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Bear Perspectives is a series of first-person essays written by upperclassmen students at Mercer University about their experiences in college and what they wish they knew as a first-year. Throughout the beginning of the semester, The Cluster will publish a variety of these essays covering various topics for the benefit of the class of 2026.
This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.
The 2020 election was a historic progression of women’s rights and a victory for American feminists with the election of vice president Kamala Harris. As Harris became the first woman and person of color to occupy the position of the United States Vice President on Jan. 20, the lack of women in political leadership positions both nationally and internationally has become glaringly obvious.
Hillary Clinton’s run for president in 2016 broke barriers for women, and with her securing the popular vote as the Democratic candidate in the race against Republican Donald Trump, the inauguration of a female president to the most powerful position in the country did not seem out of reach.
Even so, Trump won the electoral college vote with 306 votes to Clinton’s 227 votes, eliminating the possibility of a female U.S. president until future elections.
Clinton’s concession speech reflected this disappointment that yet again, a woman was not chosen by the United States to serve in an office that has been entirely male since the country’s founding three centuries ago.
“We have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will,” Clinton said.
The glass ceiling in Clinton’s speech visualizes a barrier to women created by centuries of sexism, stereotypes and gender norms and the status quo in which men always seem to be the first choice. Harris’ victory alongside Joe Biden proved to be another crack in the glass ceiling that Hillary Clinton worked so hard to shatter before her, but there is still a long way to go in terms of equality and representation in American politics.
Countries around the world are strides ahead of the United States, with countries like New Zealand, Finland, Germany and Taiwan appointing women to high positions of power. The benefits they have experienced from doing so are apparent, especially amidst the obstacles that 2020 presented.
In an article for Forbes magazine, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox acknowledges the similarities between countries with coronavirus reactions that proved to be successful in curbing the infection rate within their borders. Many of the countries that were able to see positive results early on in the pandemic had women in some of the most influential positions.
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan implemented extensive measures to combat the coronavirus that was wreaking havoc in nearby countries, never needing to impose a lockdown and keeping Taiwan’s coronavirus death toll to just six people. Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Arden put the country in lockdown early and limited the number of travelers entering its borders. Finland’s head of state Sanna Marin — the youngest in the world — used social media rather than the press to inform citizens quickly on how to combat COVID-19. The actions of these female leaders exemplify a certain power that comes in diverse leadership, with the positive impacts of women in positions of power being visible in countries around the world.
Numerous female leaders have been praised this year for their quick acting that saved their nations from fates similar to that of the United States, which is still experiencing high levels of hospitalizations and deaths nearly a year after the pandemic first began.
The success of women in positions of power in combating crisis was examined in a recent study by the Harvard Business Review. In this study, writers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman discuss the idea of “a glass cliff”; which refers to the idea that women are often put in leadership positions to fix the damage her predecessors inflicted — damage that often increases their likelihood of failure.
While the idea that the female leaders of today have been tasked with addressing crises like nothing those before them encountered is easily identifiable in current times, this research also finds that women are more likely to possess traits that are desirable in leaders such as strong communication, concern for the wellbeing of team members and collaboration skills.
None of this is to say that male leaders are incapable of presenting these same traits or of being efficient leaders in the way women can be. However, in a world whose political leaders have been predominantly male, studies like this and the success of female heads of state around the world provide more evidence that the world needs to see an increased rate of women in power.
Harris assumes her position as Vice President in the wake of one of most destructive years in modern times. While she may be expected to pick up the pieces of a broken nation that the previous administration left, my hope is that her time in office will light the way for more women and people of color to come after her. I hope that her new position convinces the people of America and the world that women are the leaders we always needed; that she will break that glass ceiling that Clinton got so close to shattering.
Mercer University’s campus organizations are preparing for the upcoming school year under COVID-19 with new safety guidelines and precautions.
MerServe, a service club that plans community outreach projects in the Macon area, is one of the organizations on campus that has changed drastically in response to Mercer Campus Life’s new safety guidelines.
