So this is a few weeks late, but I finally have completed my undergraduate studies at Seattle Pacific University with three degrees in Development Economics, Accounting, and Business Administration-Social Enterprise!
If it seems like I took longer to get my bachelors, you’d be correct. I started working on my undergraduate studies back in 2009, and 8 years at three different schools really has a profound impact on you. So I thought I would reflect on these years and share how this journey shaped who I am today and acknowledge those who contributed along the way. Warning, this is quite extensive.
Green River Community College: 2009-2013
Fun fact, I was homeschooled all through grade school and college was the first time I ever participated in a classroom setting. Being homeschooled really help me to develop self initiative in my studying habits, but it also made my progression into college a more intimidating one. In 2009, I decided I was going to pursue an undergraduate degree, but I wanted to do it in the most cost-efficient way, and so I registered at Green River Community College. But when the autumn quarter was fast approaching, I was afraid to take that step forward and rationalized that I should wait until winter quarter to start. College was just such a foreign concept for me and I didn’t know how to sign up for classes or what all that I needed to know ahead of time before showing up in a classroom. It’s funny to think back at that because the process seems so straightforward now, but when you don’t know what you don’t know, everything seems like an insurmountable obstacle. I wonder if I had waited, I probably would not have ever taken that step forward, but thankfully my dearest friend Kristi would hear none of that and sat me down the week before classes started and helped me sign up for two classes: Intro to Business and Interpersonal Communication.
When I first started classes, I didn’t know how I was going to pay for school and while my parents supported my desire to pay my way through school, they loaned me $1000 for that first quarter. I soon found my permanent solution a week into the school year when I got a call from FedEx with an offer to a part-time Handler position in Fife. FedEx would end up funding over $20,000 in tuition reimbursements over the past 8 years, and even completely funded my tuition costs during my four years at GRCC. The reason why I took so long to get my AA at GRCC was I was only going part-time in order to maximize FedEx’s contribution of $3000/yr and because I had to take a lot of below college-level math classes, which took up most of my time during that first year.
The Greatest Class
One class though that probably had the most profound impact on my life came in the spring quarter of the ’09-’10 school year. I was taking my second English class, which was Research Writing in Business with Scott Eagan. One of the more notable attributes people highlight when referring about me is that I’m well read; in fact I’ve read over 200 non-fiction books to date. But this love for learning and reading did not ignite until taking Eagan’s English class.
On the very first day of class, he started off telling us that he only teaches part time because he’s a literary agent in Women’s Literature by profession, and that he is going to treat us as his own authors that he represents and hold us to that professional standard. Keep in mind that this is a community college in Auburn, so academic excellence isn’t a common standard amongst students so not surprisingly, about 3/4 of the class dropped out the very next day. Those of who did stay were very intimidated and braced for a painful quarter ahead. What we did not realize was the balance Professor Eagan possessed in his grading, and even though we would get our papers back with the margins full of red ink (especially with his favorite phrase, “So what?”), the actual grade he gave was based on the standards of an English 129 class and so I would still end up with highly scored papers. That balance was profound since it was the driver to push for excellence, while still having the safety to fail with low stakes consequences.
The lesson that changed my life was when Professor Eagan taught on research methods. He implored us to invest deeply into our research projects, which went beyond just warning about the limitations of Wikipedia; he suggested that we read books on our subject or conduct interviews with notable sources. Keep in mind this is community college, so he asked if this sounded absurd to us; did we think that conducting interviews were too far fetched? So he gave an example: if you were researching Schizophrenia, you probably are going to come across the story of John Nash (the Nobel Winning Economist who popularized Game Theory and the Nash Equilibrium, who also was the subject in the movie “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe). He then talked about how yes you can cite articles that talk about him in your research, or why not interview him yourself? We all kind of let out a nervous chuckle at that proposition, so he hoped onto his computer, did a quick Google search and a few seconds later we were looking at John Nash’s faculty page at Princeton University with his extension number and email. He asked us why not contact the man? His contact info is right here!
I then set about my research for the subject of Corporate Social Responsibility and signed up for an Audible audiobook account. I came across a book called “Creating a World Without Poverty” by Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Yunus started Grameen Bank and ignited the Microfinance concept of providing constructive loans to pull people out of extreme poverty in Bangladesh, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. I soon discovered that Yunus was going to be in Seattle to promote his latest book “Building Social Business.” I invited my good friends, Cubby and Jairus to come along with me to hear him lecture at the Seattle Town Hall. After the lecture, they had an open mic Q&A session. The problem is I’m deathly afraid of microphones and wasn’t going to go up, until Cubby offered to read my question for me. That was the push I needed to step up and fight my fears and take this once in a lifetime opportunity to speak to the father of Microfinance. I was then able to use my book sources and this first-hand information in my paper, just like Professor Eagan had suggested. This experience changed my perspective of knowledge and information; I discovered that books were the gateway to knowledge and I didn’t have to wait for an external entity like school to be the source of learning. I became addicted to books not as a source of entertainment but as the means of catering my own path of learning that I was conditioned to while being homeschooled.
Notable GRCC classes
I spent the next three years trying to survive my math and science classes, but it was my third year that I took my first economics and accounting classes. I initially was quite intimidated by economics since it at the very beginning involved a lot of math, but the larger narrative that Mark Blaisdell presented economics on how economics is not only about the allocation of scarce resources, but how utility (satisfaction) can be measured and used to make meaningful change in society. It would remain dormant for a while since the presence of math would keep me at bay, but these classes would be the primer for what soon would become a passion of mine in the field of Development Economics and Behavioral Economics. In my first set of accounting classes, I felt like a natural. Brenda Bindschadel taught a straightforward and practical presentation of how accrual based accounting contrasted from cash based and how the balance sheet interacts with the income statement. I was sold immediately accounting. I grew up dealing with finance as a personal passion of mine, I was constantly trying to figure out how can push the usefulness of every dollar I received and how I could unlock new potential growth in income; accounting did not feel like math to me in these classes, but rather speaking my language of money. While economics had brought up dreams of impacting society on a larger scale, accounting had me sold with it’s universal demand and my relative skill amongst my peers, and so I made the decision there that I would be an accounting major.
Other notable experiences in those three years was taking a intro to philosophy class, where I became mesmerized by the Socratic method of asking questions, Plato’s Republic and most importantly meeting my favorite person in history: Rene Descartes. I loved reading about how the development of Descartes’ “Cogito Ergo Sum” (I think, therefore I am). For all the creative thinking of the Greek philosophers, Descartes logical process of trying to find a single point of origin to what we can confidently know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that in some case or form we do exist. We could just as well be living in the Matrix and this physical world could be an allusion, but we have to be exist in some capacity for something to even deceive us in the first place.
One of my final classes I took was my Business Calculus class with Sarah Massengill, who has given me hope that somehow and someway math might actually be fun and exciting. The problem for me though is that my foundation was still not built in a way that naturally connects with me and so I was just trying to memorize rote mechanics and equations that did not make intuitive sense, but Sarah’s teachings helped me see that there is another way to look at numbers that I currently could not see. If it wasn’t for her entertaining lessons and TJ’s tutoring, I don’t think I could have survived Calculus; I tried taking Calculus the previous year with a different professor and dropped it 3 weeks later because I was completely overwhelmed, so I now her teaching made all the difference. A future class with Dr. Downing would help further develop a personal theory that I need to relearn math from a completely different approach that I will hopefully one day explore more.
My first Theological Struggle
I also took a Geology class and found out that I just love learning things in general, even about rocks. But this was also a critical moment in my faith because it was the first time that I felt like I was presented with credible information about evolution that I couldn’t easily dispute. I started going through a quiet crisis and wondering if my faith was based on creationism and was the first time where my faith did not feel like a complete given. I don’t think I completely changed my beliefs immediately after this, but it did start the progression of me taking a more objective view of my faith and trying to uncover the foundation of my faith and re-evaluate some of the nonessential teachings I was brought up with.
Northwest University: 2014-2015
One of the downsides of Eagan’s Research Writing class was that I fell in love with learning outside of class that I began to resent formal education; Why should I spend thousands of dollars to acquire an education that I could go to a few Goodwill and Value Village locations and pick up the same quantity of learning materials for $50? I then decided that college was just the means of a pesky little piece of paper that certified my learning, and since my actual learning is dependent on myself, I would take the cheapest route possible and concentrate most of my learning outside of school. Summer became my time to be free to learn whatever it was that I wanted to learn without the constraints of school, and was averaging more than a book per week during the summer. The plan was to transfer to UW-Tacoma since that would provide the lowest tuition costs for a credible school, but that all changed with a chat over coffee with my dear friend Drew McGinley. He was working on his Masters at Northwest University, and he impressed the idea that college isn’t just about pedigree or obtaining an undergraduate degree, it is about connections. Being able to make strong connections with your peers and professors has a larger impact in life than the classes that you take because that is the network that opens up future opportunities. To then amplify that potential, going to a private school allows me to make stronger connections with my peers but also means I could actually be recognized by my professors; I could actually meet with them outside of class and develop quality mentorships.
