Classes @ Northrise

Part of our day at Northrise University is spent in class.  We usually go to class in the morning, learn something, then go tour a manufacturing plan in the afternoon (a panorama of a quarry for a local cement factory is seen in the picture below).  The Northrise students are taking this class as part of credit towards their BBA, so it’s been interesting viewing the world as an undergraduate might view it.  Not only that, but because our projects are Northrise- and Zambia-focused, in spite of the fact that I’m working on a degree that is on a different level, they are the clear subject matter experts.

It’s been interesting getting to know them and work with them.  So many things that I take for granted are not anywhere close to the norm here.  I was asking one of the university’s administrators how many of them have a computer with internet access at home, and he guessed 10-15%.  So it’s a completely different world here.  I have no idea what I would do if I wasn’t constantly connected via my computer or phone, especially if I was still expected to take quizzes and read books that were delivered electronically.

Last week, we were barely scratching the surface of our big projects.  Instead, it was a week for learning the basics.  This week, we are beginning that work as much as possible, and I’m working on expanding the Northrise brand.  See, Northrise University is the first private, Christian university in Zambia.  It was founded in 2004, and so it is still a very young university, but one that is well-respected (I saw one ranking that had it as the third-best university in the country).  They recently purchased a new piece of land, and will be building on it in the near future.  But what kinds of programs should they introduce?  What will best impact Zambia and Zambians for the greatest good?  And who is Northrise after ten years, and who do they want to be for the next ten years?  These are the kinds of questions I am asking, and the ones that I hope to help answer in the weeks ahead.


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Northrise University

Spending time in the guest apartment at Northrise University in Ndola, and one of the things that has most struck me is the commitment to hospitality that the people we have met have shown to us. It is always incredible when I’m in a different country to see the ways that we as Americans have areas of opportunity for growth in the hospitality area. I would have been significantly more frustrated with me, and significantly quicker if I would have been on the other side of the counter today. And this happened at different points of the day. Two different places to eat were patient as I sought to better understand the serious options. Also, the lady at the grocery store was nice as she took my Visa card and had to go through some extra steps in order to make it work.

I just started thinking of all the times I wasn’t patient when I could have. Also, all the times I thought badly about people in my country who were having a difficult time with what I thought of as fairly easy tasks.

For that, I am sorry. For that, I will work to be a better global citizen.

The best part of these lessons? Class/work doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow.

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You know, flying is fun, especially if it’s with people you know and love.  And some of the people on this trip are pretty cool.  I got to travel to Nike four weeks ago with three of the other individuals on this trip (quick recap: that trip was awesome.  Really really cool.  Focus firm was frustrating at times, but the rest of the time it was a solid project that they received well.), so I know what it’s like to travel with some people.

Or at least I thought I knew.  Then, you get on a trans-Atlantic flight with them and true colors start showing.  When people are really tired and have been cramped for the last nine hours, you really get to know them.

The people on this trip just got nicer as they got more tired.  It’s crazy.  I’m used to hating people until we’ve all had a good night’s sleep, but everyone is just as kind and generous as they usually are, if not more so.  I think part of this is because we are people on a mission: to do what we can to ensure that the Northrise entity is as sustainable as possible and can have the greatest impact.  

I’ll try to post a few more blogs as we go, but I think I’ll try to get some sleep in the Admiral’s Club here in London Heathrow that I missed out on while we were flying.

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Currently in Organizational Behavior (that’s kind of an HR class on crack steroids), we are studying motivation.  This is an apt time in the semester to be studying such things, because it is when motivation is waning the most.  I find myself dreaming of baseball, whose season starts tomorrow, and all of the productive things I could be doing for my church, whose website has never looked better.

This is the point of the semester when, as happens every semester, the days are stressful and full.  Hope is mostly gone for an easy semester, while students begin to figure out what grade they need to get on which assignments in order to get the desired final grade.  I’m not proud of it, but it happens.

