donated by LG Electronics and a cash donation to RBM from the Reynosa Maquiladora Association. She said the team also began investigating the possibility of establishing a UTPA student internship to help RBM with grant writing.

At UTPA, members of the College Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) have officially adopted RBM as their civic engagement initiative, viewing it as a great opportunity to give back to the community and support possible future entrepreneurs and leaders - the children served by RBM. Their first project was a Christmas tree erected in the UTPA Student Union in December 2011 that enabled people to pick a Christmas wish of one of RBM's students.

Hansen said the involvement with UTPA and FibeRio has been a blessing for RBM.

"We came into this relationship with no expectations because we have never seen such cooperation between higher education, industry and missions," said Hansen. "The enthusiasm from UTPA is very special ... RBM is very blessed to be working with both UTPA and FibeRio."