Four senior business majors at Bethel College spent a chilly but “enlightening” weekend at the Mennonite Economic Development Associates annual convention last fall.

From left, seniors Natasha Orpin, Sean Claassen, Kyle Howard and Sara Gragg at Niagara Falls.From left, seniors Natasha Orpin, Sean Claassen, Kyle Howard and Sara Gragg at Niagara Falls.

Phil Mason, assistant professor of business, and the four students attended the event, Nov. 1–4 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

For Sean Claassen, Elmira, Ore., the MEDA conference was an enlightening experience. The seminars I attended expanded my knowledge of business practices and provided me with alternative perspectives to my current education.

Claassen was particularly intrigued with plenary speaker Jeff Van Duzer, dean of the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University and author of Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to be Fixed), InterVarsity Press, 2010.

He spoke on the nature of ethics in today’s workplace and explored the question of why good people end up doing bad things, Claassen said.

Another great experience was the student case competition, he added, in which we were given the opportunity to critique a real-life business plan, develop solutions to address challenges within the plan and present our findings in person to the owner of the business.

The Bethel students competed as a team and came in a close third out of seven, all from Mennonite colleges in Canada and the United States.

The experiential learning and the networking we were able to do at MEDA is not something we can replicate on campus, Claassen said. I’m grateful [for] the chance to participate in such a worthwhile experience.

Natasha Orpin, Canton, said, I love to experience different cultures and this was my first venture into Canada. Though we were literally a stone’s throw from the border, I feel I can still claim it was a cross-cultural adventure.

She found both plenary seminar speakers pleasantly engaging. One seminar I attended focused on managing conflict in the workplace. Imagine my surprise when the presenter referred, in great detail, no less, to a book I have been reading for my Organizational Behavior class at Bethel.

She was thankful, she said, to be able to learn more about MEDA and the remarkable things this organization does.

Kyle Howard, Halstead, appreciated seeing Niagara Falls for the first time. He agreed with Orpin that learning more about the organization was a fantastic experience and, like Claassen, was especially struck by Jeff Van Duzer’s presentation and the student case competitions.

Van Duzer talked about why business matters to God, and three factors that lead to ethical failure in business: speed, spin and stuff. He also went over ways to overcome these.

The student case competition was great experience in coming up with solutions to problems that a real business is facing, and then presenting in front of other professionals.

I was able to meet and connect with businesspeople who share my faith, Howard added. The trip was a meaningful time for me.

My time at the MEDA convention was fabulous, said Sara Gragg, Topeka. This being the first year I attended, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I was more than moved by the plenary sessions and the seminars I attended, and felt very welcome as a student as well.

Getting to know more about MEDA and the kind of involvement they have in other cultures was very interesting. I especially enjoyed the Friday evening plenary, where we were able to video chat directly to an area of the world that I have not experienced before.

The Friday evening session was a visit with Helen Loftin, MEDA director of Women’s Economic Development, Ramzan Buriro, manager of the Engro Corporation, a MEDA partner in Pakistan, and one of Engro’s female clients, who talked about her entrepreneurial successes and her vision for her family and community.

I hope I can eventually be involved in an organization that is part of MEDA, Gragg said.