This is also the point in which I look forward to bigger and better things.  Where will I be in a year?  I know that, for me, I’ll be in the same place, but seeing my classmates work through this question is almost as fun as seeing the career services people try to ensure that everyone is placed in positions that will be mutually beneficial.  For all of us, hope springs eternal.  We know that we have a marketable set of skills that will help us at the next level, but the fun part is not knowing what that next level is, while at the same time finding the motivation to finish this current one.

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Spring Break

Spring Break seems to help the semester so much that I don’t know why there isn’t a comparable break in the Fall.  When did it start and who was the first to have one?

In researching that question, I discovered answers related to Ontario’s maple sap run to the building of an Olympic-sized swimming pool in the earlier 20th century to the ancient celebration of Dionysius.  None of these answers seemed to make sense to me, so I chose to focus on my love for Spring Break, no matter the origins.

As such, I will be taking this week to relax with my wife and Mr. Becket (the greatest dog in all the land), run a ton (Bearathon in a couple weeks, Cap10k two or three weeks after that), and travel to see some framily (that’s friends+family, according to Sprint) in Oklahoma.  Already, I’ve heard great news of a classmate getting engaged, so I know that some people are already having tons of fun.  I’m just hoping that some work happens.

As much as I appreciate a week off, this is also a great week to get caught up on some things that have been left undone, like reading and writing.  I look forward to the ability to work on things without having due dates as looming as they have been in the past.

What are you looking forward to?  And if you don’t get a Spring Break because you’re not a student, how do you nurture a healthy balance between work and your personal life?

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Weeks come, and weeks go.

This last week was one that I was glad to see go.  Midterm, quiz (in my hardest class), and a couple minor projects/papers.  The midterm and quiz were doozies, while the rest of the work just happened.

You know how sometimes, you do work, and it just happens?  When your significant other asks you what you did that day, and you can recall doing a lot, but don’t really remember anything in particular?  That was my week.  Wifey asked me yesterday what I learned in school when I got home, and I had to stop and think about it for a little bit.  I remember it being a blur, just not sure quite what happened as part of the blur.

Then, time started to slow down in my mind, and I remembered.  That seems to be the way that my memory works, and I’m not sure if anyone else remembers in that way.  When I get a quiz, I look at the questions and can’t remember if I’ve ever seen any of these words, then I just start slowing down, taking deep breaths, and slowly I start to remember.

I seem to see this in my professional life as well.  Right before I begin to preach, I have a little bit of a meltdown.  Then, as the time gets closer to when I have to do what I’m supposed to do, I can start to remember.

Next week, I hope that I’m able to remember more of the blur, being present for all of the prescient moments.  And if not, I’ll at least know that I will remember what’s important.  That’s all that matters, in the end.

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I really want to play the guitar well.  However, it turns out that a large amount of practice is necessary to do so.  Same thing seems to be true for basketball, soccer, the recorder, and ballroom dancing, all of which I have tried to some extent or another in my short life thus far.

Practice is what makes us better.  I think that this is the principle that business school is oriented around.  I am thankful for the opportunity to practice accounting before anyone expects me to do anything accounting-adjacent (if you talk to Dr. Stanley, he’ll tell you that accounting-adjacent is as close as I need to come).  The more practice problems I do in accounting, the better I do on the exam.  The same thing goes with statistics, finance, economics, strategy, the class with the professor obsessed with Disney, the other class with the professor who likes going to Africa and having a positive impact on the world…

That’s what has made me better as a preacher, although I wouldn’t argue that I’m very good yet.  Instead, we will just agree that I’m better than I was the first time – it’s because every week I have the opportunity to go speak in front of people.  The times I get to rehearse this extensively seem to go better than the times I don’t.  Either way, I feel more comfortable as a communicator now than I did before.

This blog is a way to get practice writing for the future, in the same way my personal blog was practice for this one.  And in much the same way that doctors and lawyers continue to practice after getting degrees, I imagine that preaching and writing will continue to be skills I continue to practice, but to these skills I’ve been able to learn to practice business-related skills.

