Students and faculty demonstrate creative teamwork in Kenya
Compiled by Dr. Valerie Sessions, Emory Hiott, and Jan Joslin / Photos provided
For four CSU students and their professors, Spring Break 2023 was a time to serve in another part of the world.
The Department of Computer Science and the Hans A. Nielsen College of Business offer a joint experiential learning course titled Creative Teamwork. The goal of the course is to use business and computer science knowledge to serve a nonprofit organization. Four students, Madison Stanley, Sophie Holem, Raegan Whitley, and Kaia Spring Thomson, teamed up to serve Kilele – a business as missions company in Nairobi, Kenya.
The students spent the week touring the factory, gaining an understanding of their target market, and creating Instagram posts and reels to better market the products and mission of the company, using Gear with a Global Impact. Their work included product posts, interviews with the Kilele team, and a variety of reels to help the leaders of the company get their products to a wider market.
In addition to social media outreach, the students used an app to create an interactive product wall that will allow customers to interact with the products as if they were actually in the store. This personal connection to a product, and its mission, will draw more customers to the products and ultimately, the Gospel.
“We are so proud of the work of this team – they made connections for a lifetime with the Kilele staff, and their work will continue to bless this company long after the team departed,” said Dr. Valerie Sessions, co-lead for the course, and a professor of computer science.
In addition to working at Kilele, the team was able to interact with a variety of other Business as Missions companies – an organic snack distributor, outdoor adventure tour group, a jewelry making business out of Uganda, a safari tour business, and a children’s shelter working to sell produce from its organic garden to further provide for the children they serve.
The team mainly worked with Kilele and CSU alumnus Whitney Jones, a 2015 graduate. A desire to work with the unreached people in sub-Saharan Africa led her to Kenya. As a student ministry graduate with a minor in business, Jones never thought her work would be mainly with growing a business. However, she now sees the impact Kilele is having in Nairobi, in her specific neighborhood, across the country, the continent, and as it spreads around the world.
On the plane from Germany to Kenya, God divinely intervened and put Dr. Emory Hiott, marketing professor,next to Dr. Jackie O’Neill on the flight. “We struck up a conversation that ended in an invitation for our students to see the new Microsoft Africa headquarters that started in 2019. While there, Jackie gave us a tour of their sustainably resourced facility and then showed us some of the ways that Microsoft was using data to address problems in Africa such as maternal care and drought. We were able to meet with some of the Microsoft staff who told us of job openings and career directions they offer.”
Hiott said, “Missions organizations have seen the doors that businesses can swing open for Gospel conversations. It is exciting to see students with a passion for business and people start to understand how their work can be transformational. CSU has been an amazing support system for trips such as these that broaden the horizons for students in their careers while also deepening their faith from spiritual conversations and experiences.”
It wasn’t all work, however. The team also went on safari, worshipped in a local church, and even took advantage of a long layover in Frankfurt, Germany, to tour parts of the city.
“It was a blessing to watch God work through our team in Kenya and in the hearts of each one of us – the Lord poured out his goodness and grace in a very real way. I am thankful to CSU and our leadership for supporting these types of hands-on courses,” said Sessions.
Hear from some of the students who went on the trip:
Global Marketplace Engagement major, sophomore, from Knoxville, Tennessee
“I am majoring in Global Marketplace Engagement, which combines business administration and ministry. The Lord brought this trip up and urged me to go to the interest meeting. There, I found out the trip involved a business owned by a missionary in Nairobi. I knew I had to go! It was everything that I want to do and am interested in. I knew I would get real-life experience in the exact field I am studying.
“I was so surprised at how cost effective the trip was. I ended up spending much less than expected which was a huge blessing. I was also surprised at how many people we got to meet and how many experiences we had. We met around 10 different missionaries and missionary families, all of whom had businesses and took time to tell us about them, about what God was doing in their lives, and built our faith as a team. We had a broad range of experiences. We got to experience working in a workshop in a Muslim community, go to a Christian Kenyan church, shop in the biggest craft market in Nairobi, go to the top of a Microsoft building and have a meeting chatting about new, cutting edge technology, and eat all kinds of food.
“I focused on the guys who work at Kilele. The professors did an incredible job identifying our strengths and what we were passionate about and then assigning us to that. I wanted to hear the four men’s stories so I got to do interviews of them. I asked personal questions as well as questions that will be used for Kilele’s marketing. I edited and planned around 20 videos for their website and social media. I also worked on an interactive product wall using technology which can be embedded in Kilele’s website. We really focused on the marketing of the business and how we can bring what we experienced back to the states with us.
