Fostering a community of change agents is one of the key priorities for Reese Blair ’98 and Christian O’Brien ’13 in their second year as co-chairs of the National Alumni Board’s diverse alumni council.
Last week, the first shipments of SJ Brew coffee arrived from Nicaragua to the POD at Saint Joseph’s. It was a huge milestone for the student-run initiative that brings ethically procured coffee to campus.
“So much work has gone into this, and finally having it come to fruition in such a physical sense, that someone could pick it up and take it home – exciting would be the best word for it,” says Claire Fitzgerald ’21, a Spanish and communications studies double major, and the “student CEO” of SJ Brew.
The coffee initiative is the brainchild of St. Joe’s alumnus Richard Viebrock ’15. Though Viebrock has since graduated, current students have made his dream a reality under the direction of Keith Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, who has recruited current students to run the initiative through his courses and study tours to Central America. The program is also run in collaboration with the University’s Fair Trade Club.
Fitzgerald first got involved in the program after attending a study tour to Costa Rica her sophomore year.
“We got to talk to coffee farmers and fair-trade producers,” she says. “It’s different being able to see the process in person, and really see all the complicated steps that come into making a simple cup of coffee.”
SJ Brew’s coffee is fair trade and organic and produced by Café Femenino, a program that provides direct compensation to female farmers, as well as the opportunity and resources for them to enact positive change in their communities.
Fitzgerald, who is a member of the Fair Trade Club, says the study tour to Costa Rica piqued her interest in the SJ Brew program. “I’m really interested in sustainability and also labor rights. Fair trade has such a perfect intersection of these two things.”
As Student CEO, Fitzgerald leads the general club meetings and serves as the point of contact for different University department heads and events. She also helped with copywriting and packaging, and developing a website that will eventually allow for online orders.
Sophia Dell’Arciprete ’22 initially came onto the SJ Brew team as a web developer and worked with Fitzgerald to build the site. She first heard about SJ Brew after taking the course Ethical Consumption, taught by Brown.
“He was always mentioning the program, and how we could get involved,” Dell’Arciprete explains. She went to one of the SJ Brew meetings to learn about how St. Joe’s could make its campus and products more sustainable.
“It’s different being able to see the process in person, and really see all the complicated steps that come into making a simple cup of coffee.”
A double major in sociology and art, Dell’Arciprete helped design flyers and posters promoting the SJ Brew program. Since her art background is photography, she says, “I wanted to offer my expertise on taking commercialized photos of products and things like that, to create content for our website and social media pages,” she says.
Brown was able to help Dell’Arciprete turn her work with the SJ Brew program into an internship, so she could get credit for the work she puts in each week. “I work 10 hours a week with this internship,” she says. “I’m going to be writing a 10-page research paper pertaining to either ethical consumption, sustainability or environmental issues.”
Rylan Domingues ’22 is another student whose involvement with the SJ Brew program turned into an internship course. A business intelligence and finance major, Domingues first heard about the program through Brown’s Intro to Sociology course. Brown then reached out to Domingues personally to see if he wanted to get involved.
“I focus on the business end of operations,” says Domingues. “I’m just taking a lot of what I’ve learned in my finance classes and general business courses to help out wherever I can.”
He provides financial forecasts and analysis of how they should price their products.
“Initially, people were just throwing out what competitor’s prices were,” he says, explaining about how they decided to price their product. “We needed to take into consideration all of our expenses and wholesale prices, like what packaging and distribution costs would look like. We needed to come up with our own price point, which was a cool experience.”
Domingues also provides different marketing and business strategies, such as figuring out the logistics of a potential partnership with a coffee subscription service run by a St. Joe’s alumnus. It has given him great experience and insight into fair trade and small businesses. “It’s a really unique opportunity to blend both what I’ve learned in my course sequence in the business school, as well as passions for things like social justice and sustainability initiatives.”
Brown hopes that the students in this program realize that they can make a difference. “I also hope they understand the challenges of putting a mission-driven business into practice,” he says. “They have these great ideas, but what happens when a program has to remain sustainable and profitable? How do you grow a business that’s designed to have such a strong mission-driven component?”
Proceeds from the SJ Brew coffee sales will go toward the Charles F. Shreiner '50 Scholarship fund for Study in Latin America, which will fund study abroad scholarships for students wanting to travel to Central America.
“I think this is a really cool way to build relationships between our own community, and those communities in Latin America,” says Domingues. “It would be cool to send students to see the communities we receive our coffee beans from, and come full circle.”