MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University students and professors have teamed up with 600 pounds of coffee beans to help out a medical center half a world away.
A project with big ideas had humble enough beginnings in 2006 when NMU professors Mary Jane Tremethick of the Health, Education and Physical Recreation Department and Eileen Smit of the School of Nursing took a group of students to Santa Cruz de Yojoa, Honduras for a service learning cultural immersion program.
It was there that they first networked with Dr. Milton Mendoza, president of the Yojoa International Medical Center Foundation, which provides medical care to underserved rural populations in Honduras. They returned to the same area of Honduras for the next four summers, then during the summer of 2010, With the help of Babycakes Muffin Company owner Kim Danielson, Smit and Tremethick decided to import 600 pounds of green coffee beans back to Marquette to sell as a fundraiser for the medical center. Danielson has taken on the job of storing the green coffee, taking it to Dead River Coffee to be roasted and selling it from her shop.
This photo of Honduran workers in a coffee field was taken during a mission trip in 2007 by Northern Michigan University students and faculty. Coffee imported to Marquette from Honduras is being sold locally as a fundraiser for a rural medical center. (Photo courtesy of Mary Jane Tremethick)
Since their end goal was to find projects that benefit both students and their partners at the medical center in Honduras, and this seemed a good opportunity to do just that, Smit and Tremethick said. NMU business students could practice their skills by branding and marketing the project in the local area and the proceeds would benefit the Yojoa International Medical Center.
So they teamed up with NMU business professor Bruce Sherony and his marketing for entrepreneurship class to make the project a success. Thirty students split up into teams and spent this semester taking what they already knew about marketing and putting it into action.
"The students did everything you would do in marketing," he said. "They developed the product brand, the brochure, the poster, they developed the brand and the logo."
The students also worked to develop a retail and wholesale price and ran taste tests at various locations in Marquette. A hands-on project is a significant step for students to practice skills learned in the classroom or the lecture hall, Sherony said.
"The value is that they extract what they need to do out of good textbook material," Sherony said. "The real value is trying these things in the marketplace instead of just memorizing them."
Senior marketing major Natalie LaCombe worked through the class to develop a marketing plan and work on advertising possibilities. She said she saw the importance of real-world activity.
"I think the most valuable thing I will take away from this experience is the "hands on" quality. Being able to work on an actual marketing project before graduation is important. A lot of the time marketing students don't get the chance to do real stuff before graduating."
Tremethick and Smit plan to continue marketing the coffee year round and are looking to expand availability to other local businesses. The fresh roasted coffee is currently available for sale at Babycakes Muffin Company in downtown Marquette at $12.99 per pound. According to the brochure, YoJoe is an Arabica coffee with a smooth texture and a sweet aftertaste. It is made from Arabica cherries grown in the mountains surrounding Lake Yojoa in Honduras. All proceeds will benefit be used to help build a medical center in rural Honduras.
To find out more about the Yojoa International Medical Center, visit www.yimc.org. Mendoza, the president of the Yojoa International Medical Center, , will also be speaking at the Peter White Public Library at 7 p.m. Jan. 17. Anyone interested in being involved in the project can contact Tremethick firstname.lastname@example.org or Smit at email@example.com.
Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.