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  • Mark Canada

KEY Trip to Denmark "builds" students' knowledge of sustainability

One of the highlights of IU Kokomo's KEY experiential-learning initiative this year was a trip to Denmark and Sweden for 20 students. In the spirit of the KEY ("Kokomo Experience and You"), students immersed themselves in learning experiences in several settings, including the Kitchen, an entrepreneurial hub at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, and the Lego House, a giant playhouse that features not only thousands (millions?) of Legos that visitors can use to build, but also an exhibit about the fascinating history of one of the world's most successful toy companies.

Mark joined the students and their faculty leaders for part of the trip and collaborated on the following article about the experience.

KOKOMO, Ind. — Have you spoken to any LEGO executives lately?

IU Kokomo students have. They also have visited the LEGO House and had a chance to experience its innovative business model firsthand. (If you are a LEGO lover, brace yourself. They had access to thousands of pieces, hours to build, and some incredible builds to inspire them.)

Our LEGO experience was only one part of one day in a 10-day Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) trip to Denmark – a transformative experience that opened the eyes (and minds) of 20 students, and me. Like scores of other KEY experiences IU Kokomo has offered to students, this one provided extraordinary opportunities for students to get hands-on learning, through activities, tours, conversations with professionals, and cultural immersion.

The theme was sustainability – a topic that’s revolutionizing not only business, but also politics and more. LEGO, it turns out, plans to make all its pieces from recycled materials by 2030. Who knew?

Well, now our students do, and they know a lot more, too, thanks to this trip, planned and led by two IUK business professors, Gloria Preece and Adam Smith.

For example, they learned about a study conducted on the topic of marketing vegetarianism, veganism, and flexitarianism to consumers, and they heard from someone who works for the European Environmental Agency.

The learning experiences went beyond the topic of sustainability. Students also visited The Kitchen, a business incubator, and heard from entrepreneurs about their work on fledgling business ideas. A trip to water pump manufacturer Grundfos, included a tour of a highly automated factory and more.

The professors selected Denmark for its top ranking on the Environmental Performance Index, which provides a quantitative basis for comparing the environmental performance of more than 180 countries.

“This experiential learning approach connected students with some of the world’s leading sustainability experts,” Preece said. “Our goal is to inspire and empower students to be leaders who can help solve many of our world's economic, social, and environmental challenges.”

Smith said a crucial component of the program is students sharing knowledge in their communities.

“These students have gained valuable insights and are now equipped to implement numerous sustainable initiatives,” he said. “As they embark on their professional journeys, they possess the expertise to contribute toward enhancing our local region, applying their acquired knowledge to bring about positive societal impact.”

Logan Schultz said he’s always practiced environmentally conscious efforts to advocate for change.

“This experience provided me with a profound outlook on the environment and my actions,” he said. “It's one thing to research sustainability in class, but the empirical opportunity to study abroad provides a deeper contextualization of business operations and individual efforts.”

Austin Ramirez wants to work in an accounting job that involves principles of sustainability.

“This trip further solidified my passion for sustainable development,” he said. “It has not only changed some of the things I do on a daily basis, but also some of my long-term goals such as my career path and what I plan to volunteer my time to going forward.”

That’s the power of experiential learning, the kind that engages hearts, minds, and the senses. The LEGO creations we built at the LEGO House did not come with us, but the lessons from LEGO (and The Kitchen and other stops) will stick around, building us in positive, lasting ways.

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