Work with refugee family helps business student expand global perspective

Contact: Erin Flynn
A profile photo of Dylan Coleman in front of plants.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Businesses are increasingly emphasizing social responsibility, in many cases giving employees paid time off to volunteer. A required upper level business class at Western Michigan University aims to prepare students to be leaders in the field.

Dylan Coleman has a broader perspective on the responsibility to give back. As a member of WMU's Global Leaders program, he's committed to learning about international issues and how his actions affect both local and global communities.

"My college career has been focused on myself and my development, and now I can change that narrative by making a difference," says Coleman, a rising senior who is majoring in sales and business marketing as well as leadership and business strategy.

When Coleman was tasked with completing 15 hours of community service for his business ethics and sustainability class, he knew he wanted to work with the Refugee Outreach Collective. One program the nonprofit offers connects volunteers with resettled refugees to help them learn English.

"You go to their house, help them develop their language skills, help their kids with homework, things like that," says Coleman.

The family Coleman worked with is from Congo. The father was a magistrate in their village before the family fled to the United States a few years ago, and the mother worked as a nurse. Here, they are struggling to find jobs that pay well enough to support their family.

Dylan Coleman holds a large gold flag with a brown "W" on it in a tropical setting.

Committed to global learning, Coleman recently studied abroad in Thailand.

"He is very determined to learn English. Back in Congo he was well respected and well known in the community. Now he's working in a factory job with long hours and odd shifts," says Coleman.

At first, the idea of going to the home of a stranger from another culture seemed daunting.

"I didn't know what to expect, but they welcomed us immediately, so it broke down the barrier," says Coleman. "Being pushed out of my comfort zone felt great because I learned so many things about myself in just the couple of hours I spent with the family every week."

Coleman became so close with the family that he's continued his visits far past the required 15 hour service commitment. He says the experience has also inspired him to seek similar volunteer opportunities even after graduation.

"If I'm going to be a leader within my company, that leadership begins with me and it ends with me as well," Coleman says. "Knowing that there are communities in need of help no matter where I am, getting my team involved in service learning or volunteering is something I want to carry along with me."

Coleman is already preparing for his next volunteer experience. Through the Global Leaders program, he will travel to the island of Lesvos off the coast of Greece in 2020 to work with refugees. He just completed an action plan for his project, which involves teaching professional development to people who are displaced in the camp.

"I want to help large groups of people along with improving my leadership skills, and that is what the Global Leaders program offers. Through this program I have grown into someone that does not just want to help but also knows how to help."

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