From an office in Mandeville Hall, Eric Patton, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of SJU’s managing human capital program, serves as the lead professor for a course he wrote and developed for students 7,500 miles away. Using Skype and sophisticated technology, Patton communicates lesson plans with his class, composed of refugees from eight countries who live at camps in Malawi and Kenya. His course is part of a Jesuit initiative to educate the marginalized masses worldwide.

In the fall of 2012, Patton offered his Introduction to Business course for Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC-HEM), a four-year pilot program launched in September 2010 in partnership with Jesuit Relief Services. The initiative employs the latest online tools to deliver accredited university courses to refugees who have had little or no postsecondary education.

Accredited by Regis University in Denver, the program’s courses are largely concentrated in the liberal arts and influenced by Ignatian pedagogy. The introduction of Patton’s business course to the initiative expands JC-HEM’s offerings and gives students more career options.

JC-HEM courses offer university-level credit. If students make it outside of the camp, they can use this program to integrate into business and society. The curriculum is also aimed at those who want to better their lives within the camp and expand their job prospects.

Sugira Gustave Habimana, 23, a student in Patton’s class, is a Rwanda native who has lived in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, for 15 years. “Educational opportunities are limited here,” he says. “I have dreams — I want to go into social work and help children — and having a business education gives me a chance to realize one of them.”

Students in the Kakuma Refugee Camp’s Learning Center.

The Kakuma Camp stretches across 10 miles of rough terrain and is home to approximately 100,000 people driven there by violence in Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi and a handful of other nations.

Patton says most students, like Habimana, walk an hour through dangerous areas to attend class at the camp’s learning center. By the time they arrive, they are often physically exhausted. Yet, Patton has observed that these students are very motivated.

“The students want quick feedback and are eager for daily interaction,” he says. “It’s been fascinating to read their interpretations and their context and cultural perspectives on the various assignments. Their analogies and examples are very rich. This experience has and will continue to inform my teaching of

SJU students.”

Patton says each of his JC-HEM students has enhanced the coursework material through their contributions and unique life experiences. Students range in age from 20 to 50; many work full-time, others part-time; and some care for their families. “It’s an incredibly diverse group,” he says.

While Patton is the lead professor, the Introduction to Business course is currently being taught asynchronously by five JC-HEM instructors. He recently learned that there is interest in offering the course in the near future at the program’s eight other camps.

“The fact that Eric has contributed his time and expertise to JC-HEM, while remaining committed to his responsibilities as a full-time professor at the Haub School, is demonstrative of his commitment to the Jesuit concept of magis — doing more, being more and achieving more than he ever thought possible,” says Claire Simmers, Ph.D., chair and professor of management.

“Eric is the epitome of a person for others, living every day for everyone,” Simmons says. “In his quiet way, he shares his knowledge and experience to make a difference, enacting Ignatian ideals in concrete and effective ways. The SJU mission is not abstract to Eric, but a call to action. We see his action in his work with the JC-HEM.”

According to Simmers, Patton, who was the 2011 recipient of SJU’s Faculty Merit Award for Research, is the kind of professor who goes above and beyond for his students. With JC-HEM, he even convinced a major publisher to donate textbooks to limit the organization’s expenses.

“What I like about Saint Joseph’s is that the University gives you the opportunity to do volunteer work,” says Patton. “This is something I really believe in…working with the JC-HEM has been an incredible experience.”

The business world can sometimes be viewed as cold and only concerned about the bottom line. But Patton says he enjoys showing his students that management is also about relationships.

“Business topics are really a way of connecting people, building bridges and having meaningful relationships with people from very different backgrounds,” he says. “This holds true especially for the JC-HEM program, and my experience teaching in this program has reinforced this belief.”

Student Q&A: Franko Mwaka

Franko has been at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya since 1999

Q. What is life like at the camp?

A. Life in the camp is not easy because of several reasons, ranging from bad weather to other conditions such as insecurity, food shortage and poor health conditions. The food ration is distributed to refugees twice each month. The food given per head is very little, so it does not last the expected two weeks. At least two to three days prior, one has to hustle before the next cycle of distribution. Secondly, security is a huge concern to refugees here. At night there are arbitrary killings and robberies, and as a result, we live in fear.

Another problem is poor medical supplies and attention. Clinics, as well as the hospitals, have little and inferior equipment. Weather in the camp is really harsh. It is windy and dusty most of the time, and when it rains, there is water-logging, which displaces people. The temperature recorded each day is generally high throughout the year.

Q. How did you advance your education before the Jesuit Commons?

A. The United Nations offers only basic primary and secondary education through Lutheran World Federation. Other organizations like Windle Trust Kenya, National Council of Churches of Kenya, and International Rescue Committee also offer some forms of education. After completing basic secondary level of education, I had no other opportunity to advance until the Jesuit Commons came into Kakuma. This program has provided me the opportunity to advance in my tertiary education [postsecondary].

Q. What are the conditions like at the center where you take classes?

A. The center is quite good, with good air conditioners; however, sometimes the rooms get really hot, especially when they are crowded. There are two computer rooms, which are barely enough for the over 100 learners. Electricity is at the center throughout; it is being provided mainly by a solar panel. Generally, conditions at the center are good, and the environment is beautiful. We also have a library behind the computer rooms.

Q. Did you enjoy Introduction to Business? Has it helped your daily life?

A. The Introduction to Business class went very well. I have borrowed some ideas from the course — for example, the idea of the team and that of effective managers. The idea of an effective team has helped me lead my football team as well as the idea of an effective manager.

Secondly, the idea of the team has also helped me, together with the other staff members, form a very powerful working team in the clinic I work for. Hopefully, in future I will be able to apply the knowledge directly elsewhere.

Q. What is your job in the camp? What are your career goals?

A. Currently, I work as a medical assistant for International Rescue Committee (IRC) in the outpatient department situated in the IRC Kakuma Camp main hospital. I am hoping that my education will help me to help others.