This revived my love for school and allowed me to justify spending considerably more money on school by transferring to a private school over a public university. Northwest University is primarily a pastoral ministry school and it is associated with the denomination that I grew up in, so I knew I would be around people with similar background and going into the business department meant that I would more likely find peers who were as committed to business excellence as I was while still having a strong emphasis on faith. This also allowed me to finally be at the same school as Ashlee Best after almost 5 years of long distance dating.
A Class that was 6 years in the making
One of the exciting parts of transferring to NU was I got to take a Marketing Theory class with John Bacon, which had 6 years of development leading up to this moment since I sat in one of his classes while visiting the school with Kristi back when we were high school in 2007. That class I sat in on was so captivating since it was a business class with only like 6 students and the class was taking place in the school’s on-campus coffee shop. But the most impactful part of that session was the “textbook” was a book called “Made To Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. After falling in love with books from Eagan’s class, I went back through my notes to find this book and bought a copy of it. Even to this day that book has impacted my life and is permanently in my top 5 favorite books I’ve ever read. The book taught me that it isn’t just about presenting information that causes changes in people, but it is how the message is conveyed. Why is it that urban legends with no factual basis are so pervasive and yet nobody can remember what is on the food pyramid? The book helped me to step out of my own knowledge and to observe the thought process of my audience and how might I convey a thought that isn’t speaking from my own narrative but from theirs.
Information Systems Management
Along with Dr. Bacon’s Marketing Theory class that fall semester, I got to take an excellent class on Information Systems Management by Dick Harrigill. I knew I was in for a unique learning experience when on the first day of class we did a simple ice breaker game that was a version of the stand up/sit down game in that Professor Harrigill would post a series of questions and if they applied to you, you were to sit down. We went through a few questions like, “sit down if you have spent your whole college career at NU” “sit down if you are an athlete at the school.” Etc. But then the next thing I know, I’m now the only one left standing in this game, then the questions change and ask to remain standing if you know who the person is on the screen, which I then see it’s my old high school football head coach! Then on the screen it asks if we recognize the following person, and it’s a picture of Cubby! Then on the screen it asks to remain standing if you like to date girls who spell their name “Ashlee.” Then finally a picture of my face shows up on the screen and it asks, “Are you Grant Storer?” I’m kind of standing there dumbfounded and the whole class is freaking out, then Professor Harrigill says, “It sure is interesting what you can learn online, right Grant?” He then kicked right off into a short lecture about online security and the means of accessing personal information online. Then he said, “While we already know enough about Grant, let’s get to know the rest of you!” And put up a screen with a student’s name and they would stand up and give a quick bio about themselves, but if you watched the screen, you would start to see little pieces of information start to pop up on the screen about the person introducing themselves.
This class was taught only once a week, and it was a 3 hour class period, which usually means it’s a tortuous experience that just lags on forever, but I’m very proud to say that was not my experience in this class and nor was that the feedback I got from my classmates. Each hour would shift gears in its tone and approach and that’s why I can still tell you three years after I’ve taken the class that a kilobyte is not 1000 bytes like we are told, but actually 1024 bytes, and thus, a MB is actually 1024 KB. Why this is relevant is because that is the actual storage capacity, but when a product says it has a TB of storage, it’s using the non-technical term for TB, which is actually 1000 GB and not 1024 GB. That’s why your free space always seems lower than you’d expect.
I transferred to NU in the fall of 2014, and fortunate for me I was assigned to a fantastic dorm floor of Perks 200. Being in the dorms as an introvert can be really hit and miss, but for me it was the perfect setting since I was able to retreat into my studies quite easily while still being in close proximity with a great group of guys. I quickly developed a great friendship with Jason Deturk who constantly brought me out of my head and engage in deep conversations on life and business. I also have him to thank for encouraging me to take a step out of my comfort zone to run for and win a senate representative of the Perks dorms.
Being in senate was definitely a learning experience for me, since I quickly discovered that group discussions really silence me; I have a hard time speaking up and especially when there’s potential for opposition. I became really insecure in my position in senate and after the winter break, I set a goal to at least speak up just once per meeting no matter how significant of a comment it would be. I didn’t achieve that goal every time, but I definitely started to gain some recognition from the committee I could see.
I later on noticed one small personal problem I had with our dorms, and that was there were no weight scales available. I was trying to maintain my fitness up while in school and wanted to have that resource available. I thought about just buying one myself, but then wondered if other guys would also want that since I knew we had a few athletes in our dorms. I asked around and received consistent positive feedback and so I brought a proposal to Senate to buy a few scales for our dorms. I must have made a convincing argument because soon requests were being made to amend my proposal to make it a campus-wide provision for a scale on each dorm floor. Our Senate team got really enthusiastic about this since I was able to just make an Amazon purchase and we could almost immediately implement this project and it gave us something noticeable to point to for our impact on the school, especially since we had funded other larger projects that were taking much longer to be completed. There was one critical flaw that soon emerged with this amendment and that was the approach we set out to implementing it. This was where my insecurity allowed many people to be exposed to what could be a traumatizing situation. When we started talking about expanding the project, I wondered internally what kind of message this could be sending to people who have body image struggles who live on campus. Could we be exposing people to an implied message that your self-worth is associated with a number? But since this was my idea and people who I felt inferior to were excited about my idea and were wanting to take it bigger than what I had ask and nobody was expressing concern on this issue, I remained quiet and assumed I was just being overly analytical. History would show that I made a painful mistake. An article in the school paper highlighted this oversight and a couple of the women’s dorms rejected the scales.
The next major step in my faith journey that came from school was reading the book “Chasing Francis” and taking Jack Wisemore’s Christian Thought theology class. Up until this point I had a very narrow scope of theological education. To be honest, I used to consider Catholics as some sort of quasi-Christian; they were where the church started but obviously the Evangelical Protestant Church figured out God’s will for creation. Chasing Francis was a book that was given to all the incoming students at NU that we were encouraged to read before classes began. It was a fictional book about a Evangelical megachurch pastor who ends up following a bunch of Franciscan monks after experiencing a spiritual crisis. The book slowly unravels all the negative prejudices of the Protestant theology towards Catholicism and discovering the pureness of Saint Francis of Assisi’s faith. This book became a fantastic primer for what I would learn in Dr. Wisemore’s Christian Thought class that semester.
Even though I grew up in the Assembly of God denomination and was attending an Assembly of God affiliated school, I am so grateful for Dr. Wisemore’s unbiased teaching of the wider spectrum of different Christian teachings. He taught on many of the major themes in theology and the differing views within those themes, but what was great was that he would highlight the AG perspective and his own perspective, but constantly reiterated that does not make it absolute, it’s just where he stands on a given subject and what the school’s stance is. I became introduced to the idea that no denomination has a monopoly on “right” theology and that God isn’t something that we can just figure out and move on our jolly ol’ way. We are all in the dark, and we all are trying to make sense of life and spirit. I realized that faith is a lot like philosophy: there are many different interpretations and observations of what is, but no one path is the one and purely true right way that we just need to create a good marketing campaign to get everyone else on board with. No, we are dealing with a reality and a complexity that exceeds our capacity to understand and we need to constantly be learning and observing and correcting as we move through life.
It was during this time that I started to attend an Episcopal church with Kristi and Jairus. It was definitely a culture shock to attend the Eucharist, but what I loved about that time was how much of a contrast in mindset this brought me to and a way to counterbalance my experience with my faith. I grew up with my faith centered on the friendship with God and the personal aspect of that friendship. In this world that is full of pain and people who can make you feel small and insignificant, it is comforting to develop your faith around the concept that the creator of the universe can see through the vastness of space and see you individually; to carry God with you wherever you may go and to be that light when all other lights go out (Yes, I’m intentionally quoting Lady Galadriel from Lord of The Rings. This is my reflection and I can be corny if I want!). But sitting there and attending the Eucharist, I was presented with a comforting contrast. You see, the risk of making God personal is that if emphasized too much, you end up focusing on making God “cool” and selling God as if God is access to some exclusive clique that’ll make you feel now accepted. We end up losing the sovereignty of God and turn God into our “Bro, Jesus.” When I would partake in the Eucharist and when I would sit there during the moment of silence, I would observe the ascending incense and see that God isn’t just my little buddy, but is so much bigger than I. That contrast allowed me to appreciate what the evangelical movement tries to forget is that we are that small and God is that big. God is not a tool for us to use in our world but it is we who operate in God’s world. We say that we don’t make God into our personal Genie, but we seek to meaning to our life and so God becomes the means to our own end when it is we who are the means to God’s end. It is ok to feel small sometimes; one can’t appreciate the greatness that a view from a mountain peak gives without the acknowledgment of our comparative inferior size to it all.
At the end of the school year, I was able to visit Europe for the first time through an International Business class, where we spent 10 days in Poland and I took an extended trip for another 10 days. We flew into Warsaw and got a tour of the city on the first day which included a tour of a luxury hotel right next to the nation’s capital. It was a fun experience in that each day we would visit a company and hear how they conduct business in Poland. We got to visit large international businesses that have operations in Poland like GE, and went all the way down to small independent startups within the Polish community. One thing that was very clearly observable was the incredible work ethic of the Polish people. On average, professionals were getting 5 years of college education and really emphasized proficiency in math. You’d look outside and the crowd of people entering and exiting the bus would all be dressed business professional and walked with such purpose you’d think were at the Wall Street subway entrance. Especially those suits though, all the men were wearing suits! We soon saw evidence that it wasn’t just a biased small sample size when we went to the mall in downtown Warsaw and Jason pointed out how many designer suit outlets there were. There definitely was supply to meet this demand.