“My CSU education has covered a vast amount of topics and experiences. I have been able to learn about other religions, truths of Scripture, and business ideas that I can use to make an impact on the world for the Kingdom. This trip alone taught me so much about people, cultures, and business. Flexibility, compassion, and dedication have been at the top while I have been at CSU. This year has taught me to work hard in everything I do to give glory to God and to pray even harder. I have been able to travel across the world with professors and mentors and learn how to develop marketing strategies, pray for and with full-time missionaries, and make relationships with people from completely different backgrounds. This is irreplaceable.”
Marketing major, junior, from Supply, North Carolina
“The opportunity to see another country and spend time learning about their culture was one of the drawing factors for me. Being able to see how business works in other cultures and how one business uses this as a way to bring others to Christ was an opportunity that I knew would be beneficial. Getting the chance to travel with fellow students and professors and spread the good news of Jesus together through a trip like this was a unique experience that I knew I had to be a part of.
“An unexpected factor was just how close I would get to the team I traveled with. Going into the trip I knew that two of my friends would be going and one of my previous professors, but I am grateful that through this I gained new friends and a support system. Traveling like this kind of forces you to get to know each other, but for us it didn’t feel forced. From the very beginning we had experienced some hiccups in our plans, but I think that God placed those in our path as a way for us to bond. Our patience and teamwork skills were tried but this was a way for us to work together and really lean on each other. By the end of the week, I had gained family more than just friends.
“Kilele is a small business that is still growing. We went to Nairobi to visit their workshop and to get an inside look to how their business is led. While at Kilele we worked mainly on their website and social media presence. All of us split up into teams to work on more specific tasks, some of us worked on content for social media, a few interviewed the men who work there to get a more personal view of Kilele, and others worked on the logistics side of their site. Our goal in this was to ultimately get the name of Kilele out there and bring more attention to their business and to their mission. Their mission statement is Gear with Global Impact, and that is exactly what they are doing. Not only are their products reaching people across the globe, but with each piece the love of Jesus is sent with it.
“My time at CSU has strengthened my relationship with Christ greatly. By having faith integrated in all parts of my education, I am equipped to make an impact with the Gospel. This trip alone showed me that impacting the world for Christ comes in many different forms. You do not have to travel across the world to bring others to Christ; the mission field begins when we step out of our door in the morning. Even if you are called across the world you still have so many different ways you can share the Gospel. Making a global impact, like Kilele says, starts with having a heart for God and the passion to bring others to Him.”
Kaia Spring Thomson
Marketing major, junior, from Florence, South Carolina
“My dad is from Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, and ever since I was a little girl I have always dreamed of going to Africa. As I got older, I started to go on some mission trips here and there and really felt like I was supposed to go to Africa to serve on a short-term trip, but every time I found an opportunity it ended up not working out or the location was changed. COVID-19 made this a lot harder. I also really wanted to participate in some sort of short-term study abroad opportunity but did not know if that would be possible because of finances. When I heard about this trip which combined two of my dreams, study abroad and missions in Africa, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me.
“Leading up to the trip, I was so excited but also had no idea what the trip was really going to look like. I knew we were going to be helping out with the business of a CSU graduate, but besides that, I did not know what the week would look like. After getting there and hearing all of the stories of the different families and individuals we spoke with, I was honestly surprised at how well business and missions go together. I have never really felt like I was called to full-time ministry, but what I learned on this trip is that we are all called to full-time ministry because our entire lives are supposed to reflect Christ. As a business student, I honestly did not really feel like my major fit with spreading the Gospel, but in reality it is a perfect way to build relationships and spread the Gospel.
“As a group, we helped Kilele by creating social media and website content of all of their products and employees. We also created a 360 tour of their facility to use on their website. Additionally, we captured interviews of all the employees to use on the website and for social media. We also used analytics to create a marketing plan for their social media sites, and we are currently creating a social media content calendar and scheduling posts for the next six months.
“I transferred to CSU from a very secular college, and since being here I have noticed such a difference because I am being taught to live out my purpose in Christ. Each of my professors have made a huge impact on me and have shown me what it means to love and serve like Christ. No matter what class I have been in every teacher has taken time to share how Christ has changed their life, and that has taught me the importance of simply sharing my story with those around me. Additionally, the opportunity to go on this trip to Kenya has opened my eyes so much. I realized that everything I am learning can be used to spread the Gospel and impact the world for Christ. I do not have to be a pastor or a church planter. All I have to do is pursue my purpose and that purpose is to show the love of Christ and the gospel through business.”