Business Without Borders

HSB professor introduces university-level course to refugees

Monday, December 17, 2012

PHILADELPHIA (Dec. 17, 2012) —From an office in Mandeville Hall, Eric Patton, Ph.D. assistant professor and director of the human capital program, serves as 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 developed his Introduction to Business course for Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC-HEM), a four-year pilot 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 courses are largely concentrated in the liberal arts and influenced by Ignatian pedagogy. When the pilot program ends in August of 2014, more than 1,000 refugees are expected to have participated. The introduction of Patton's business course to the initiative expands JC-HEM's offerings and gives students more career options.

Sugira Gustave Habimana, a 23-year-old in Patton's class is a native of Rwanda and has been in the Kakuma Refugee Camp 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 this dream."

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

Patton says most students, like Habimana, walk an hour to attend class at the camp's learning center. By the time they arrive, they are often sweaty, physically exhausted and have traveled through dangerous areas. Yet, Patton says, these students are very motivated.

"It's been quite eye-opening," he says. "The students want quick feedback and are eager for daily interaction. It's been fascinating to read their interpretations, their context and cultural perspectives on these topics. Their analogies and examples are very rich. This experience has and will continue to inform my teaching with SJU students." 

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

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

"I've come to appreciate that, although business is often viewed as a cold field, where it's all dollars and cents," says Patton. "Business topics are really a way of connecting people, building bridges, and having meaningful relationships with people from very different backgrounds. This especially holds true for the JC-HEM program, and my experience teaching in this program has reinforced this belief." 

Media Contact

Carolyn Steigleman, Director of University Communications, Haub School of Business, 610-660-1355,


As Philadelphia's Jesuit, Catholic University, founded by the Society of Jesus in 1851, Saint Joseph's University provides a rigorous, student-centered education rooted in the liberal arts. SJU ranks as a top university in the Northeast, with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in the College of Arts and Sciences and AACSB accreditation of the  Erivan K. Haub School of Business. The University is also deeply committed to the Jesuit tradition of scholarship and service, earning a place on the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll and the community engagement classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. With courses offered on campus and online, SJU prepares its more than 8,000 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students to lead lives of personal excellence, professional success and engaged citizenship.


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