I’ve been working with students for fifteen years. Here’s what some of them have to say about their IMAGINE U experience:

We brought our own ideas to life. The work was difficult but incredibly rewarding and, in the end, we could take ownership of the work and realize it was our own—we created something of value to others. This class is essential for those who wish to create meaningful work and effect change.

– Marina Castro-Meirelles (’17)

We create and develop our own knowledge. We are our own teacher; we rejected the traditional classroom structure and channeled this dynamic into our approach towards development. Our student-centered philosophy created our client-centered approach. All of our programs have reflected this value. It was a decision made by students, our thoughts and convictions are our own and we own them.

– Santiago Sueiro (’13)

I went to Honduras to work on an indoor air pollution project and to distribute the first rounds of loans through La Ceiba. Absent these experiences, it is difficult to imagine that I still would have been accepted into Stanford’s Economics PhD program. It is even more difficult to imagine that I would have discovered my passion to test what works, pursue what does, and change what doesn’t.

– Christine Exley (’09 and Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School)

It is only in getting our hands dirty that we learn that we can improve things. La Ceiba transforms students from passive learners into active forces in the world. We become incredible drivers of whatever it is we go on to do. This is going to be one of its greatest impacts.

– Laura Dick (’13 and PhD Candiate at UC Davis)

Students nowadays want and need experiences to gain marketable skill sets. They’re craving to do things outside of the classrooms. Things where decisions and consequences are very real, and can potentially change the world. IMAGINE U is exactly the kind of thing that I wished the university had when I was a student there. My classmates were hungry to change the world. So we started Students Helping Honduras on our own. Imagine a place like IMAGINE U accelerating such student-led efforts at UMW. Imagine if this inspires a UMW student to create the next Teach for America, the next Charity: Water, or the next Habitat for Humanity?

-Shin Fujiyama (’07 and CNN Hero, co-founder of Students Helping Honduras)

To say that La Ceiba and Esfuerzo de Amor have changed my outlook on life would be cheating, as it fails to capture the breadth and scope of how both entities altered my global perception for the better. Through collaboration, compassion, problem-solving and working through multiple quandaries after recognizing that ideal-world models don’t always work, I can genuinely attest that I would not have taken nearly as many risks or be half as confident in my professional life as I am now. The proactive jolt they gave galvanized me into an assertive, introspective, and inquisitive individual that employers and colleagues noticed immediately.

– Megan Higgs (’11)

My time balancing the theoretical rigor of the classroom with the logistical and emotional demands of a very real human experience in Honduras made me a more fearless leader.

– Benjamin Saunders (’11)

Working with La Ceiba and the Poverty Action Conference were invaluable experiences as I started my career. Not only could I describe numerous instances of critical thinking, teamwork, and solution-based problem solving in my interviews, I have been able to apply these skills to succeed in and advance my career.

– Elizabeth Conrad (’11)

Esfuerzo de Amor was the educational experience I had longed for. I learned through experience. I made mistakes and it was in the moments where I stood back up and pushed through that gave character. It was this experience that has in many ways attributed to who I am today.

– Daniel Tees (‘12)

There are two things that I can say with a great deal of certainty about my experience with La Ceiba. This experiential learning opportunity forced us to think about program development and implementation in a collaborative and systematic manner — a highly valuable skill regardless of industry or sector. For me, it also set the bar on project ownership: in my work experiences since graduation I have come to realize how valuable the chance to develop one’s own project with resource support is, and how rarely that is granted in larger organizations. It was, quite frankly, a luxury to work with a project like La Ceiba as a student.

– Tatiana Faramarzi (’12)

“La Ceiba incorporates atypical classroom learning, self-driven exploration, collaborative discussion and action, genuine engagement with real people, and constant reflection of institutional impact. The result is a formative experience for all involved.

– TL Tutor (’11)

La Ceiba was an unparalleled opportunity. Student assumed enormous responsibilities because they had direct influence on the financial lives of clients. This forced us to creatively solve problems, overcome fear of failure, and work efficiently while maintaining a constant sense of self-criticism and humility.

– Nicole Cochran (’13)

A failure in class taught me how to understand things better, but a failure in La Ceiba taught me how to make things better. The latter experience was more valuable, giving me a drive and will to work that still benefits me today.”

– Jeff Paddock (’15)

La Ceiba was unlike any other class I had participated in—class work was primarily participatory, homework self-directed, and traditional grading inadequate in capturing the real and consequential outcomes of our research, programs, and fieldwork. The compilation of people and experiences enhanced my understanding of the world and made me a stronger professional, student, and person.

– Sarah Alvarez (’12)

La Ceiba gave me hands on experience working with community members to help them identify their goals and take steps to achieve them. I admire the emphasis we place on respect, sustainability, and accountability, and feel that my life has personally been enriched by the energy and warmth both parties bring to the student/client relationship.”

– Ashley Lippolis Aviles (’08 and Peace Corps Volunteer)

Tasking me with hard and fast deadlines, the Month of Microfinance gave me valuable design experience, introduced me to the kind of real-world environment I’d come to know and work in on a day-to-day basis by pitching ideas, revising designs, and finally creating and delivering a satisfactory final product. Getting this experience before leaving college was an opportunity I’d come to realize very few of my peers had.

– Madeleine Rhondeau (’14)