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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Santa Fe College students build relationships and skills through global collaboration

Santa Fe College teams placed first and third in the Cohort IV Virtual Global Business Expo in the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge

Graphic by Alex Brown
Graphic by Alex Brown

College students collaborated internationally in a competition to produce ideas for sustainable development in technology without jeopardizing future generations.

Two teams from Santa Fe College worked with colleges in Jordan in a virtual exchange program this Spring to develop sustainable business concepts in technology, according to the event website

Both teams were finalists in the Cohort IV Virtual Global Business Expo in the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge and placed first and third out of the 27 international teams made up of students from the United States, Jordan and Iraq. The competition winners were announced April 21.

The Cohort IV Virtual Global Business Expo in the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge is a competition supporting international development in the technology industry, according to the event website

Over 10 weeks, each team created a business concept and pitch addressing a sustainable approach for technological development.

Some students who participated had to overcome a seven-hour time zone difference between the United States and Jordan to form their concepts and business plans for their submissions.

Students from the Santa Fe College teams met with their Jordanian team members remotely every week to work on their projects, said Santa Fe College English professor William Clay Kinchen Smith, Ph.D., who led the binational team that placed first. 

“It’s one of those experiences that truly underscores how much we have in common, whether you’re here, whether you’re in Jordan, wherever you are and how much we have in common in terms of human beings,” Smith said. 

Students from Santa Fe College and Al Hussein Technical University in Amman, Jordan, won first place in the competition for their proposed idea to reduce food waste through Paragon, an online platform.

Paragon seeks to reduce environmental damage through transparent communication among stakeholders in the food industry, according to the group’s business pitch. This would be done by using an algorithm and features like tracking items and digitizing and providing access to trustworthy information.

The first-place team, known as The Planeteers, was composed of four American students and 13 Jordanian students, according to the event website.

“It was something that put us out of our comfort zone in terms of things that we work on,” Sanad Kiswani, a 20-year-old third-year energy engineering student at Al Hussein Technical University in Jordan and member of The Planeteers, said.

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Kiswani said the competition and collaboration were helpful in learning to apply his skills in fields he otherwise may not have entered.

Other students from The Planeteers expressed their appreciation for the event’s challenge and the opportunity to meet new people.

“I was blown away with how advanced they were,” Michael Watson, a 35-year-old organizational management sophomore at Santa Fe College and member of The Planeteers, said regarding the Jordanian students’ professionalism and dedication. 

Vilma Fuentes, Ph.D., an assistant vice president for academic affairs at Santa Fe College, led Collab Crew, which placed third in the competition. 

Eleven students from Santa Fe College and 10 from Luminus Technical University College in Amman, Jordan, created a concept of rentable, solar-powered scooters made out of recycled parts to serve people in big cities who wish for a sustainable, affordable and safe way to travel, according to the event website.

Fuentes said virtual exchanges give students who may not be able to participate in an in-person exchange program the chance to internationally connect and collaborate with others.

“They could exchange cultural experiences, work on a group project and just deepen their global knowledge, their intercultural competence and their overall business skills,” Fuentes said. “It’s really spectacular.”

Conor Ruffin, a 21-year-old Santa Fe College associate degree student and member of Collab Crew, joined the program because of his interest in international diplomacy, he wrote in an email.

“I enjoyed working with my teammates,” he wrote. “I learned about Jordanian culture and can now say that I have worked with people on the international level.”

Shana Kilby, a 25-year-old organizational management senior at Santa Fe College and member of Collab Crew, said she was excited for the opportunity to learn more about sustainability and help the environment, which she said is an interest of hers.

“It showed me a different way to interact with international people, to have a more open mind and a better understanding of a better communication to have,” Kilby said.

The Planeteers and the Collab Crew could receive a grant of $2,000 and $1,000, respectively, after placing in the competition’s top three teams and formally applying for the funds to further develop their projects, Fuentes said.

The American students who have spoken with her are not interested in continuing with the projects, she said.

However, some Jordanian students plan to move forward with the projects even if Santa Fe College students will not participate further, she said.

“I think, in many ways, what we’re seeing is reflective of the complicated lives that many community college students lead,” Fuentes said.

Many of the students she spoke with cannot continue with the projects due to family, work and school obligations, she said.

“It’s unfortunate,” Fuentes said. “But I think that they still gained a very powerful and memorable experience that has helped them develop critical workforce skills needed in the 21st century.”

Contact Antonia LaRocca at Follow her on Twitter @antoniarlarocca.

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Antonia LaRocca

Antonia LaRocca is a staff writer at The Alligator.

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