Auschwitz and our ignorance to genocide.
We then took a bus to Krakow where we stayed for the remaining 5 days of the trip. Again most of this trip was morning meetings with businesses, but one day we made the necessary visit to the infamous Auschwitz Concentration camps. Guided tours are a mixed bag for me, on one hand I love the constant dispersement of information as you sit in the physical presence of what is being described, but being in the crowd and the descriptive narrative is just too sterile and keeps me too much in my head. So I have to say that being in the midst of the tour I couldn’t emotionally connect with the devastation and the horrendous murders that occurred where I stood, there was a moment near the end of the tour in the larger camp where we went into a washing station and I just took a moment standing along the station where one would stand while being shouted at and beaten while they get a quick clean.
On the ride back, I listened to a quick audiobook called “How do you kill 11 million people?” By Andy Andrews. It’s a book asking how did we allow the Nazis to murder or be the cause of the deaths of 11 million people, which the short answer to the question given by Andrews is that “You lie to them.” For the most part, the majority of those who were on trains going to concentration camps were not forced in during the early stages, they were told that they were removing them from a combat zone or what not. I then spent the rest of the day reflecting on the experience and I kept coming back to this question of could this happen again? Could we be ignorant of the undercurrent that will come in and snatch other vulnerable groups of society? Nobody talked about the experience that day and so I just kept my thoughts to myself.
The next day we all went out to a restaurant for lunch and our professors asked if we could take some time to talk out our experiences with the tour. As stated before, I don’t like speaking up and wasn’t planning on talking. For the most part people were just commenting on how terrible it was and how they couldn’t stop crying as they walked through the camps, they couldn’t grasp how people could be so evil. But then Professor Ishmael asked for my thoughts since I had in passing told him I was going to listen to that Andy Andrews book. I talked about what I learned from the book but then expressed my concern that our approach to the tour was wrong; we walked through as a museum exhibit, as if this was locked in the basement of history. We aren’t attending the Roman Colosseum, but this was just 70 years ago, and this wasn’t even the last instance of genocide. After the Holocaust we had the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and Bosnia. Not including the deaths that came at the hands of the Soviet Union and The People’s Republic of China. We shouldn’t be looking at this and say “How were they so terrible?” But we need to be asking “How could we be vulnerable to allowing this to happen again?” I feel it too, but we have a false sense of comfort and thinking that we are more moral people here in the USA, and we fight for freedom so we are immune to this and we need to just watch out for who out there may be doing this, but it is that mindset that makes you blind to the setting foundation of oppression.
The fact is that during this time that we are reflecting upon how the Nazis murdered millions of people and we view the Americans as the righteous rescuers, we also were turning on our own people and imprisoned our Japanese-American citizens against their will and caused societal damage and distrust that lasted for decades. Sure we didn’t put them in gas tanks, but we already cleared the biggest hurdle in genocide in government-issued imprisonment of a certain demographic without major public resistance. This isn’t a condemnation, but an example to shake you from the comfort of your moral ground. We have to think critically at how we treat others and accepting the reality that America isn’t immune from producing genocide in the future (Do I need to even elaborate on our history with the Native American community?).
European Road Trip
At the end of our class trip, Jason, Ben and I flew out to Germany to do our own trip through Western Europe. We met up with Nick and David in Frankfurt, then took a rented Audi down all the way to Rome, Italy. It was incredible time of adventure as we stayed in some great Airbnb’s (and at least one that was pretty sketchy), visiting castles, staying in the tiny Italian mountain village of Villalago, and visiting Rome. We got to stay a night with my dear friend Anne-Marie and her incredible family in Switzerland, and got to visit Albert Einstein’s apartment in Bern. It was here that I fell in love with Switzerland and started making plans for my own solo trip a year later. But also during this time was the first exposure that I was entering a season of deep pain and internal crisis that would force me off my intended course through life and unto a new one. Where this first started to emerge was that I became unacceptably irritable during our trip, I would get frustrated with the slightest change in plans or leaving a place before I was ready. It really casts a negative shadow on my experience during our epic road trip, but little did I know how long this season of pain was going to continue on, nor the emergence out of it would take me where I couldn’t have even imagined.
Seattle Pacific University: 2015-2017
This season of pain brought me to realize when I got back home that I was not looking forward to my upcoming final year at Northwest University. I met a lot of incredible people and had some really good professors, but it was like I stepped into an alternate dimension when I was in Europe and now NU was not the same school to me as it was when I finished the school year. I realized that I did not have pride in being an alumni of NU and started thinking of going to graduate school in the future and that would be the school I consider my alma mater.
Then the week before Kristi and Jairus’ wedding, I went and had Teriyaki with Jairus. Towards the end of our chat, he made one last plea that I transfer to SPU. During the past school year, most of my closest friends were all at SPU and they all took turns telling me that I needed to transfer to SPU, but I never considered it a possibility. I had good reason not to: I would only be there for one year then, since it would be my senior year, and thus that meant I would only have one year at NU and one at SPU, with no established community in either; I might as well just stay where I am and use the second year to invest deeper in those I got to know in my first year. But also, SPU is in Seattle, and I swore that I would never live in Seattle. So when Jairus was still pressing me to transfer even though it was now the end of June and I was going to start classes at NU in less than 2 months, it for some reason stayed with me. I realized that while I had good excuses not to transfer, the real reason was that I was scared. I was afraid of change and even though I was not enthusiastic about my upcoming year at NU, I at least knew what I was getting into and SPU was a complete unknown to me.
Once I acknowledged that it was fear that was holding me back, I decided to confront that fear and apply to SPU even though it was the very last week that SPU was accepting applications. I gave myself an out in that I still didn’t have to decide on if I was actually going to transfer, but I will apply and see how much financial aid I would get. I soon received an acceptance letter from SPU and received much more in financial aid to the point that it would be cheaper to go to SPU over NU even though the tuition is like $10k higher at SPU. When I showed up to the new students event to sign up for classes, I still wasn’t sure if I made the right choice and to be honest my first impression of the school wasn’t a very reassuring one. But after taking the step to apply, I knew I was committing to leaving NU.
When I started looking at all the classes being taught at SPU, I just started to drool over them all. There was the Social Enterprise and Social Venture Planning classes that actually focused on the social side of the entrepreneurship venture, Behavioral Neuroscience, Development Economics that basically covered everything I had been reading recreationally, and a whole class dedicated to Microfinance! On the first week of classes, I sought out a few of the professors during their office hours to discuss these classes.
I think the first person I met with was Dr. Randy Franz, and he was teaching the Social Enterprise that quarter. I went in and told him my story and how I am excited to create sustainable solutions that positively impact people and he talked about how Social Enterprise did that very thing as its emphasis. I told him about how I met Dr. Muhammad Yunus and he reached over on his bookshelf and showed me Yunus’ “Building Social Business,” and told me that the class covers him. I looked more at his bookshelf and they were all the books I had been reading! I had felt so alone with my passion of learning how make business designed not solely to make a profit but to use productive means that positively impact all stakeholders, and sitting there in his office I felt like I entered a world where the community as a whole were thinking just like me. I was so eager to get a taste of what this was like, so I asked if I could unofficially audit the class; I just wanted to be able to hear the discussions. He said that with how the class is designed, it probably wouldn’t work, but I could show up for the guest lectures, since about every other week a social entrepreneur would come in and talk about how they’ve managed to start a business that was achieving some sort of social end, which I gladly took him up on that offer.
I then met with Dr. Geri Mason, and I don’t remember exactly all that we talked about then, but we had much of the same conversation as I had with Dr. Franz and she suggested I stay another year and get a degree in Development Economics since then I would be able to take all these classes that had excited me. It only took me a couple weeks later to lay out a plan to stay another year and get a second degree in Development Economics, but then as I was looking around some more, I realized that if I just aligned my electives perfectly and took a few more classes, I could also have a full on business degree as well with the concentration in Social Enterprise. I fell immediately in love with it. It made perfect sense for me in that Development Economics would teach me about why developing nations were struggling and what was holding them back, Social Enterprise would then help me to develop grassroots solutions to those macro problems, and Accounting would help with the overall financial background to make sound business decisions.
There ended up being another reason for adding the other degrees: it became apparent that I wasn’t as good at accounting like I thought I was. When I started taking senior level accounting classes at SPU, I realized there was a lot more math involved than I thought and was quickly over my head. This awareness was further aggravated when I took an exam in the Income Taxation class and saw that I had received the lowest score. I always had my intellect and good grades to validate that I was competent, but this result and other low grade results from Cost Accounting put all of that into question and further aggravated this season of pain I was in. Thankfully, when I was in total despair, I received constant help from Mike Mouhanna and Carson Kroontje throughout the year as we repeatedly joined together on accounting group assignments. I don’t know how I could have made it that year without their help.