Can you imagine going to school for that long, and still having what you do be called practice?  No matter how good you are, there’s always room for more practice.

That goes for accounting too, maybe.

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On Sick Spouses and Praying Profs…

One of the things that I love about Baylor is the nature of the discussions that occur in passing, in between the class times.  Last week, my wife was really sick.  We spent 16 hours over the course of two different nights at the hospital trying to figure out how to help her not feel so bad.

A couple classmates were asking how she was doing before class (she’s better than she was, but nowhere close to normal better), and I guess one of my profs overheard that something was wrong with her.  After class, this prof asked what was wrong and said they would be praying for her.  Then, another prof in another class asked how my wife was the next day and said they would be praying for her (without a mention of how this professor found out she was sick – I still don’t know).

I don’t know about you, but I married my spouse because I actually like her.  When things with her are wrong, there is no amount of sleep I will give up (and no amount of finals studying/homework doing I will miss out on) to be with her as medical professionals figure out what will make her better.  And when one of my professors offers a word of compassion and concern for the well-being of someone they have never met, that means a lot.

Yeah, I like their classes.  I’ve learned lots.  But it is what is between the classes that has showed me their character and made me appreciate them even more. One of my goals for the semester was to get a 4.0 (something I’ve only done once in 6 semesters of graduate work).  That goal is officially gone.  After I got the flu in the early part of the semester and my wife was sick right as I was trying to get things going for finals, I’m willing to let that goal float on by.  But that’s not as important of a measure of the things I’ve learned, so I’m fine with letting that one go.

Thanks for praying for her, professors.

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Business and Churches

I’ve been trying to write about the MBA experience here at Baylor for a little while, but this will be a more personal blog.  See, I love the church, and it’s hard to stay away from writing about a major topic of interest.  There is so much good that can be done when people have health in all realms of their lives (physical, social, emotional, spiritual…).  A good church can help nurture a large part of that health.  But according to our statistics, it seems as if the institutional church is on the decline in America (a subject which we can argue the merits of, trust in statistics, or future outlook face to face).

Anecdotally, part of the reason that churches are struggling is that they have great, well-trained seminary pastors who don’t realize that there are some things necessary for them to do from a business perspective.  Seminary is really great about providing resources and a base level of understanding, but churches work best when everyone is contributing.  For business people, that means that you have to get on the finance, personnel, planning, etc. committees/task forces/boards, etc. Please.  I’m serious.  The world doesn’t do well by your playing your skills close to the vest.  If it takes a few years, let it take a few years, but model for them the kinds of servant leadership that would help the appointing bodies to put you there when it’s your time.

I don’t want to sound like I’m begging here, but I beg you to find how it is that you can contribute something more than you currently are to organizations that nurture health.  All flavors of health.  Selfishly, I would ask that you start with a good church.

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Organizational Behavior

One of the classes we have (get?) to take is Organizational Behavior.  It’s one of those classes that is really cool, except that the professor is obsessed with Disney.  Disney is not cool, Mickey Mouse is scary, and all of this is especially true when you’re three years old.  Not that I had a bad experience, just that I found Goofy terrifying.  I still have nightmares from my trip to Disney.

In thinking about the Organizational Behavior class to distract myself from bad memories, one of the neat projects we do is finding a local business and working with them to do an analysis of their organizational behavior.  In other words, we get to put into practice what we are learning in class.  Sitting down with one of the leaders of the organization my team chose today was inspiring, as the leader said yes before he even heard what we were asking of him and his organization.  He wanted to help us, recognizing that (best case) we could help him and his organization or (worst case) his biggest benefit was that at least he didn’t have to pay for us.

Getting real experience before we graduate, and doing so in a safe environment, helps me to be more confident as I move into the future, going forth from Baylor MBA and thinking about an organization’s behavior.  A little bit of been there, done that can go a long way.  Case studies are good, but practical experience provides the opportunity for a different kind of learning to take place.  And for that, I’m grateful.

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