Carl H. Lindner College of BusinessCarl H. Lindner College of BusinessUniversity of Cincinnati

Carl H. Lindner College of Business
Michael Dickson Spotlight

Serving Globally

Business scholar forecasts a bright future from service abroad experience.

When Michael Dickson, BBA ’12, returned from Guatemala to his University Heights apartment, he grabbed a drink of water to quench his thirst and began to reflect on the service-learning trip he and 20 fellow UC students took over spring break 2012 to lend a hand building a Habitat For Humanity home.

Dickson recalled being warned about culture shock, but it didn’t hit him until he returned home.

“It struck me how fortunate we are to be able to do something so simple as pour a glass of water directly from the kitchen sink,” says the Kolodizk Business Scholar and top 2012 undergraduate economics student in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

Only then did he realize his good fortune and appreciate the American way of life, he says, noting Guatemala’s widespread poverty.

The study abroad trip was part of a service-learning course offered through the college's International Programs.

In Guatemala, Dickson and fellow UC students traveled to a village called Coban, where they met with three families who would soon occupy the new cinderblock homes they helped build with Habitat For Humanity.

The work was hard, Dickson says of the weeklong 9AM to 4PM work schedule that consisted of manual labor without electricity and therefore power tools.

“Everything we did was with our hands,” he says.

To make mortar, Dickson says, water had to be fetched with a bucket and lowered into a well, then carried back to the work site, a task that had to be repeated more times than he kept track.

Sand then had to be hand sifted and mixed with water and cement in barrels.  Metal had to be hand cut and fashioned into clasps for rebar reinforcement to make the newly constructed homes sturdy enough to withstand earthquakes.

Dickson says he was touched by the compassion of nearby neighbors, who were eager to help, even though their homes were made of one- to two-inch thick wooden slats that you could see through.

The experience changed his perspective on life and gave him a new career focus.  In the fall of 2012, he’ll enter graduate school in the masters of applied economics program in the Lindner College of Business with a new vision.  The diverse degree incorporates economic theory and analysis to effect decisions about national and global markets and policy, involving everything from health care to fiscal policy.

Dickson hopes to someday return to Latin America “to either contribute to rising local governments trying to effectively govern their country’s new found wealth, or even through private market research,” he says.

“Whatever I do, I’d like to somehow contribute to their economy and really the US and global economies in doing so,” he says.

Dickson, a 2008 graduate of Wyoming High School, had the opportunity to visit South America prior to coming to UC, spending the summer in between high school and college living with a host family in Ecuador and honing his Spanish.

Earning a variety of scholarships to study marketing and economics at UC, he continued taking Spanish classes, jumping at the opportunity to return to South America to use his language skills and perform a good deed.

In his free time, he participates in intramural sports of all sorts: football, baseball, softball, volleyball and walleyball. He also enjoys fishing with his dad, he says.

As an undergraduate with a double major of marketing and economics, he belonged to several UC student groups, including the Economic Society, a group that took an April 2012 trip to the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street for the opening bell on the trading floor.

Dickson also belongs to Phi Kappa Theta, a social and service fraternity that organized monthly service events, culminating with a spring fling activity for disabled children.

Thinking back on his trip to Guatemala, he is amazed at the contrast between home and Latin America’s most populous country.

He wished more Americans could witness the impoverished remote village, as well as the natural beauty of Antiqua’s three active volcanoes and Coban’s lush forests that are home to numerous species of lizards, birds and orchids.

As an applied economics graduate student, he’ll continue taking Spanish courses to obtain a certificate with an eye toward a future of strengthening emerging economies.

“I am fully convinced that in the next few decades Latin America will be home to the most promising emerging markets, and I think it would be really exciting to be there for that,” he says.