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  • The Rez Experience: MBA Student Service Trip to South Dakota

    It's easy to get swallowed up in the rigorous curriculum required for MBA students, and even easier to forget what "sanity" means when we are totally overwhelmed with exams, papers, group work and the ever challenging career search.  Regardless of our demanding schedules, in order to get the full experience of the IMBA, we have to be willing to slow down and remember there is a great big world outside the four walls of a classroom.

    So, how do we take advantage of these experiential opportunities?  For starters, you may want to learn about a recent service trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  Four MBA students, Dean Lanesskog and Courtney Hainline spent a week lending their support to help improve living conditions on the reservation.  They also had the opportunity to learn about the significant history and spirtuality of the resident Oglala Lakota tribe.  Although they were exposed to some of the poorest living conditions in the United States, they had the chance to meet a group of people that have managed to survive, even when the odds are stacked against them, and truly be immersed in the miracle called "The Rez".

    If you ask Vantonna Dunn (MBA, 2011), Michael Hodnett (MBA, 2011), Adam Ratner (MBA, 2012) and Barbara Wang (MBA,2012) about something exciting they did this summer, they will all give you a similar answer: the IMBA service trip to South Dakota.  These students spent a week with the residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation lending a helping hand to improve rather severe living conditions.  The area they visited, the Black Hills, remains one of the "most spiritually sacred lands" of the Oglala Lakota Indians.  So important in fact that the Native Americans have refused to take any funding offered by the US government.  Subsequently, the tribe has had to survive on their own - and that is exactly what they continue to do.  However, as our students discovered, this group struggles with high unemployment rates (between 80% - 85%) and a large percentage of people living below the poverty line - 49% ( 

    Despite difficult conditions, the students were still able to learn about the important heritage of the Oglala Lakota Indians and through their willingness to help, truly make a difference in the community.  As Vatonna discovered during her time there, "This is one of those rare instances where the sense of purpose is not about money...but a sense of belonging and dedication to a part of history that is so significant". 

    Some of the projects there were involved in included helping to build teepees, fixing rooftops on homes, and building a wheelchair ramp for the women's trailer.  While they were only able to spend limited time helping those on the Rez, the impact was enourmous and the students  felt encouraged.  Barbara mentioned that this trip was really a "learning experience since I learned how to listen.  The director told us that 'to listen is to learn', and I learned a lot from the people working with me and around me today". 

    Back from their trip and full of ideas, the support for "The Rez" will continue thanks to the dedication and creativity of the Illinois MBA students.  Adam Ratner has been working on a new initiative called "The Kola Foundation" (Lakota for 'friend').  This is the first ever non-profit organization within the MBA and will provide a unique experience for our students to put their MBA acumen to work.  The mission of the foundation is to improve the standard of living and promote a more prosperous life for residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  The intial focus for the team, comprised of all Illinois MBA's, will be on giving hope, stimulating the economy, advancing education and improving healthcare.  While they are still in the early planning phase, Dean Lanesskog and the MBA program have high hopes for this organization.  We will keep you updated as more developments are made!

    Click here to see a video produced by Adam Ratner about his time on "The Rez"!

    **The statistics presented in this video were complied from various sources and may not be completely accurate due to census issues on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  However, for information about this area, its history and its current economic conditions, you may refer to  The University of Illinois and the MBA program accept no liability for the statistics presented.
    Any views or opinions presented in this video are solely those of MBA student Adam Ratner and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Illinois or the MBA program. Therefore, we accept no liability in the event this information is used outside its original source.

#1 Sep 1, 2010 12:53 pm quote
For anyone that missed our kickoff meeting, please feel free to visit our web site for the slide desk. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions!