It was a rollercoaster ride with an exhilarating ending on April 22, 2022, when the Enactus team of La Sierra University, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Riverside, California, United States, placed third in the nation for entrepreneurial outreach projects in education and high-tech agriculture during the Enactus USA Exposition in New York.
Enactus, a global nonprofit organization based in Springfield, Missouri, United States, encourages students at universities and colleges around the world to use innovative and entrepreneurial business principles in developing community impact programs that transform lives in a sustainable way. The organization is supported by major corporations such as business services conglomerate KPMG, Rich’s food products, and Regis Corporation, key presenters of this year’s nationals.
Each year, student teams in the U.S. compete on stage, giving multimedia annual-report presentations about their projects before panels of business executives, who serve as judges. Following a question-and-answer session, teams are ranked based on project impact and innovation and on presentation quality.
The La Sierra University Enactus presentation focused on two main projects that involved nearly 2,000 hours of strategizing and hands-on activities over the past year: the ongoing technology-based eLibrary that launched in Jamaica in 2018; and the new Freight2Table hydroponics agriculture project, which began in March 2021.
This year’s La Sierra Enactus team is composed of 25 members, of which eight traveled to the national exposition. Altogether, 51 teams from colleges and universities around the United States competed during USA Exposition events.
Perseverance Pays Off
The student-driven projects represent hundreds of hours of work over the year, with many more hours accumulated in practice for the competition. The significant investment of time and various challenges, including concerns over the projects’ progress, stage fright, and the ability to recall and deliver memorized scripts, confronted students as they prepared for the event.
“Going into nationals I was definitely concerned with our project progress,” La Sierra team president Megan Eisele said. “It's hard to know how large of an impact other teams have had and how we compare. But we continued working hard to help others, which is our goal anyways, and it has paid off.”
“I was over the moon when we moved on to the final-four stage of the competition,” presentation team member Chris Bauman said. “I was also freaking out because we only had around half an hour to get composed and prepare for the next big presentation.”
The La Sierra Enactus presentation team found themselves back on stage competing with three other universities for the national trophy in front of a new panel of judges. In the end, the team did not land the top award, but the third-place finish was a major and unexpected achievement and a significant recognition of their efforts. Through it all, they learned many lessons, participants said, including the value of teamwork and commitment to a common goal, and a recognition of the ability to overcome personal hurdles.
“Getting to the final four and placing third in the nation made me feel that everyone understood the gaps we were trying to fill,” team member Sophia Adeogun said. “That we were actually making a change in more than just the people that we were helping but the people with the access.”
“When we finished our second presentation, I knew that we did everything we possibly could, and no matter what place we got, I would be happy and proud of my team,” Bauman said. “The whole experience was very emotional, very tiring, and very impactful. I would not trade the experience for anything in the world.”
The La Sierra Enactus eLibrary consists of consumer-grade flash drives that use state-of-the-art micro-compression technology to host thousands of digital textbooks, videos, and other educational material. The micro-compression technology was developed by Enactus partners Mark Gaspar and the late Ron Zane through their organization, Global Education Ministries. The drives plug into any computer or tablet for immediate access to extensive educational resources or can plug into school computer networks.
The project began with 1,200 flash drives distributed to 171 schools in Jamaica, followed by dispersal within the Alvord Unified School District in Riverside, California, United States, and other institutions. Since then, the team has expanded its eLibrary outreach to other educational institutions.
This year the team expanded the drive’s storage capacity by more than 200 percent and updated its content to include a general studies 2022 version that offers “Business Concepts for Scientists,” NASA videos, and nearly 1,000 new textbooks from Open University. New bilingual and life science and health editions of the eLibrary drives were also developed. A new pay-it-forward model is in the works to reduce costs by outsourcing production of preprogrammed drives.
The Freight2Table project evolved from a partnership with local nonprofit Growing Hope, which provides educational and career-pathway access to San Bernadino Unified School District students through involvement in hydroponics agriculture. This interaction led to a larger vision and the acquisition of a high-tech hydroponics farm housed within a 40-foot (12-meter) shipping container designed by Boston-based Freight Farms. The container’s environmentally controlled systems can grow a wide variety of leafy greens and herbs based on a reverse-osmosis water filtration system and a timed and regulated supply of electricity and nutrient-infused water. Growing lights spur plant photosynthesis. This method of farming allows for a weekly yield of 990 heads of lettuce and water utilization that is 95 percent more efficient than traditional topsoil farming.
Freight2Table’s first phase, carried out over the past year, has consisted of utilizing the farm and its systems for educational purposes within university programs, and for the team’s research and development of its produce. Campus and local community members have benefited from team donations of fresh produce.
The team is currently entering Freight2Table’s business model–based second phase, which aims for profitability and expansion by selling produce to local markets and vendors who are interested in obtaining organically and sustainably grown produce. First steps have included agreements with the La Sierra Dining Commons and La Sierra Natural Foods market. Meanwhile, the team’s vision has evolved further to encompass a future sustainability park for researching hydroponics and agricultural technology.