Posted on February 14, 2019 by Wendy Frost

Eleven students from the college’s Investment Society student organization took a trip to the remote jungles of Costa Rica at the beginning of the year to see how finance can improve the lives of economically-deprived communities.
UTSA students in Costa Rica

The students were sponsored by Indigenous Community Development International (ICDI), a charity founded by Ron Sweet, MBA ’91, a lecturer II in finance. “Each year the teams have different objectives to accomplish during their visit, but the focus is on providing support to the community and learning about the real world applications of finance,” said Sweet, advisor to the Investment Society.

ICDI’s work in this community includes a microlending program that provides low-cost loans to farmers and small business owners, wellness programs for expectant mothers, a dental clinic and business development programs.

Participants were Tiffany Baltierra, Isaac Behne, Sean Cato, Warren Eaton, Kevin Espinosa, Alyn Lenhard, Jorge Martinez, Albert Morales, Luis Patino, Alondra Villarreal and Hudson Weston.

In addition to the yearly visits, members of the Investment Society manage ICDI’s investment portfolio and provide recommendations for stocks to buy or sell based on the investment research of members.

“Getting the opportunity to visit Costa Rica with the Investment Society was eye opening,” said Baltierra, a senior majoring in economics.  “I was able to fully understand the impact and value the Investment Society has on Costa Rican small business owners.”

Trip Highlights

Students on a farm in Costa Rica feeding cows

Students spent the week observing and interviewing those benefitting from ICDI’s programs including banana, coffee and sugarcane farmers, cattle ranchers and small business owners. They also provided feedback to ICDI’s managing board on community member business plans and participated in service projects related to these programs.

One such project involved a long-term mission for UTSA students—a community restaurant. ICDI provided seed capital for the restaurant which is jointly owned by the nonprofit and four community members. Throughout the years students have provided basic business classes to the owners and helped construct the restaurant. This year the students built an observation deck and helped update the exterior painting.

The students also hosted a carnival at the restaurant for over 100 community members which featured food, prizes and carnival games.

“Within my time here in the college, I’ve come to learn that real world experiences provide great value and sometimes teach you more than a textbook,” said Villarreal, a senior majoring in finance. “This trip helped us understand and see firsthand how we are impacting the community in Costa Rica through our microlending program.”

In addition to their service to the community, the students were also able to enjoy hiking and swimming in the beautiful mountains of Costa Rica.

“This community looks forward to our annual visits because they love the spirit and enthusiasm of UTSA’s students,” said Sweet. “And, the students benefit because they see the power of finance with perseverance, integrity, vision and compassion.”

— Wendy Frost