In that first quarter at SPU, I also took Operations Management with Dr. Jim Rand, a man who has lived a crazy life that borders on fictional with how many times his lectures deviate from textbook comments to his real life stories that seem to get increasingly more spectacular. I have to admit something, we spend all this time in school with the expressed intention to learn concepts and skills, but a lot of the time you’re just checking boxes and trying to just move onto the next class. We cringe at the thought of cumulative tests because the lecture taught last month is so beyond the realm of retention. Dr. Rand’s class proved to be a welcome antidote to that mode of thinking. From the very first day of class, Dr. Rand repeatedly would use the terms “Critical Thought” and “Strategic Thought” even though nobody really understood what he was talking about. He just kept hammering it day in and day out with questions asking “was that critical thinking or strategic thinking?” He even gave us a decision card that had the processes of each, but it still didn’t make sense to me. But the more he kept using it and the more we would read cases on these subjects, the more it slowly started to cement into my head. Yes I probably lost a lot of those finer details, but almost 2 years later and I can still sit hear and write about how Critical thinking is all about identifying a gap in performance; you need to find something measurable that is at the core of the operation that needs to be remedied and also is a project that can be fully implemented and have results within the year. Strategic thinking is observing something beyond the numbers and has a longer time horizon; what is the direction of the company? Where does your SWOT analysis say about your company and where does it lead your company towards? What functions are fighting for the same resources and what impact is that having on performance? I found that process of focusing on one foundational element within a class that is used the whole quarter in which you could branch off of with smaller concepts to be a fantastic way of teaching that is more memorable.
Another notable thing about this class that towards the end of the quarter, Dr. Rand used a whole class period to talk about the value of perseverance and personal growth. He used two famous books, “Man’s Search for Meaning” and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” as his main source content, along with his personal experience in working with the late author Stephen Covey. What struck me about this class wasn’t exactly the content in itself, since I had actually read both of those books myself before this class, but how Dr. Rand was able to talk for an hour on these two books. What I mean is that we both had read those two books, and had forgotten much of the content in those books, while Dr. Rand is constantly referring to specific parts of these books and teaching an impressive lecture with what I have already been exposed to. I went and got coffee with him afterwards and he challenged me to go back and read those books again and to take time to reflect on them before moving onto the next book, and even to do the 7 Habits Workbook to actively engage with the book.
In the winter quarter I finally got to take Dr. Mason’s Development Economics class. I had contacted Dr. Mason during the winter break and said that I had already read the first chapter a month in advance and asked her to send me book recommendations to read on the subject matter during the rest of the break, which she recommended I read Amartya Sen’s “Development as Freedom”, Paul Collier’s “Bottom Billion”, Abhijit Banerjee’s “Poor Economics”, William Easterly’s “White Man’s Burden”, and Jeffrey Sach’s “The End of Poverty.” I was able to read “Development as Freedom”, “Poor Economics” and “Bottom Billion by the time classes started. I went into the class confident and ready to prove myself as a Development Economist since I felt like I had read the most in this field and even had met Dr. Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, which you can’t get far in Development Economics without running across them. I also was looking for a rebound in that accounting was becoming an evermore bleak future and was tired of constant failing. I was soon presented with another rude but helpful awakening when I felt almost immediately behind my peers in keeping up with the deep questions and concepts that Dr. Mason presented to us. I felt like all that I had learned from reading these books were elementary level and we just jumped into graduate level and I was the only one left behind.
I had thought I was pretty much alone in thinking about how do we create solutions for those who don’t have access to the resources to advance like I was fortunate to have, but I soon discovered that SPU has done an excellent job at presenting these kind of questions and making part of the public discussion within the SPU community with not only the Development Economics majors, but the Global Development majors as well. I learned it was not enough to just have facts, but to see the underlying principles that influence those facts and what are the externalities from the expressed actions. But this learning curve was a slow process and as a result dealt another major blow to my self esteem to the point that I finally had to set up meetings with the counseling center to process through this season of pain.
Later on in the quarter, we had a huge group project where we were given details of a fictional African nation where we were given the task to decide what projects we would invest in that would yield the greatest impact given our limited budget. The project was quite elaborate with a map showing the interconnected villages with each of their natural and economic strengths and obstacles. In each representative village, we were given a set of proposed interventions and the projected 5 year costs and its impact on the community. I got really into the project and developed an elaborate Excel sheet that detailed as much quantifiable information that each possible intervention had and we could simulate different approaches to see what would be our ideal path. Nicole Bachaud was on my team and was a key driver in guiding the methodology we should use and was very proactive in affirming me and the work I had done, which was very valuable to me during this time.
The Development Economics class also proved to be the last straw in changing some of my political views. I grew up calling myself a liberal conservative, in that I liked that ambition of the liberal initiatives, but felt like they were fundamentally flawed and that the conservative approach eventually accomplishes a lot of the liberal agenda that focuses on helping those who live at the margins of society. I believed in supply-side economics and that a “rising tide lifts all boats” and we just need to pump up the organizers of production, who will then open new lines of production which requires more jobs, that in turn increases demand and thus consumption. It is a very logical principle that says feed those who have the means of driving the economy and by their very nature to maximize profit will open up doors at the bottom floor which provide the spring board for others start start off from. The problem is that this is designed for an ideal and perfectly rational world that isn’t reflected in the world we live in. If the producers’ objective is to maximize the capacity of society, then added profit margins or lower tax rates or added subsidies encourages movement towards profit maximization, which could mean investment into automation, acquiring another business to reduce supply costs, or even just throw it all retained earnings to boost cash balance to appeal to investors who want to see more stable 10K reports. The point is trickle down is not a clean cut solution to poverty.
I had to question my own beliefs when reading about extreme poverty and the negative effects of inequality. I didn’t like opening up the possibility of there being externalities to inequality because I was fine with the rich getting richer because I believed that meant that the poor will as a result be less poor as well. I had to go to Dr. Mason and talk all this out and help me accept that simply relying on trickle down to fix economic issues is just not going to cut it. This was the turning point when I’d say my politics changed and I began to focus on what can we do that impacts those who are most vulnerable in society; the strongest are going to keep being strong and I can’t rely on them to make market decisions that only maybe will trickle down to help those in need. That’s when I became a conservative liberal. I now seek to find solutions with the explicit intent focused on those in need that also doesn’t demonize and punish the producers that are keeping the economic engines running, but we all benefit when the bottom floor of society rises and I’m dedicated to finding ways to produce meaningful change home and abroad.
My time in Development Economics also had another story that was slowly developing. I was sitting in the front row of the classroom in this class, and there was only one other student in that row but across the aisle. She was a noticeably cute girl who walked with a guide dog. I didn’t have the guts to talk to her that quarter, but fate would give me a second chance the following school year, and this time I was going to take that opportunity. Her name was Ali Steenis.
Further Theological Development
The winter quarter really was a quarter of change for me, because I would also take Dr. Holmes’ Christian Scripture class. If I hadn’t taken Dr. Wisemore’s class back at Northwest University, I don’t know if I would have been in a position to really listen in this class since it presented a stark contrast in theological concepts than what I was raised in, but since I was presented with many of these concepts and validated in an Assembly of God school environment first, I was safe to listen and hold them openly. I talked about in the geology class I had to wrestle with how do I reconcile my faith with the possibility of evolution and other concepts of science, and one part early on that really helped me to find peace in my faith was the teachings of the first two chapters in Genesis. I’ve read the creation story many many times growing up and it is that familiarity that caused a lot of strain with the Bible’s description of creation and what science says, but Dr. Holmes pointed out that there isn’t any conflict at all: the Bible isn’t even trying to describe a historical factual statement at all! This becomes observably clear when you list the order of creation between the two chapters and you see that they don’t even match up. The first two chapters are describing the characteristics of God and God’s relationship with creation. Genesis One focuses on explicit order and how God is in control and the first this God does is create light from dark (right from wrong) and systematically shapes creation. The second chapter takes on a completely different style of writing and talks about God’s relationship and connection to humanity and creation. When it’s put like that, I don’t feel like my faith has to wrestle with science when I see that the Bible wasn’t even trying to make a scientific stand.
Growing up in the Assembly of God denomination, I was taught absolutely nothing about the apocrypha; I knew there was some other books added but I couldn’t even tell you if it was the Catholics or the Mormons who used them, in any case they weren’t canon and therefore not God-inspired and therefore it’s basically heresy to associate them with the Bible. But then we actually cover the history of the apocrypha and the meaning that these books have in the Christian historical narrative. As a Protestant, I just accepted there being a 400 year gap in history from where the Old Testament ends and the New Testament begins, and the apocrypha opens up about that time within that void. We see stories of martyrdom and the development of many modern Jewish traditions like how Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple after the Maccabees victorious revolt. But not only that, the main contributor to the removal of the apocrypha isn’t theological but simply an economic decision. When Martin Luther was utilizing the Gutenberg Printing Press, and to save space removed some of the “non-essential” books which almost included Esther.
Then came the book of Revelation, and one thing became abundantly clear that I never acknowledged before: the whole writing is apocalyptic writing, as in the genre, as in metaphorical. Further studying and listening to lectures on the different approaches to Revelation led to me conclude that, first off, premillennialism is not a given, and that approach encourages the wrong kind of behavior. If you took an premillennialism approach and conclude that there is an impeding “Left Behind” rapture and there’s going to be some antichrist who’s going to terrorize the world until Jesus comes back, it encourages boogeyman searching behavior and we are all trying to predict “the end times.” We become critical of any change in politics or society as evidence that the Antichrist is coming and therefore we need to identify who the Antichrist is. Also especially if you’re thinking the end is near, then there is no logical need to preserve the environment; if God is going to create a new heaven and new earth and do it soon, then who cares about sustainability? This earth is damned and might as well maximize our use while we can. But what if that isn’t the case? What if we took an amillennialism approach and said that wasn’t going to happen? What if the earth is God’s gift to creation and it doesn’t have a set expiration date? Then it is our duty to not only our descendants but also to God to preserve and nourish the earth.
