By Lillay Gebru, Miller Center Marketing and Communications Intern
On November 15, Miller Center hosted a night in celebration of the 16 dedicated Santa Clara undergraduates who collaborated with seven of Miller Center’s international social enterprise partners as part of the 2023 Miller Center Lewis Family Fellowship. These Miller Center fellows had the privilege of learning from organizations dedicated to helping communities thrive in Rwanda, the Philippines, India, Zambia, New York, and Baltimore and sharing their experiences with a crowd of over 100 Santa Clara University (SCU) community members. Unflagging in our efforts to strengthen and support social enterprises around the world, Miller Center developed the fellowship to give students international academic experiences and a chance to help catalyze meaningful change in partnership with people working to promote economic success and climate resilience worldwide.
The program has a strong emphasis on the action research approach, fostering undergraduate involvement in scaling social enterprises in emerging markets. Through the diligent conduction of interviews, surveys, and need-based assessments, our students contributed to the missions of these social enterprises over 9 months, including 4 weeks working onsite with the entrepreneurs over the summer. On this special night, each of our fellows proudly presented their data and shared personal anecdotes, offering eager ears — family, friends, and faculty — a glimpse into their transformative experiences abroad.
This year’s students came from diverse majors, ranging from Communications and Sociology to Economics and Computer Science. In preparation for this fellowship, selected students take a class in the spring of their junior year with Miller Center’s Senior Director of Academics Jen Merritt Faria and Sociology professor Laura Robinson that focuses on developing their research projects, learning about social entrepreneurship, understanding cultural humility, and detailing travel logistics. A second class in the fall of their senior year provides an opportunity to reflect on their summer travel, finish their research deliverables, and engage in vocational discernment.
To develop a research proposal for their social enterprise partner, each student is paired with an action research partner, often with a very different major of study, who is with them from start to finish on this amazing journey. This year, students collaborated with Good Nature Agro, SuitUp, All Across Africa, Kisangas, LIKHA, Jibu, and Innovation Works — all social enterprises with the goal of eradicating poverty and improving livelihoods. Aligned with Santa Clara’s vision of building a more humane, just, and sustainable world, as well as Miller Center’s objective of accelerating social enterprises to scale their impact and improve their investment readiness, the fellowship effectively encourages students to seize global opportunities that have proven to be rewarding and enriching in more ways than one. “One of the great things about this fellowship is that our fellows themselves represent a wide diversity of backgrounds,” says Jen Merritt Faria, profoundly reflecting on the role she played in the fellowship’s inclusive nature. “I’m so honored to see how our fellows have worked together to spark positive change with deep passion, sensitivity, humility, and a profound sense of commitment to the common good.”.
This evening held a unique significance, marking the first fellowship experience where the entire cohort traveled since the pandemic. Fellows traveled across the country to New York and Baltimore or across the globe to Asia and Africa, each venturing far from their homes. All 16 students embarked on a mission to assist these enterprises by conducting research grounded in human-centered design and developing reports on topics such as environmental impacts, sustainable practices, customer satisfaction, and competitive advantages. The interviews and data collection needed to offer reflective feedback for Miller Center’s social enterprise partners came with a set of challenges, including language barriers and socio-economic differences. With the help of translators, coupled with the guidance and preparation from Jen, Laura, a team of faculty and staff mentors with targeted academic and practical expertise, and Miller Center’s Senior Manager of Campus Engagement Linda Gentry, our students adeptly navigated and adapted to the cultural shocks they experienced and were able to make meaningful change. Linda shares, “I was genuinely impressed by the fellow’s resilience and ability to face challenges head-on in times of uncertainty and pivot to adapt in the face of obstacles.”
Owen Polk and Karina Tsou traveled to Rwanda to work with All Across Africa, an organization that supports women in supplementing their income and breaking free from generational poverty through weaving. Owen Polk, reflecting on his experience, states, “Once women start weaving and gain supplementary income, they become pillars of support in their community.”
“While we often learn in our classes how people at a local and national level are making a difference in the world, I’d never experienced it first-hand until I went to Baltimore, Maryland for the summer,” says Chelsea Ebisuya, who worked with Lady Elizabeth Roy. “Partnering with Innovation Works taught me there are so many different people with a wide variety of passions and interests who are all coming together at a grassroots level to help their communities thrive. Innovation Works predominantly focuses on helping BIPOC and/or women-led small businesses because of Baltimore’s historic racial wealth divide. Immersing myself in these underrepresented communities as a BIPOC woman myself was extremely inspiring, and ultimately solidified who I want to work with in the future”.
Miller Center takes great pride in nurturing the spirit of innovation and encouraging the growth mindset embodied in Santa Clara University students. We are extremely grateful to be a part of the significant impact arising from the dedicated efforts of our social enterprise partners abroad. We eagerly anticipate continuing this fellowship in perpetuity, thanks to the generosity of the Lewis Family and other Miller Center donors, and aspire to contribute to positive change by fostering meaningful connections that animate the SCU vision and contribute to positive change.
“The diligent research conducted by these fellows has propelled the advancement of human-centered solutions, making Santa Clara University a more globally engaged and esteemed Jesuit institution. Our commitment lies not in the pursuit of recognition, but rather the pursuit of long-lasting impact.” —Julie Sullivan, President, Santa Clara University
If you are a student in any major of study interested in the Miller Center Lewis Family Fellowship or a faculty member interested in becoming a Miller Center Scholar, please contact Linda Gentry, Senior Manager of Campus Engagement. If you are a student interested in applying for a Miller Center Paid Internship, please contact Anthony Sampson, Campus Engagement & Operations Manager, for more information.
- 2023 Miller Center Lewis Family Fellows
- Fellow Karina Tsou learns to weave from All Across Africa artisans
- Owen Polk and Karina Tsou present their project, along with each of the other fellowship teams
- Fellows Lady Elizabeth Roy and Chelsea Ebisuya with their project banner
- SCU President Julie Sullivan congratulates the fellows