Honors student promotes

Courtesy Photo / Ross Ezinga
Ross working with local women making palm nut oil.

Courtesy Photo / Ross Ezinga Ross working with local women making palm nut oil.

Lauren Fitch

Though many may not consider developing sustainable business practices a pressing need in their everyday lives, Grand Valley State University senior Ross Ezinga deemed it important enough to travel to Ghana and spend three months of his summer focusing on just that.

Ezinga, an honors student majoring in product design and manufacturing, has been working with the University of Cape Coast since the middle of May to help the Ghanians develop better ways of doing business.

“The goal is for them to stop importing and develop products here from locally available materials,” Ezinga said. “We’re building relationships to see what needs there are.”

Ezinga traveled to Ghana as part of his engineering co-op, an internship necessary for him to graduate. Usually, the co-op is done with a company in Michigan. Ezinga is the first one to travel outside the country to fulfill this requirement.

“I like trying new things and meeting new people,” Ezinga said. “It’s an adventure.”

Mentoring Ezinga in his work at UCC is Dr. Kofi Sam and GVSU’s Dr. Shirley Fleischmann.

Sam has been working with local entrepreneurs in Ghana and contacted the honors college in search of a student interested in helping with the project.

So far, the team from GVSU has met with a number of different entrepreneurs and is still assessing the best way to help develop their products, which include the production of palm oil and roofing tiles, among other things.

Ezinga said the Ghanians have been open to their advice so far as long as it does not interrupt their culture.

“We need to lead by example,” Ezinga said. “We have to prove it will work.”

Janaan Decker, student services coordinator for the honors college, collaborated with the Padnos International Center to organize Ezinga’s trip. Decker worked in Ghana last summer and also plans to return for a couple months this summer to work on another project.

“You bring back a wealth of knowledge and experience,” Decker said. “It’s hard to explain how much it changes you and what it does to a person (to visit a developing country).”

Many students were inspired to get involved with various service-advocacy projects after hearing about Decker’s experiences. She said the trips support GVSU’s goal to develop its students into global citizens and strong leaders.

“It’s so exciting to be working with students and giving them the support they need,” Decker said.

She plans to continue to develop the service-learning program within the honors college for future years.

Though relatively early in Ezinga’s trip, he said he has already learned a lot, which he anticipates will help him in his future career ventures.

“It shows my sense of independence and that I’m not afraid to take risks,” Ezinga said.

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