Santa Clara University

President's Report 2009-2010
Markets, Inequality, and Poverty

 

 

 

Michael Erkelens ’12 came to the United States from Guatemala when he was 6. He experienced a similar cultural uprooting last year when he went on a month-long summer fellowship program to Indonesia.

Global Fellows Open a Window to the World

“I have been to many countries and seen much poverty … and Indonesia was no different,” says the 19-year-old. “But what was unique about my experience was that I got to go to a remote jungle—Halimun—where you don’t get the third-world feel … this was prehistoric.”

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Michael Erkelens ’12 is one of approximately 30 SCU students who are placed annually with not-for-profit organizations around the world. Erkelens, a marketing student, worked and studied in a rural region of Indonesia.
Erkelens, a marketing major, observed people living a simple life: families eating, working, and living together, and making the most of the frugal resources they had. “They were poor, yes, but they were some of the happiest people I have met,” he says.

Erkelens went to Indonesia as a Global Fellow through a program sponsored by the Leavey School of Business and supported by the Global Women’s Leadership Network (GWLN).

Launched in 2004, the GWLN supports various programs that help women become leaders in their communities. “The Global Fellows program places students with not-for-profit organizations, many of which are run by graduates of the GWLN,” says Linda Alepin, founder of the GWLN and dean’s executive professor for entrepreneurship. “The Global Fellows get to participate in a community-based learning approach with a strong social justice focus and learn what it’s like to make a real difference in underserved communities.”

Erkelens is one such student. He worked closely with Ami Aslepias, a graduate of the GWLN, helping her organization with the marketing of a hydro project that supplies power to the most rural areas in Indonesia.

“I interviewed the locals, asking them about the impact of the proposed hydro project, and created a marketing campaign,” recalls Erkelens, who benefited from the hands-on experience. “I got to use all the skills from my marketing classes, and the people skills I acquired came in handy when I became a residential learning community facilitator at Santa Clara.”halimun-ricepadiesBW

Even though the Global Fellows Program is sponsored by a women’s leadership network, 25 percent of the student applicants are males. “We’ve realized both men and women need to partner on these projects,” says Alepin. “Our students get great exposure and learn a lot about women’s rights by immersing themselves in these organizations.”

For Erkelens, it was a trip that validated everything he has been learning at Santa Clara. “We are constantly talking about competence, conscience, and compassion at SCU, and this fellowship complements the University’s mission perfectly,” he says. “I was able to live out my education in a remote jungle. I learned how to observe, listen, and share and truly become a global citizen.”

 

In Pursuit of Happiness - An Economist's Perspecive

Since the summer of 2007, Economics Assistant Professor John Ifcher has been running statistical analyses measuring the happiness of single mothers.

Ifcher was intrigued that many researchers had evaluated social welfare programs in terms of economic indicators but no one had investigated their impact on subjective well-being.

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Assistant Professor of Economics John Ifcher shares his research on happiness and money with students in his Economics of Poverty and Income Inequality class.
“Single mothers are a poor, disadvantaged group, on average, with less access to opportunities than other groups—e.g., married mothers or single women without kids. On top of that they have the challenge of running a household solo, are stressed about raising a kid by themselves, and might even be weighed down by social stigma,” he says. “To only study them based on economic indicators is missing a large part of the story.”

Supported by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Ifcher’s research closely interplays with his course, The Economics of Poverty and Income Inequality, where he and his students examine various facets of income disparity. The class begins, though, by understanding the definition of inequality.

“We discuss whether income inequality is a good or bad thing. How much should the government do about it? And there’s a huge divergence of opinion on what equality is,” he says of his class. “Is equality everyone gets the same? Is equality everyone gets based on what they need? Is equality everyone gets based on what they give, i.e., their productivity? There are a lot of different ways to define it … and a lot of students feel that it’s fair that those who don’t give a lot, don’t get a lot.”

Ifcher stresses his teaching style is not to tell students what’s right and wrong, but to provide them with the tools to make that distinction.

“I think the core value of economics is critical thinking, critical writing, and a tool chest for analyzing things,” he says. “I’m trying to teach them how to have thoughtful and informed conversations. They draw on real knowledge of facts, and they use economic theory to analyze situations and finally synthesize arguments.”

The kind of interactivity and questioning that Ifcher brings to his class is informed by his research.

“There’s a definite synergy,” he says. “In talking about income and inequality in my class, I discuss that one of the problems with measures of inequality is that they only include earned income, so we start having discussions on how else inequality can be measured … and subjective well-being, or happiness, is a valid alternative measure to explore.”

His students walk out of the class knowing that economics isn’t just about understanding micro and macro theories—it’s about realizing the all-encompassing and real impact of economic policies on lives everywhere.

 
Power to the People
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Entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, and community organizations examined innovations in technology, business models, and public policy required to deliver cost-effective renewable energy solutions to underserved populations.

Entrepreneurs, investors, and energy experts came to the Mission campus in April last year to discuss efforts and obstacles in bringing renewable energy to underserved consumers worldwide.

The conference, aptly called “Power to the People: Renewable Energy for Underserved Communities,” was organized by Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS).

A 2010 United Nations study revealed that 1.6 billion people—one quarter of our world population—do not have access to electricity.

Despite the facts, though, Radha Basu, then-co-managing director of CSTS, is optimistic.

“We have inaugurated a three-year Clean Energy Sector Program at Santa Clara that combines this institution’s leadership in engineering and social enterprise with the school’s Jesuit values in pursuit of clean energy for the developing world,” says Basu. “While we can’t compete with the R&D capabilities of major research universities, we can capitalize on social enterprise, acting as a bridge between Silicon Valley innovation and solutions being developed around the world.”