Probably the most controversial change in my theology came in the topic of homosexuality. What I learned in this class is first, the topic of male-on-male sexual encounters in the Bible are considerably less than other topics that the church as changed its views on including slavery and women’s roles. Then on top of that, the term homosexual didn’t even exist in ancient Hebrew or Greek. When Leviticus talks about a man laying with another man, this isn’t talking about lovers, but rebuking a form of oppression that elder men did to younger men (which we still see forms of this in the Middle East today). We spend more time putting together an argument for The Trinity even though it’s not ever explicitly stated ever in the Bible than we do in understanding the context of homosexuality in the Bible. We just look at a verse that has been translated from different languages and gone through multiple revisions and see “Do not have sexual relations with another man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” And call it good and settled. But what if we were wrong? What if it wasn’t a sin? Look at how we treat the gay community with so much disgust and disdain; what if it wasn’t at all justified? Yes that is a more combative macro narrative of the Church, but even the “love the sinner, hate the sin” you are by definition observing someone as morally inferior to you. We walk around and ask “why is the world turning its back on the church?” And after asking myself tough theological questions, I feel like the answer is that we love conditionally even if it’s subconscious, but the world has taken notice.
The Bible is full of terrible people who cannot properly justify the evil acts and yet God still uses them; we’re all broken and detestable in our own humanly way, when did we become keepers of the moral high ground? This class helped me to conclude that it’s almost impossible to know anything for certain about God and the righteous path of living, and so I found the one tangible thing that I can rely on: Love, unconditional love. Hey maybe the rapture is coming soon, maybe homosexuals are sinning against God, maybe there is a dead-end destination for some in hell, but what is a better method of demonstrating God’s love: telling you all the things you might be doing wrong and listing how to stay on the nice list, or by loving you and showing support no matter how ridiculous you fall off track? Isn’t the latter more Christ-like anyways? If I showed absolutely the same equal amount of love and support to a gay atheist as I did to a straight Protestant, isn’t that a more accurate description of loving thy neighbor anyways? Hold on because I got one last part to my theological development that came from Dr. Castello’s Christian Theology class.
If there is one thing I took away from Castello’s Christian Theology class, is that it has ever since changed my vocabulary, and that is not assigning a male identity to God. It’s definitely a cumbersome process in the English language, but this small step goes a long way when we want to talk about gender issues in the church and society. When we make God male, we as a result hold males as superior to females and bring in masculine generalizations to the identity of God. Let’s just play with our biased gender roles, and say “God is almighty, and He is ruler over all.” Don’t we get that strong, charismatic kingly rule like King Leonidas of Sparta or even the mythical Greek god of Zeus? What if we said it this way: “God is almighty, and She is ruler over all.” Doesn’t carry a different tone now? Don’t you get that Wonder Woman feel that she’s tough but also caring, like you are safe and in tender care? How we define God influences how we see God. Think about all those who had terrible fathers growing up and then are told “God is like a father.” Yes I’ve heard the “He’s your Heavenly Father who greater than your earthly father” but it is an uphill battle that might have already been lost.
There’s also the aspect that I referred to earlier and that it affects how we value gender roles, by defining God as male we make God not female and thus males are more like God. Just look at how the church treats women even to this day! Even the beloved late church of Mars Hill made it explicitly clear that the Bible says women can’t have pastoral positions and so they will not do it. The Church has been male-centric for thousands of years and even beyond society’s shift to focusing on women’s rights. Is it not a surprise that the horrendous scandal of the sexual abuse done by Catholic priests remained hidden for so long? So since that class I have committed to using gender-neutral terms when referring to God.
I’ve talked about before my struggle with math, and that challenge came against me again in Dr. Downing’s Quantitative Methods class. I felt like I was constantly trying to keep my head above water and trying not to drown. I was going over some familiar stuff, but I have zero retention capability of math formulas and so I just tried to live day by day. I am grateful though that Dr. Downing taught in a way that was straightforward in the math concepts so that I could narrow the scope of my learning to specific functions within the class and provided multiple opportunities for you to go back and identify what you got wrong on the test and in the luxury of your own time fix it and get partial credit. Setting that kind of non-intimidating precedent was very psychologically reassuring for me.
Beyond all that though, something interesting happened that has presented a possible key in understanding why I struggle so much with math and where there is potential to develop a better personal method to using math. The last project we had to do was an airline management simulation game. It was a competition to maximize profit and we were given an Excel sheet with a bunch of data on a fictional airline, including: number of different flights, their flight distances, demand function, gas costs, airport ground fees costs, etc. We were given the information to connect a few pieces of information together so that the Excel sheet was fully functional and all we had to do was decide how many flights per day each route would have and what the selling price for a seat on each of those routes. We were supposed to utilize the calculation methods we learned in class and I just said screw it, I’m just going to do it my way. I basically just did a break even analysis to see what was the minimum you could charge for a flight and don’t lose money, then just kept testing out different sales prices and observed the change demand. I kept doing this until I felt like I was able to fill every seat at the highest available price. It appears that I did something right because I ended up in the top 5 out of like 30 teams while being in the bottom half on the test scores.
What I realized is that I process information in a highly contextual manner, in that I remember something because I was able to put a lot of mental hooks to be able to retain that information. I need to have multiple points of entry to a thought or memory for it to stick that I could shape a narrative around it and easily convey it to someone else for me to keep it. The problem is math is all about removing context from the process; you’re left with the barebones of the issue so that you can easily manipulate the numbers for calculation. But I need that context, I’m not going to remember anything beyond taking a derivative in that you times the base by the exponent and then remove one exponent because that’s just rote mechanics. I need to understand what is that exponent and what effect is the derivative having on it and the base. I need to be able to take that observation and in story form talk about how at a given point we can see this tiny movement in a given direction indicates its current path in relation to what is our desired result.
During my counseling sessions, we talked a lot about my need to achieve success to feel worthy of acceptance and how my struggle in school was aggravating this insecurity. After a few sessions, my counselor gave me a small assignment: go to my favorite coffee shop and order your favorite drink. While you sit there and drink your espresso, just be present and notice all the different flavors and textures of the coffee (but don’t critique it!). Just be present in the moment and relax. So at the end of Spring Break, I went to Street Bean Espresso, a coffee shop that employs homeless youth and gives them a 6 month apprenticeship that they can now receive income, gain work experience, and a trade skill with many potential job opportunities. I got myself a dopio espresso and sat next to the window and looked outside. As I sat there and enjoyed my coffee, I kept telling myself to “be present” but I had no idea how you achieve that state of being. I kept just internally telling myself to be present, and then it hit me; In this moment there are no consequences to how I use my time. I can literally sit here for another 2 hours and nothing bad happens. I’m not going to get behind on homework, I don’t lose money, I don’t fail to take an opportunity, I don’t fail or slip behind or lose out. That realization put me in the most relaxed state I could ever imagine as I felt this weight just lift off my shoulders as I began this journey of what it means to be present in my daily life. I began an internal shift in my thinking that changed the driver of my actions; I still was going to do all the crazy things I do, like read books, workout, operate on low amounts of sleep, etc, but why I’m doing it isn’t to gain acceptance but because it brings me joy to do those things.
During this time, I received an additional boost in that one my most dearest friends, Rachel, came back to work for SPU. We would meet up for a quick cup of coffee every week or so during the Spring quarter and it was just a wonderful added boost to my upward progression to have a peice of home find me back at SPU.
That summer, I then decided to do something that was a scary leap for me and planned out a solo 10 day trip to Switzerland. The previous year gave me a taste of Europe and Switzerland and I felt the urge to explore more and on my own terms. It was also a challenge for me to break out of my comfort zone and travel for an extended period of time where I’m fully responsible for all the logistics and have nobody else to rely on. But most importantly it was an exercise in this new discovery of being present; I wanted to be free on my own and experience life like I’ve never seen before. I mapped out a detailed plan of everything I intended on doing with a daily schedule for the entire trip, but the key was I had given myself the explicit freedom to deviate and do whatever I felt like regardless what the schedule said. The schedule was a way to rehearse the trip and to see what kind of decisions I would be presented with on a given day: when should I wake up? What am I going to eat, and am I going to eat out or will I have the opportunity to cook my own meal? What does the train schedule look like? It also allowed me to sketch out a fairly accurate estimate of my costs.
The trip was purely magical. I ended up doing a bunch of incredible things like: visiting Albert Einstein’s apartment, taking a boat ride on Lake Zurich, Hiking through the glacier canyons of the Alps, Riding a Rodelbahn down the mountainside of Kandersteg, hiking around the summit of Schilthorn, and staying at the base of the Matterhorn. But I preserved my goal of staying present through it all and was able to read a few books throughout my trip.