“Our main goal is to make sure our volunteers and community partners are healthy and safe,” Sally Deitchman, MerServe’s president, said in a message to The Cluster. “All volunteers will be required to wear masks and we will have hand sanitizer at any in person service events. We are minimizing touch materials such as sign-in sheets and will provide gloves for any shared tools that may be used in service events, such as paintbrushes or rakes.”
For many clubs on Mercer’s campus, the coronavirus pandemic has presented all sorts of new and never-before-seen challenges, adding significant unknowns for clubs organizing events and activities that would be uncomplicated under regular circumstances.
Mercer’s incoming freshmen class experienced some of the newest restrictions placed on campus events and organizations through the university’s first virtual Bear Fair, an event traditionally held in person at the University Center on campus, where new students can learn more about Mercer’s clubs and organizations.
This year’s Bear Fair was held Monday evening with the current freshmen class downloading a virtual world via a link emailed to them, according to Mercer’s website. Students were able to navigate themselves around to different virtual booths where club representatives could tell them more about their organizations.
Virtual events like these display the new ways in which campus life will adapt in the coming months in response to the pandemic, with many traditional in-person events being altered in varying ways to follow COVID-19 guidelines.
At MerServe, safety initiatives under the pandemic include smaller in-person service projects and more outdoor service opportunities, Deitchman said.
For QuadWorks — a campus organization that hosts campus wide social events for students — they will be implementing safety measures similar to MerServe for this coming semester.
“We are hosting a combination of online and in-person events that follow campus guidelines,” Savannah Jones, QuadWorks’ president, said in a message to The Cluster. “We have changed a lot in order to follow new procedures in order to keep everyone safe.”
QuadWorks will also be following Campus Life’s safety guidelines for their events, including masks, social distancing, providing hand sanitizer and pre-packaged food or professionally-served food to attendees and hosting outdoor gatherings whenever possible, Jones said.
However, the organizations’ safety measures extend past their events and also impact how their leadership teams will be operating this year.
“One characteristic that I love about the MerServe board is the close-knit bonds that are formed. We are looking at more ways to engage with the board in order to compensate for our missed in person connections,” Deitchman said. “We are going to be implementing Zoom bonding activities to help cultivate board relationships that are just as close and successful as the previous board.”
QuadWorks’ board meetings will be held virtually as well with minimal use of their office on campus. Even so, they have “implemented strict cleaning procedures” in their office, Jones said.
“As the President, I see this as an opportunity to grow and adapt,” Jones said. “Our board members have been amazing at adapting to the new requirements and procedures and are planning a fantastic year for us.”
Regardless of the additional restrictions each organization must navigate, many aspects of their work and events remain similar.
“While moving online has been an adjustment, we are confident we can still provide amazing events for our students whether that be online or in-person,” Jones said. “We are hoping to push our creativity in order to have fun, safe events for our students.”
MerServe will partner with organizations such as the United Way of Central Georgia, Daybreak and Middle Georgia Community Food Bank, giving students both in-person and virtual ways to give back to the Macon community.
These remote service opportunities include virtual reading tutoring through “Read 2 Succeed,” pen pal programs and skill-sharing events, where attendees can both teach and learn new skills, Deitchman said.
“We will be hosting many of our signature events, but we look forward to reimagining them,” she said. “These opportunities will allow for students who may be immunocompromised, have pre-existing health conditions or simply do not feel comfortable with in person events the opportunity to continue to serve the community.”
March is Women’s History Month. While this month often outlines the achievements of recognizable women who have made strides in science and technology, social activism and politics or art and music, it is equally important to recognize everyday women — women who have influenced the lives of those around them in ways that may seem small, but are pivotal in shaping the lives and worldviews of young people.
Who are these women and what impact have they made in the lives of Mercer students?
Prescott Judd, a freshman psychology student, attended Roswell High School, where she took English classes with her teacher Samira Bregeth. Bregeth was her student from the time Judd was 15 until she was 18, she said.
“She became definitely like a mentor… we were really close,” Judd said. “She was like, very emotionally supportive.”
Judd would visit Bregeth in her classroom even when she was not in a class she taught, Judd said. During these visits, Judd would confide in her about issues she was facing at home. Bregeth encouraged her to seek help.
