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Assistant professor of business administration Michael Oyster ’77 has earned a strong reputation on campus as a former CEO with a wealth of knowledge about the business industry. His continuous attention to experiential learning opportunities for OC business students helped Professor Oyster and the Global Center for Entrepreneurs and Leaders form the idea for a special global business class that went beyond the walls of a classroom.

Over winter break, Professor Oyster led a group of 15 students to Antigua for the course, Global Marketing Perspectives, now in its fourth year. The course takes a deeper look at business leadership and entrepreneurship on a worldwide scale, visiting local businesses, meeting with business owners from Antigua and other countries, meeting government leaders, and even getting to know fellow Antiguan business students. Olivet College students are often called global citizens, tasked to accept responsibility for themselves and others in an increasingly diverse society – and what better way to do that than experience a new culture, traditions and way of life firsthand?

“I’ve never traveled internationally or flown before,” said junior Kelsey Knight. “Most large companies have locations all over the world, so it’s important for me as a business major to understand what it’s like to operate in different countries. I’m really looking forward to expanding my network and learning about international trade.”

Pit Stop in New York

The class didn’t hesitate diving into new experiences. During a layover in New York, the class had the opportunity to dine with corporate finance guru and entrepreneur Jeffrey Devers at the Harvard Club of New York City. Jeffrey is the founder and managing partner of F.H. Leghorn, a financial advisory company, and has decades of experience founding companies – and a master’s degree from Harvard Business School. He spoke to students about his personal experiences with entrepreneurship, what it takes to start a business and even about life as a New Yorker.

Experiencing Antigua

Once making it to the island, students continued to dive into the course, taking a look into the industries of Antigua, especially international tourism – a field critical to the economy of the area. Olivet College has earned a strong reputation during the three times previously when students visited the island, and the class was even invited to meet with Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda. Eager to share his vision and hear direct feedback from future leaders, Prime Minister Browne discussed the progress underway by his administration, leading Antigua to surpass other countries in the Eastern Caribbean region. He also shared his desire for improved higher education opportunities for Antiguans and opportunities to work with Olivet College into the future. “His examples of entrepreneurialism focused on social benefit are unique and compelling,” stated Kenny Logan ’17, a recent December graduate.

Also impressed by OC students in past years, Ian Heath of Vancouver, British Columbia flew in just to meet with this year’s group. Ian is a former CEO, global marketing executive and entrepreneur who stresses that hard work, a strong passion for your work and a unique edge are the keys to help students achieve their highest goals. Echoing Ian’s message, Dennis Thomas, one of the most successful restaraunteers in Antigua shared his journey of hard work and passion for his business. Students were challenged to follow his lead by working from the ground up to turn their dreams into a significant legacy. Also, Senator Michael Freeland gave an inspirational keynote speech in an event organized to connect OC and Antigua State College students, bringing together students of vastly different cultures, yet with much in common.

Word spreads fast on an island, and an Antigua television station reached out to have two students and Professor Oyster featured in a segment similar to NBC’s “Today Show.” Arriving at the station before 7 a.m., junior Chase Cook, Alexis Hyatt ’17 and Professor Oyster had the chance to share the values of Olivet College, their fantastic perceptions of Antigua, and gratitude for the opportunity to Be More and Do Good while on the island.

In addition, students were able to enjoy the warm weather and the natural landscape. Antigua is known for pristine beaches, as well as snorkeling and boating. The class had their fair share of time in the sun, even hiking Half Moon Bay and taking a catamaran tour around the island. Further, students dove into the culture by attending a church service that was a nonstop celebration of faith, but the class agrees, hosting a holiday party with Antiguan children was their favorite and most rewarding event.

Doing Good

“We put together a toy drive and gathered donations for poverty stricken kids in Antigua and Barbuda. Once there, we had a wrapping party together and headed an event partnering with leaders of the St. Johns Kiwanis organization,” explained Alexis Hyatt ’17, also a recent December graduate. “We played Christmas games with the kids, and interacting with them and seeing how wonderful they are was awesome. Watching their faces light up opening their gifts though, was magical. The children were outwardly grateful when they were provided with dinner and refreshments. Humbled, I even saw one little girl give most of her food away to other family members so they would have more. I love doing service and helping others, and you could just tell that the party meant a lot to the kids and their families.”

While the course didn’t require students to perform service, the group couldn’t ignore the opportunity to do good. Antigua and nearby Barbuda were heavily affected by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, leaving hundreds of children displaced and areas of the islands uninhabitable. Professor Oyster reached out to his connections in Antigua and organized relief efforts through the Kiwanis Club of St. John’s Antigua.

“Each group of students I take to Antigua is special,” Professor Oyster explained. “Not only are these students living and traveling with others who may be complete strangers, they are also experiencing a completely different culture. This group was exceptional. They were really all-in to help fellow students in Antigua and Barbuda. They worked with Dark Horse Brewing Company to host a fundraiser, and the brewery even made a special beer and donated profits from it to relief efforts. Over 15 other businesses from around Michigan answered Olivet students with donations. JM Wilson Insurance was a significant name sponsor, fully invested in the opportunity. I’m really proud of all the hard work these students put in to help people they’ve never even met.”

New Possibilities

Senior Jenna Benvenuti actually went on the trip for her second time in December, loving the experience so much the year before that she was willing to give up most of her winter break to do it all over again. “It’s an amazing experience,” Jenna emphasized. “One of the main reasons I wanted to return to Antigua was because of how welcoming the people are. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed and people wanted to build connections. And on top of that, the weather is amazing, it’s a great chance to bond with your classmates, and I learned to be more flexible too.”

And students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the experience, “My wife, Beth, and I are always rewarded by building these experiences for students. Our favorite part leading these trips is being part of the students’ growth. Sometimes students don’t realize their change until the very end and it just hits them. It’s really cool to watch those realization moments,” Professor Oyster said. “I also really enjoy helping them make new connections and expand their networks, and overall, opening their eyes to new possibilities and seeing them set their sights even higher. These are real student-leaders.”

Travel learning courses are built into the curriculum at OC nearly every semester – imagine studying sustainable agriculture in Costa Rica or Catholicism and the Roman Empire in Italy. Learn more about opportunities at OC by visiting campus or applying. Connect with the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu.

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