Some of the books I read were Man’s Search for Meaning and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, just like Dr. Rand said. But something happened that I did not expect while I was going through the workbooks for The 7 Habits: I did not have conscious memory of what the 7 Habits were, but I felt like I was always 2 steps ahead of the workbook while I was doing it. The workbook was meant to help me process and discover deeper about myself and my beliefs, but all the workbook did was get me to rethink and rewrite out what I had already learned. I was kind of disappointed and a little annoyed at first, but then I realized that this indicated something wonderful about myself. I looked up at Dr. Rand during that class period in Operations Management where he talked about the 7 Habits, but I had already learned it and had incorporated it into my life; It just didn’t have an external representation like quoting from the book. I felt like I had failed at learning but this experience helped me to see that I do learn and all the books I’ve read have an impact on my thinking are helping me grow, but my conscious retention of them are not as strong. They lie beneath the surface and shape how I think today.
SPU Investment Fund
Towards the end of my first year at SPU, I was reading one of the weekly school newsletters put on by Dr. Sleight when I saw a note saying to apply by that night for a position in the SPU Student Investment Fund. I have made stock investments in the past, and have been a passive investor ever since, but I didn’t really have much of a method when I first picked stocks other than they were companies that I liked and could see how they would continue to grow in the foreseeable future. It was during this time back in 2010 that I bought stocks like, Apple @ $39/share (post stock split price), Amazon @ $127/share, Starbucks at $15/share, and Under Armour @ $4/share (post stock split price). I wanted to have a more logical approach to investing, so I applied and was soon accepted into the 2016-2017 fund.
Being part of the Investment Fund was a lot of fun in that I got be with other ambitious students and for a program that is usually dominated by Finance majors, we were a team that had a notable amount of economists with Tylyn Turner, David Ngo, Chris Boisjolie, Julian Delapena, and Zach Dedekind as the President of the fund. Tylyn and I were in control over the Consumer Defensive market, with a solid holding in Costco. At the end of the Winter quarter we would be able to successfully propose the addition of Procter and Gamble holdings as well. Probably the most informative part of the fund was just going over a book called “The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing” which showed how the major schools of thought contrast in the world of investing and the tools of how to implement each one. We then spent most of the year doing training exercises on Morningstar and using the methods in the book to critique our current holdings and to explore new opportunities as well. I appreciated that it never felt like a toxic culture in the fund where everyone is jockeying for a top investor status as is the stereotype in investment firms, but a culture of shared learning and community.
I came back to my final year with a renewed passion and eagerness to capitalize on this last leg of my undergraduate journey. I took Dr. Baker’s Business Ethics and felt completely in my element the whole quarter. I usually am really quite in class and rarely speak up, and while Dr. Baker does a good job at stirring the pot and getting everyone to be actively engaged in discussion, I felt like I had enough knowledge of the topics being discussed to speak up. I realized how much the discussion was philosophical and with that meaning that there isn’t a clear cut answer that is self-evident like math or accounting and even more subjective than the softer sciences of Economics or Sociology. That freedom to question fits much more in my line of thinking and really helped me to discover how much I think like a philosopher; I love asking questions and exploring the trail of actions that a given decision results in and seeking greater understanding. I like being in the middle of those perplexing questions because that means the answer hasn’t been found and there’s freedom to be creative and to explore without shame. This confidence and freedom began to yield dividends when I got my midterm grades back and I discovered that I had gotten the highest score in the class. A quick fast forward was that I would lose that lead due to the pesky quizzes that I didn’t prepare well for and not knowing that the final was cumulative, but overall still ended up with a satisfactory grade.
I loved continuing the class conversation with Dr. Baker after class and allowing my mind to soak on different questions. I even came up with my own simple framework of dealing with the differing classes of thought on ethics principles. In our class we broke up ethics into three categories: The Deontological (Duty based) method, Virtue Ethics, and Teleological consequentialism.
Deontological is focused on the driver an action and how we are held to a higher standard to measure our actions. This method is popularized by Kant’s Categorical Imperative (a form of the golden rule that says: “does this given action work if everyone acted in this same way?” And the method of treating people as ends and not as means to your own ambitions).
Teleological Consequentialism is a contrast to Deontological in that also is focused on the action but instead of focusing on the driver of the action it is all about the end action. This is popularized by Utilitarianism which was developed by Jeremy Bentham and that is the process of maximizing utility (the measure of satisfaction), this method says whatever produces the most overall satisfaction yields the best results for society.
Virtue Ethics doesn’t focus on the action, but rather focuses on the one taking the action. It is the process of saying you are good because you are a good person, this is popularized by Aristotle and this is a contrast from duty-based in saying that we become ethical from our internal being rather than an external source.
When we were going over these three categories, I really struggled internally because I saw how much I found my thinking on different situations to at one point reflect all of these categories. I was aware of the limitations of each but couldn’t rule out any of them either, so I started to think about how to cope with this dilemma. What I came up with was a framework that allows each one to have it’s place in a single ecosystem of ethical decision making. My model for ethical application would be a checks and balance between three components:
I live out with a daily application of utilitarian theory in that I try to produce the overall greatest outcome, but is offset with a categorical imperative of not to inflict harm. This means that I need to be able to sacrifice a holistic greater outcome if an individual or group suffers a disproportionate harm. This then all is wrapped in virtue ethics to see holistically to find humanity in each individual.
It’s like our political system of checks and balances: The Executive Branch is Utilitarian function, with the Judicial Branch being Categorical Imperative and the Legislative Branch is Virtue Ethics. It’s not perfect, since I don’t feel like the Judicial Branch perfectly describes my theory of Categorical Imperative, but it somewhat does in that in enforces and validates the conduct of the executive function.
Money & Banking
I then took a Money and Banking class with Dr. Downing, and what I really enjoyed about this class was that for the most part it was focused on the history of the construction of money and the banking system. I appreciated the narrative and how the need grew from society to create organizations that could efficiently transfer access to liquid means of exchange from those who need it now from those who have the capacity to wait. I didn’t have enough time to really sit and digest a lot of the deep details that go into it, but it has definitely has been a primer for me to come back to and investigate further. This became further amplified when one day I was sitting in the break room at FedEx, and a newly-hired employee who out of the blue proceeded to tell me how the Rockefeller & Rothschild families own the Federal Reserve and run the world. I was dumbfounded at his total conviction of this and we argued for a half hour straight about how exactly the bank operates and how The Fed works. He must of seen some conspiracy theory documentary or something because he did have a surprising amount of information at his disposal, but they did not all fit well together, and I became aware in the gap in my education that I couldn’t clearly explain how his logic was wrong except to just say that it was. This solidified my need to return back to this learning so I can learn more fully how this all operates so I can properly dispel of these crazy myths.
I finally was able to take Dr. Franz’s Social Enterprise class this year as well. I loved sitting in the class last year when there was guest speakers and now I get to participate and join a team for a Social Venture Planning Competition. We got to cover a fantastic book called “The Mission-Driven Venture” and it was a detailed book covering all the components that go into Social Enterprises and the change in the legal system that have led to innovative programs to produce a better social good. I have read plenty about B-Corps, L3Cs, and social entrepreneurs, but this was taught at a much deeper level and detailing more of the actual legal impact these structures have. But one thing caught me off guard in this class and that was the overwhelming negativity towards these social programs from the class. Ever since I read Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ “Creating a World Without Poverty” I’ve been captivated with innovative means of using the market to produce equitable outcomes, but when we read a chapter talking about how these social innovations could impact society, a lot of my classmates were very pessimistic and felt more comfortable criticizing business and talk about what’s wrong with society even though we were literally talking about potential solutions. But I think that is what makes this class valuable is it can be the bridge between the two extremes of market fundamentalists and anti-market socialism.
One chapter that really stood out to me was a chapter talking about Social Impact Bonds. SIBs started in city in England called, Peterborough, where the prison was ranked last in the country on the 6 measures of performance. The problem was that the prison lacked the resources to implement many of the provisions and programs within the prison that prepare prisoners to re-enter society. As a result, Peterborough experienced disproportionately high re-conviction rates. The prison did not have means of acquiring more tax revenue to support the prison and so what was created was a Social Impact Bond that operates more like a futures contract. What the prison did was they went to private investors and proposed an 8 year bond that could have up to a 13% annual yield. The catch was it was conditional on a performance metric that re-convictions over this time needed to drop by 7.5% or the investor would lose out on the entire bond value (that’s why it’s more like a futures contract rather than a bond). But what this was doing was matching investment with social returns, since if the bond was able to meet the appropriate benchmarks, the investor would receive a very handsome return rate, and the government would save money as well since the reduced incarceration rate means less paperwork, damage from the incriminating acts, lower patrol density and prison guards. The local community also benefit from the lower rate of crime which improves morale and influence on bordering communities.