“She sat me down one day and told me that if I didn't … help myself (or) I didn't… tell a social worker or a therapist or something, then she was gonna take me there and do it with me,” Judd said. “She wasn’t threatening or anything. It was just, she knew I needed help. She recognized it and she was the reason that I escaped an abusive situation. I owe that to her.”
Bregeth’s influence has left a lasting impact on her, Judd said.
“She's made me more open with other people like me, less afraid to share things with other people and more comfortable opening up,” Judd said. “More perseverant, in that way.”
Judd continues to stay in touch with Bregeth even after she graduated high school, she said. Her teacher continues to provide career and academic advice, alongside emotional support.
“I consider her like a friend now as well as a mentor,” Judd said. “She (is) just like a loving woman figure in my life, which is not something I've ever had.”
Landon Cameron, a junior mechanical engineering major, found similar guidance in his mother, Jewel Cameron.
“I feel like she's pretty involved in my life,” he said. “She's always been really supportive.”
Landon and Jewel Cameron are from Dublin, Georgia, where Landon grew up. He is the youngest of his seven siblings.
“When I was younger, probably just like the way that she acted had more of an impact than anything she specifically said,” Landon said. “She just never really thinks about herself first, more other people she's trying to take care of.”
His mother’s life story is especially inspiring for him, Landon said. Jewel was born and raised in Soperton, Georgia, but moved around frequently as a result of her father being in the military.
“They didn’t have a really good relationship … her dad was a huge drinker,” Landon said. “She didn't know how to swim, but he would do stuff like throw her in and make her learn and things like that.”
Jewel’s tumultuous family life led to the separation of her parents. She and her brother were sent to live with their grandparents in California. Her mother made periodic trips to visit them. However, these visits began to dwindle because her father did not want her mother to see them, Landon said. Eventually, Jewel stopped seeing her mother entirely.
“She never saw her again,” Landon said. “Later on in life, she hired a PI to try and find her mom, but never found her. She doesn’t know where she is buried or died.”
Jewel took up the responsibility of caring for her younger brother, Bobo, as they consistently were moved from school to school. As her dad got older, she continued to take care of him too, Landon said.
“She still tried to maintain that relationship with him and kind of give forgiveness whenever she got older, even though I probably would not have been able to do that,” he said.
Jewel Cameron’s relationship with her father remained difficult as she got older, the absence of her mother being “pinned on” her father, Landon said.
“Her story really is one of the things that I think about a lot as far as why it's inspiring to keep moving forward and be nice to everybody,” Landon said.
He said his mother’s example of treating people with kindness is one thing that Landon tries to emulate in his daily life.
“Especially with relationships with other people, I mean, carrying on that same attitude towards people and treating everybody with respect,” Landon said.
This Women’s History Month, take a moment to thank the women around you that have impacted you in both big ways and small ways. Thank your mothers and grandmothers and teachers and mentors. Thank the Samira Bregeths and Jewel Camerons of the world. Thank them for their strength, their kindness and their support.
My first semester of college was surreal. I feel that part of me was still trying to wrap my head around the concept that I was on my own for the first time, regardless of the fact that I was still too young and inexperienced. After spending nearly two years in high school planning and hoping and waiting for the moment that I could escape my home town, I had made it to Macon. To school. I was expected to make it out here in the wild, all by myself.
While I had anticipated an influx of knowledge and ideas that I had never encountered before, the lessons I learned in five short months spanned far past my academics and instead impacted how I approached my life as a student, woman, young adult and member of society.
I learned to be okay with being alone. Going through airport security as a solo traveler is a lot less scary than you would imagine. Eating lunch at a cafe by yourself is much more peaceful than I believed. Perusing through a store without a companion eliminates the pressure of taking too long to try on clothes or not looking at things that interest both of you. Driving around town alone is sometimes the perfect opportunity to have your own personal karaoke session, but doing the same with a friend is equally enjoyable.
College is lonely. Making friends is sometimes harder than I anticipated, but the past few months have shown me to balance the idea that you can be your own best friend, with the idea that putting yourself out there in a new environment is one of the best things you can do.
I learned to appreciate phone calls. In an era where I had become entirely too reliant on texting, the ability to hear the voices of people I love and hold extended conversations with them became increasingly important to me. Long phone calls became a remedy for homesickness, or even just a long and tiring day.
