Forging His Own Path

Fri, 2014-02-07 12:59 pm

Grinnell has strong academic programs in traditional areas of study like history and biology. And it has cool interdisciplinary concentrations like global development studies. Tefiro Serunjogi ’15, however, chose to forge his own independent major in environmental and social entrepreneurship.

The story of how he came up with it follows a winding path and shows how individualized Grinnell’s curriculum can be. It begins with his last year in high school in Uganda.

For the final project of his International Baccalaureate, Serunjogi developed an innovative sand-based water filter to help people from his home village improve water quality.

He shifted his focus from environmental science to business the next year, his “gap year.” While employed on his parents’ vegetable farm, he worked with their various clients, such as small, local markets and larger supermarkets.

Back to Environmental Studies

When Serunjogi came to Grinnell, he considered majoring in environmental studies, but discovered it’s an area of concentration, sort of like a minor, rather than a major.

In Serunjogi’s second semester at Grinnell he took a course called Nations and the Global Environment with David Campbell, professor of biology. “It totally blew my mind,” Serunjogi says.

He learned how people interact with the environment at the global level. It also offered him the big focus he was looking for.

The following summer he landed a research internship with the Harvard Forest Summer Research Program. He furthered his high school research project by building a prototype portable water filter using a simple construction and readily available materials.

“Without knowing it, my project incorporated environmental science and economics,” Serunjogi says.

Business grabs the spotlight

Serunjogi took a sharp turn into economics through the Fullbridge Program during the winter break his second year. “It’s a mini MBA in four intense weeks,” Serunjogi says. He learned about business and financial markets.

Then Serunjogi heard about Grinnell College’s Donald L. Wilson Program in Enterprise and Leadership, which promotes opportunities for students in innovation and entrepreneurship. He met Doug Caulkins, an anthropology professor, social enterprise expert, and long time director of the Wilson program.

Serunjogi realized that he could weave together his interests in environmental studies and social enterprise. So he approached Campbell and Caulkins about serving as his advisors for an independent major. They agreed. 

Caulkins notes that four students have chosen to do independent majors in some form of innovation and entrepreneurship during the past several years.

During the summer of 2013 Serunjogi interned with the Summer Undergraduate Research in Geoscience and Engineering (SURGE) program at Stanford University.

This internship was based more on economics, Serunjogi says. He helped analyze data about Ugandan farmers’ behavior patterns and traits related to their economic choices.

He was specifically analyzing the patterns of behavior of farmers who chose to enroll in a Payments for Ecosystems Services program, which incentivizes conservation by paying local farmers to grow trees and conserve the ones they have. 

After his experience with the Fullbridge program, Serunjogi knew he wanted more experience with a global firm that offered global outreach. “I’m at a crucial learning point in my career,” Serunjogi says.

Internship with Goldman Sachs

Serunjogi will spend summer 2014 interning with Goldman Sachs, the international investment banking firm. He wants to pick up professional skills and get hands-on learning in business.

Not long after he heard about the internship Serunjogi learned he was a finalist for the Goldman Sachs Scholarship for Excellence. He was invited to New York for an interview during finals week in December 2013. 

At this point in his story, is there any question as to whether he won the scholarship?

Serunjogi’s long-term goal is to help businesses optimize their operations so they’re more efficient and conscious of their impact on the environment.

This fits with social entrepreneurship’s emphasis on the triple bottom line improving the social, environmental, and economic performance of the business. Caulkins says that Serunjogi’s interests “are a synergistic combination that make for a great independent major.”

“I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who support me,” Serunjogi says. “The things I’ve done are heavily due to Grinnell.”