I was just captivated by this and dreamed about how else this could be enacted. I thought about how this could be implemented into our tax system, where at least a portion of your taxes could be subject to a SIB. Imagine getting your tax statement and seeing that $1,000 of your taxes can be used in SIB and presented you with a list of 10 different projects that have already had a bill voted and approved, where you get to choose where your $1,000 goes to and if that program hits a particular objective, you receive a portion or all of that $1,000 back because that project had positive externalities that overall lowered the government’s spending constraints. But if it did not achieve the intended goals, you just were able to have control over where your taxes went and now you have a more personal connection with government spending. I think one of the problems that Libertarians and Conservatives have with taxes is how irresponsible they perceive government spending is, and that taxes is seen as a penalty on the hard work you have done. If this function was implemented, then perhaps this could change how we interact with taxes and by having a vested interest in the outcomes of government spending, maybe we vote on more productive initiatives with clear results and not just what looks good for a politician. If we saw ourselves as investors in America, then we could think more critical about social problems and not simply by party lines.
Ali & the Dream Team
It was also in this class that I noticed a girl that I took Development Economics with last year was sitting in the front row of class. In one of the classes, Dr. Franz asked us to each pick what were our favorite 2 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which I had picked No Poverty & No Hunger I believe. We had raise our hand to vote on the two we picked to see who all voted for same ones as you, which the two that I picked weren’t that popular with the class selection, but I did notice that Ali and her friend Jess Sloan, each had picked one the ones I had voted on. This was quite reassuring for me because we would soon have to break up into teams of 3 to start a social venture team that we’d work together for the next 6 months in preparation of the Social Venture Planning Competition in April, and I wanted to team up with them. The problem is I struggle to take initiative and especially with asking to team up with the people I want to be with. But when it came to use class time to talk to potential teammates, Jess and Ali walked back to where I was and started talking to the people around me. I couldn’t muster the courage to put myself out there, but I made it visibly obvious that I wanted to talk, in which Jess asked me what kind of project I was interested in pursuing. I told her about a little idea I was working on, which I would later find out kind of already exists in what are called Community Supported Agriculture, where you buy a season share of a farm’s crop and get fresh produce delivered right to your door. This seemed to pique her interest as she got Ali’s attention and told her I was interested in working in agriculture. Ali then told about her interest in working with providing means of equitable access to work for those with disabilities, and I expressed that we could work in designing an agricultural project that was catered to people with disabilities. We then went on to talk to other people for a few minutes until Jess grabbed my arm and said that if I was interested, they would like to team up with me. I tried to control my excitement as the two people I desired most to work with actually asked me to join them and I quickly accepted.
After a few group meetings, I suggested wee have meetings at my apartment since it was right off campus and I could make lattes for everyone before our meetings. I was quickly developing a crush on Ali and I figured I’d test to see if I could use coffee to win a woman’s heart; mostly I was focusing on creating an inviting environment for team unity, but I did have my own plan as well. Our team meetings were consistently fantastic as we all just seem to gel well together and it seemed like we would spend half the time diving really intense into project planning, which I credit to both Ali and Jess working in ASSP and having to manage dealing with many complex projects in dealing with student government. But then we’d let our foot off the gas and just spend the rest of the time discussing deep topics and continuing to bond an ever-tighter team bond. I did notice that Ali was very interested in getting to know me and would constantly ask me questions about myself and my background, I loved it because there were things I wanted to share but couldn’t take the initiative to bring them up, but she just kept drawing me out and we continued to discover how incredibly similar we were. If I didn’t observe clearly enough already, it became abundantly clear when we discussed Myers-Briggs personality profiles and Ali said she was an INFJ, like I am. This is a rare occurrence not only since there are 16 different kinds, but INFJ is disproportionately the rarest type of all, with approximately only about 1.5% of people are INFJs.
As we finished the quarter, our team was rock solid and we had discovered a slowly emerging new type of agriculture called Aquaponics, which is a system that build upon the innovative process of greenhouse agriculture called Hydroponics. Hydroponics is where you don’t even use soil to grow crops in a greenhouse, but rather you put the plants in oxygenated water that you put a specific nutrients right in the water for the roots to absorb. This process actually circumvents a lot of limitations that soil causes and allows crops to grow sometimes 3x as fast without seasonal constraints. Aquaponics on the other hand makes the whole process a naturally symbiotic relationship in that there is a water tank connected to the plants that is full of fish, which the waste product of the fish is then pumped into the plants and that becomes the nutrient source for plants, which also balances the ph levels and cleans the water as the water is then recycled back into the fish tank. We did a small presentation at the end of the quarter and made a strong impression on the class.
The next quarter our team took the second class of this project in Dr. Franz’s Social Venture Planning class, but this one was more loosely structure is more specifically catered to project development. On the first day all the teams made a quick 1 minute presentation of the project they were working on, since this class was open to the whole school to partake in without having to be registered to the class and there were many students in the class that were not on a team currently that could join. As the presentations were going on, a new student went up to propose an idea he would like to work on and was looking for potential teammates and mentioned how he would like to use Aquaponics for his project and there was a collective giggle made from the class when he said that since they were aware of our team was doing that. This was really reassuring since on that last day where we made a presentation, there were many presentations were going on and so I personally had forgotten most of what all the other projects were doing, but yet when someone mentioned what is an obscure concept like aquaponics and everyone knew exactly what we talking about. This was evidence that we on to something notable. Jess went up to then talk about our project after the other student had mentioned aquaponics, and said we were looking for a student who is in engineering or has skills to implement a project that we were working on. Even though our team was fantastic, we were aware that we were going to get heavily critiqued on the physical aspect of the project we were proposing since none of us had the skills to produce this kind of system. After class, Nina Botis, who I did a class project with last year in Dr. Rand’s Operations Management class approached us and expressed her interest in joining our team. She highlighted that she was an Electrical Engineer and she had actually worked on a hydroponics system the previous year. She was perfect! But the only concern we had was that we all had acknowledged that our team bond was the best experience we had ever had and wanted to preserve that, so we said invited her to one of our meetings to see if she was comfortable with our team dynamics. Our concerns were completely wiped away as we all connected instantly and not only did our unity continue to get stronger but we all were able to provide a unique set of skills to the table work seamlessly together.
In one of our team meetings, I mentioned that the author Tim Ferriss was going to be in Seattle to promote his new book. Ali was pretty emphatic in expressing her interest in attending it so I told her I would keep her posted about the event. I had already bought a ticket, and when I went to check up on it to relay the info to Ali, the event had already sold out. I was disappointed because this was my one excuse to get time just with her, so I told her the bad news and she quickly texted me back. I don’t remember what it was that our conversation turned to, but we continued to carry a daily conversation over text even between group meetings. I wasn’t sure what kind of signals she sending me so I left plenty of opportunities for her to shut down the conversation, but she just kept diving in deeper and I happily continued on. We just kept getting on very personal and deep topics that I finally said that we just need to go get coffee so we can properly discuss these topics in full. We then set up a date the day before Valentines Day and when that day came, I had written down over 15 different topics that we had tabled until our coffee date. For me, this was pretty much the final test to see how compatible we were in could we carry on lively discussion just on own over coffee. To quickly answer that question, we most definitely can in that in this first time we spent exclusive social time together, we sat at that coffee shop for 5 straight hours of constant talking! It never felt forced or artificial, we just kept diving deeper and deeper into our minds and souls. Towards the end I told her that I had been doing something quite intentional with her in that up until this point, we have been teammates for the past 3 months and I had never asked her any questions and don’t much of anything about her blindness. I said that I was very intentional about this in that I wanted to get to know her simply as a person and not to have “blind” hovering over that association with her; I didn’t want to get to know her as my “blind friend” but simply as a friend before I bring in knowledge of her disability. She expressed how touched she was by that and proceeded to educated me on Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis and how she’s managed to process the different stages of visual impairment growing up.
I was completely bought in after that and we continued to find excuses to meet up, whether that was more coffee dates, or watching all the Star Wars movies. But we set up a plan to watch the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie at the Cinerama. When that day came, we got to see it in the Cinerama’s beautiful venue and Ali was able to get an descriptive audio device that narrated the visual aspects of the scenes that worked excellently. After the movie, we went and had dinner and carried on another deep conversation which I could not contain it any longer and confessed my feeling for her. She then enthusiastically responded in kind that she felt the same about me. We decided that we should take time before committing to a relationship so that we can focus on finishing our team project as teammates since we had just a few weeks until the final competition.
When the competition finally came, we spent a grueling 4 hours of constant pitching to hundreds of spectators and judges. We had gotten consistently enthusiastically positive responses to our project from very notable people in the school, and felt confident that we were fighting for first place. However when the final results came in, we were just a point away from an honorable mention. It still perplexes me to this day how that happened, but it shows how much variability can occur when it comes to human judgement. At the end of the day, the feedback we received was very reassuring and the critiques people made were definitely manageable and never felt like someone highlighted a fatal flaw in our plan or execution. I would have loved to win; I would have loved to have received that recognition that our project was exceptional and to acknowledge what was by far the greatest team experience I have ever witnessed or participated in. But not winning doesn’t take away the lasting friendships we developed and in mine & Ali’s case, a beautiful beginning on a journey together.