Giving myself time to sit and talk to my mom or friends from high school taught me to slow down and remember that I have a mother a state away who is wondering “if I’m in my room for the night” and best friends who like to hear what overdramatized anecdote I have for that week. I’m learning to grow new relationships in my new home, but also hold on to the ones that have remained constant through many stages of my life.
I learned that I liked my hometown a little more than I originally thought. The time spent away from home in a foreign place that hasn’t quite become familiar yet led me to realize the unique quirks about my Tennessee suburb that I hardly appreciated as a 17-year-old anxiously waiting for graduation and the day I would finally move away.
The back roads next to my house are especially beautiful and therapeutic when you speed down them while the sun is setting. The local McDonald’s where I ate dinner with friends after high school football games is seemingly better than all others. The Kroger is easier to navigate. The coworkers I visit when I go back to the restaurant I worked at my junior and senior year are like my second family. I learned that nothing could ever replace those memories.
I learned how to adjust to living in a new place. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to see this new place as my new home. I’ve learned which Walmart is my favorite, which parts of town to avoid at night, which Goodwill has the best thrifting gems and what kind of coffee to order at my favorite coffee shop downtown.
My dorm room is beginning to feel like my own, and I sometimes have to remind myself that I haven’t always been here. I haven’t always lived in Macon, been a college student or eaten Chick-fil-A multiple times a week. But this is my reality now, and little by little it’s starting to feel less temporary and more like a part of who I am. I’m learning how to create a new community and I’m learning how many beautiful people are in the same stage of life that I am.
I learned how to stretch my meal swipes as far as they can go. I learned how to get ready in the dark as to not wake up my roommate. I learned where the best places to park are and how to ensure I do not get any parking tickets after getting one too many. I learned that sometimes naps are crucial to survival. I learned how to use footnotes. I learned how to plan my classes so that I don’t have to get up earlier than 9 a.m. three days a week. I learned the names of the cashiers at Einstein’s in the morning and how to step out of the boiling stream of water in the shower when the toilet flushes in my hall’s bathroom. I learned how to be a college student.
As I begin my second semester of college, a little less clueless but still naive in a world full of things unseen and done, I still maintain the idea that the world is going to be surreal for me right now. The friends I have made, the places I have visited, and the things I have learned strictly belong to this place, this time of my life, in a way that is unparalleled to eras of life I’ll experience as I continue to grow older. This is my world as a college student and this is what I learned during my first semester of college, and there is so much more to come.
Mercer students plan to give back to their community through numerous service projects held during MerServe’s “Spring Break for Service” event March 1-4.
The event took months of planning by the MerServe team, which includes students Regina Liu and Anzley Jameson, who are special service coordinators. Liu, a senior biology student, has been involved with MerServe since her sophomore year, while Jameson, a sophomore biochemistry student, is in her first year on the executive board.
“I really like the idea of connecting our students with our community and to help mobilize volunteers and a greater effort to contribute and to serve to the community,” Liu said.
“Spring Break for Service'' has been a MerServe tradition for several years, Liu said. This year, the four-day event is centered around hunger and homelessness in Macon’s community.
“Three of (the days) have service events with them so far and it’s like two service events a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” Jameson said. “It’s all-day service.”
Service projects will be held at sites like the Middle Georgia Food Bank and the Fuller Center.
“It's really fun to kind of go out and interact with people I wouldn't otherwise see in the community because I'm kind of located, centralized here on campus,” Jameson said.
Backpack Buddies is another initiative that is included in “Spring Break for Service” this year.
Backpack Buddies is a project that aims to provide children who are experiencing food insecurity with a reliable source of food during the weekdays and weekends. Volunteers will help pack food for children through Backpack Buddies, and others in the community at the Middle Georgia Food Bank. At the Fuller Center, volunteers will help renovate houses.
“Those (organizations) are the nearest and dearest to my heart because I'm personally an advocate for combating food insecurity,” Liu said. “Having the opportunity to really go out and pack food for children and pack food for families who are otherwise hungry. I think it's a great opportunity.”
Feb. 3-7 was “Hunger and Homelessness” week through MerServe, during which a Food Bank Friday and the Oxfam Hunger Banquet were planned. In the upcoming weeks, MerServe will provide more service opportunities for students, including Service Saturdays.
“We want the students to actually really connect with the community and to gain a deeper understanding of the topics that we have for the ‘Spring Break for Service,’” Liu said.
Students who want to be involved can find information for “Spring Break for Service” and other MerServe events on Bear Pulse and MerServe’s Facebook and Instagram.
Mercer University awarded 14 students the new Global Leader Scholarship to aid them with their travel expenses as they study with Mercer affiliates around the world. This year’s scholars are traveling to countries including South Korea, Japan, Morocco, Sweden, Spain and the U.K.
The students were awarded amounts between $4,000 and $8,000 to go towards their travel and living expenses. In order to be considered, applicants had to be studying abroad longer than eight weeks and had to complete an application that included three essays and two recommendation letters.
Suzanna Arul, a senior Media Studies and Global Health double major, is one of the 14 Mercer students who received the Global Leader Scholarship. She is traveling to the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, to live and study this semester. She chose this university for its international developmental program, which studies poverty and inequality around the world, she said.
“I've always wanted to travel. I've always wanted to … go to these different countries, especially France, since I've been in French classes and stuff, but specifically, I'm really excited to see all the little nuances about all these other countries that we don't even recognize in our own country,” Arul said.
The goal of the scholarship is to make study abroad opportunities more accessible to students, as there were not many study abroad financial aid options available for Mercer students in the past.
Arul said that the scholarship eases her mind from the worries caused by the high costs of studying abroad in the U.K.
Junior Global Health major Angelo Malacapay is another recipient of the scholarship. He is studying at Linnaeus University in Vӓxjӧ, Sweden, which he said offered the most opportunities to earn credits that could be applied to his degree.
Scholars are also encouraged to become involved with their area of study and come back to the Macon campus with new ideas and viewpoints to share with their communities.
“The immediate impact (of the scholarship) is … giving students the opportunity to go abroad and acquire a new perspective and then use that when they come back or in the workforce,” Mercer’s study abroad adviser, August Armbrister, said.
While the Global Leader Scholarship is aimed to address current obstacles to international study, the effects of the scholarship span past college for these students, Armbrister said.
“To go abroad, you're building cross-cultural competencies, which you can use … working with diverse populations, (whether) they are working domestically or working abroad,” Armbrister said.
Language proficiency and the ability to communicate with people from other cultures are other skills that students can apply to their future lives and careers, he said.
Arul plans to use her time abroad to gain a greater understanding of different countries’ views on health in order to prepare for her career as a health journalist.
“I really am so interested to learn more about how different countries are, in a holistic way — not just health in the sense of health care, but what do people deem important in terms of health?” Arul said.
With the addition of this scholarship, Mercer’s study abroad program is also taking steps towards becoming more involved with its partners abroad. They hope to continue to expand the program and opportunities for students, Armbrister said.
“Anyone can learn about different regions by outlets such as a book or watching a video about a place,” Malacapay said in a message to The Cluster. “To me, traveling to a new place and experiencing the culture firsthand creates the best possible opportunity to learn a new place to the fullest.”
Students who are interested in applying for the Global Leader Scholarship can visit the Office for International Program’s website for more information.
The Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins celebrated its 35 year anniversary this November.
A gala event was hosted by the Museum of Aviation Foundation to celebrate the anniversary on Nov. 9, with many prominent guests in attendance, including David Perdue, a Georgia senator and the event’s keynote speaker.
“We were just really celebrating 35 years of inspiring and educating and teaching all about the heritage and foundations of many people who are not only from here but from all over,” Lacey Meador, the museum’s marketing and public relations specialist, said.
The museum was opened to the public in November 1984 with the support of Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. The Museum of Aviation Foundation is credited with raising money to keep the Museum open and operating education programs, according to the Museum’s website. They also host a variety of events throughout the year.
Visitors can expect to see a variety of different aircraft alongside historical exhibits and interactive displays, including the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. The exhibitions preserve national heritage and educate visitors, Meador said. Admission to the museum is free.