The Winter quarter was about the macros and the micros, in that I had Intermediate Microeconomics, Intermediate Macroeconomics, and Microfinance. The concerning issue with the economics classes was that I took the introductory principles classes back in 2011 at GRCC. The learning curve in the Microeconomics class was a steep one and constantly challenged me and pushed me to my limits. I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Meredith’s classes, but there just wasn’t enough time in the quarter for us to digest the information to my speed, and thus I had to just scratch the surface and do what I could retain in order to pass the class. I was thankful to have Chris Boisjolie and Nicole Bachaud to do group assignments with who were much more knowledgeable on the concepts and the math and were patient enough to help me to understand the critical concepts. My frustration with the lack of a deeper understanding of these concept led me to start playing around with my own version of a “Economics for Dummies” where I would write out things like the concept of Elasticity in plain English and work on how the math works from a more intuitive process and how each calculation relates to the larger context of the subject. It was very beneficial for me to retrace the steps when I had forgotten a calculation, but it was very time intensive that I had to put the whole project on hold, but I was definitely onto something. This led me to conclude that once I finished school, I would come back to the textbook and go back over our class topics and continue this project of writing a more layman’s version of these concepts to further cement these into my thinking.
Microfinance was a lot of fun since this was a whole class focusing on a subject that I started to fall in love with back in my first year of college. I was initially concerned when I found out that the professor who teaches this course had to drop out to continue to work on a research project, and were bringing two practitioners in from Global Partnerships to teach the class, but it turned out to be a fantastic experience. The two teachers were Kusi Hornberger and Tara Murphy Forde, and they would take turns teaching the class, and it was really cool to see how each one would have their own method of teaching the class and created a loose environment that each class lecture would have a different feel from the previous lecture. I personally preferred Kusi’s teaching method but I appreciated the change of pace between the lectures. This class helped me to understand more fully this growing field of Impact Investing that I read about in Social Enterprise. Microfinance is showing that while it is not the silver bullet that we thought it could be, but it is showing maturing aspects as an established field of economic development. Microfinance has gone from just being small batch loans to those without collateral to being a full fledged commercialized market that attracts investors and has its own set of performance metrics to indicate success to potential investors. This growth has caused some of the market to move away a bit from the original goal and has focused on investor’s needs over the client’s needs, but some would argue that it is the cost of entering the public market and using market drivers to gain the large scale of capital needed to fund these projects. Microfinance has also moved from a singular function to being the epicenter of many social products and services so that those who live at the bottom of the financial pyramid now can not only get loans, but crop and health insurance, savings accounts, and educational classes.
Spring, 2017: The Final Quarter.
My final quarter was focused on one class: Development Economics. I didn’t fail it the first time or anything, but since I made it my concentration I get to take the class twice since each year the theme switches from Macro to Micro in focus (they’ve now changed it so it’s explicitly called Macro one year and Micro the next). This year was Microeconomic in focus and one of the things that was different this year was that we read “The Taste of Many Mountains” an economic novel by Dr. Bruce Wydick. I was really looking forward to reading this book since the Autumn quarter since in Dr. Baker’s Business Ethics class, we read about two conflicting arguments involving Fair Trade Coffee. Fair Trade is an organization that buys coffee at a minimum price floor of $1.40/lb of coffee from farmers and also gives another $0.20/lb to the local cooperative for investing in community development. Since coffee is a commodity, the price fluctuates tremendously and when the price fell below $1/lb back in 2002, many coffee farmers suffered since they could barely make a living off slim profit margins. Fair Trade is designed to provide that assurance of an equitable price so the farmers don’t get harmed in times of low prices. In Baker’s class, we read about the complaints that there was lack of transparency in the process and that it encourages bad coffee to be dropped off in Fair Trade since it has a guaranteed floor, which could hurt the brand of Fair Trade so that the market wouldn’t buy it anymore and thus hurt farmers. Also with the costs that Fair Trade charges to farmers to be associated with the brand, and how much Fair Trade spent on promotions, there were questions on is the system designed to help build the organization up more than to help farmers.
I didn’t know where I stood on the matter and so I went to Dr. Mason to ask her what her thoughts were on the subject. She then said that we would be covering this very question in Development Economics this year and I just needed to wait until I read the book to see what her perspective was. The book is a fairly good novel, and an excellent form of digesting complex economic concepts in spoonful dosages. The book is a fictional account of an actual economic research project that sought to identify how the value chain is splits up the sale price of a cup of coffee. They wanted to see when you spend $1.80 for a cup of Fair Trade coffee, how much of that is actually going back to the farmer? To spoil the ending, the researchers conclude that Fair Trade is not actually adding any meaningful value back to farmers, and for completely different reasons than what the common concerns were.
The price floor is meant to work as a form of crop insurance to the producers, but since there is no restrictions on production, all the potential benefits get washed out by over-saturation. The strongest benefit Fair Trade is supposed to have is when there’s a large drop in the commodity price of coffee, like in 2002 where the price dropped to $0.63/lb due to high robusta coffee production in Vietnam, which in theory would mean that coffee farmers would receive a $0.62/lb premium (after fees and dues to the cooperative). Instead, since there is no restriction in production, what results is “the tragedy of the commons” where it is in the best interest of each individual to shift their coffee to Fair Trade certified, which then exceeds the market demand quantity of Fair Trade Coffee, thus only about 15% of the farmer’s yield can actually be sold as Fair Trade. When the price of coffee rises and exceeds the price floor of Fair Trade, coffee farmers also lose out since they receive no better price compared to the open market by selling Fair Trade, but yet have to pay $0.03/lb certification fee on average. There is still the $0.20/lb premium, but that is only indirectly received since it goes to the cooperative for public investment projects. On average, with fluctuations in price levels in coffee and the corresponding factors that has on Fair Trade farmers, research concluded after observing 13 years of data that on average, a farmer in Guatemala received $3-$11 in additional revenue per year through Fair Trade.
Fair Trade calls upon the wrong economic incentives and drivers to push money back up the value chain. The problem is that Fair Trade tries to demand a premium price and have bargaining power on what is an undifferentiated commodity product. There is nothing objectively better about Fair Trade coffee beans over any other batch of coffee. One of the more shocking disappointments about Fair Trade coffee is that the consumer pays a premium for the same coffee with the intention of sending more money back to the farmer, but the money never makes it back there. On average, consumers are willing to pay about $0.50 extra for a cup of coffee for ethically-driven purposes. We think we’re basically making a donation to a farmer by paying extra for the same coffee, but the opposite is happening. Normal coffee’s value distribution is almost 50/50 between producing country and consumer country, but Fair Trade coffee is more like 35/65 between producing country and consumer country.
We then had a class discussion after we read the book, and Dr. Mason asked us if Fair Trade fails to help farmers, what can we do? How can we push value back up chain and give more bargaining power to the farmers? A lot of students proposed a bunch of different thoughts and ideas, and I started churning on a thought, but hadn’t fully processed it and was afraid to look clueless so I didn’t say anything. Later that day I went to meet with Dr. Mason to discuss my research topic I was working on that involved the impact stable income has on regions of extreme poverty. We talked about it for a little bit but then I started talking about the Fair Trade discussion, and I opened up about a thought I was working on. I still don’t quite know how I came across this or how long I knew of it, but when we were discussing giving bargaining power to coffee farmers, I started to think of how Slate coffee presents their coffee like a wine and how they talk about where the coffee came from, and the unique flavor notes you should taste in the coffee. I then thought about how Caffe Ladro has these expensive micro lot coffee bags that seem to come from a single farm. Again I don’t know how first heard of the this term, but I started asking her if Direct Trade could be a better method of helping farmers. What if coffee roasters buying directly from farms is providing a better price and giving bargaining power to farmers? If coffee is shifting to the point a coffee shop is talking about it like wine, couldn’t this help drive up the price and thus help farmers? She seemed really interested in the idea and noticed how excited I was becoming while talking about it and said I should make this my research project. So even though I had already started work on a research project, I completely started over almost half way through the quarter on learning about Direct Trade coffee.
I became completely consumed by the concept of direct trade coffee and learning all about the process that goes into coffee production and how we consume it. I started to learn how coffee has changed over the years and how we’re entering a new era on how we interact with coffee that is a much more educated and personal experience and coffee shops are popping up all over to cater to this demand for a higher standard in coffee. It became my passion and I couldn’t stop talking to people and finding excuses to make them a cup of coffee from directly traded gourmet coffee and showing them the difference. My excitement led me to even pursue an interview with the Director of Education at Caffe Ladro and I got to talk to him for over 2 hours about coffee, and what was great was that it turned more into a discussion rather than an interview and he was interested in hearing about my observations with Fair Trade coffee. My research paper ended up being over 20 pages long and I feel like I’ve laid the groundwork for graduate level research if I do decide to go back to school, which I probably will.
And that is how I was able to conclude my time in school: with a fire of passion and excitement in my eyes as I seek out further growth and development. It is has been a crazy journey and you’ve actually manage to read all of this, then I applaud you and please go get a life. This was just supposed to be a simple reflection over my time and acknowledge those who contributed to that experience and it turned into a mini autobiography, but it has been a great experience to reflect back at all that has changed from who I was as a 19 year old to who I am today. If my life could change so radically in 8 years, I cannot wait to see what the next 8 years have to offer. I will continue to keep on moving forward with a cup of freshly brewed Direct Trade coffee in hand and a wonderful partner named Ali by my side.
If you would like to read the my full research on Direct Trade coffee, just click here: Development Economics Research Project: Direct Trade Coffee
If you would like to donate to my Graduation Charity: Water campaign, just click here: Grant’s Graduation Water Fundraiser for Charity: Water
What a formative education experience. That Ali is one lucky woman!