“We have grown tremendously. We started off as one building with a couple of airplanes outside. Now, we have four large buildings and we have over 85 aircraft and missiles,” Meador said. “We try to make it a place for people of all ages, of all backgrounds can come and get something from it.”
The National STEM Academy is housed in the museum. The program is intended “to reach out to students and teachers and provide extra, outside of the classroom, hands-on learning experiences,” Meador said. Students who attend the program have the opportunity to participate in activities that teach them about space, innovation and technology.
“We have schools from all over the state of Georgia that come for the programs here. We are the only organization in the state of Georgia that is accredited by NASA,” said Meador.
Exhibits and programs hosted by the museum aim to spotlight space exploration and its history alongside United States Air Force heritage.
The Museum had 630,000 visitors this past year and over 52,000 students and teachers who participated in the National STEM Academy. Meader said these are the largest visitation numbers the museum has experienced in the 35 years it has been open.
“We’re really focusing in on educating young minds, and inspiring them to become future leaders in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics world because we need that,” Meador said. “So that’s kind of our legacy, is to continue growing those young minds and keeping that love for aviation going because it’s not going to die out. It’s just going to keep advancing, so we want to do as much as we can to lend a part in helping that future generation grow.”
Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement received a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education this past October. The grant will finance students in the Clinical Rehabilitation program who are training to become vocational rehabilitation counselors.
A vocational rehabilitation counselor works with people with a variety of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. Program coordinator Kristina Henderson said that their counselors aid clients in seeking employment and creating career goals, as well as provide psycho-social counseling.
“Think about the isolation that comes along with not having a career or occupational goal that you feel proud of,” Henderson said. “Vocational rehabilitation specifically, the government agency, is set up specifically to help people find employment.”
However, in the state of Georgia and nationally, there are not enough trained counselors to meet the need for them.
“We have a lot of personnel shortages,” Suneetha Manyam, the project manager for the grant, said. “There are not enough people with the credentials.”
Part of this is due to an increasing population of Americans living with disabilities, Henderson said.
“More and more people have disabilities … people are surviving things they wouldn’t have before. Medical treatment is so much better than it used to be,” she said. “What this program is doing is preparing people to work with people with disabilities … there are a lot of people with disabilities on campus, that there weren’t before.”
The Rehabilitation Service Administration Long Term Training Grant is intended to address this shortage. The grant will allow RSA scholars to be awarded tuition, stipend, internship and practicum opportunities and the option to travel to a variety of conferences across the country.
“It is a high-impact grant, I think, because it is funding eight scholars for five years,” Manyam said. “I am very proud of this grant and our scholars, and I’m honored to serve as the project director for this grant.”
Students graduate with the ability to become a certified rehabilitation counselor nationally, as well as licensed to work in the state of Georgia. Graduates will be able to enter a variety of jobs in rehabilitation counseling. Students are required to work for two years in a state agency upon graduating, Manyam said.
Henderson said that Mercer’s Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling program is training students that are skilled counselors who are also very passionate about the work they’re doing. The program also works to increase awareness surrounding disability and promote accessibility for people with disabilities, she said.
“A big part of our goal is just that our students are going to come away being advocates for people with disabilities and for making those changes that make our environment more inclusive,” Henderson said. “The grant is a great step forward in helping us do that because it gives some of our students the opportunity to go to school and do this degree that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”
Z Beans Coffee founders Shane Buerster and Carter Varga recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of their Mercer Village location’s opening.
Buerster and Varga were inspired by a Mercer on Mission trip to Ecuador, and said they created Z Beans with the goal of supporting Ecuadorian coffee farmers and promoting sustainability. In the first year of their coffeehouse, they said students and Macon residents alike came for coffee or a place to work and study.
“Students have really put it into their routine to come study here, and that was really the goal,” Buerster said.
This summer, the two Mercer alumni made a trip to Ecuador to check in with their farmers.
“What we want to do is create opportunities for the hard-working Ecuadorian farmers,” Varga said.
During their time in Ecuador in July, Buerster worked directly with the Z Beans supply chain while Varga visited plantations around the region with a photographer, documenting the lives of local farmers and the process of producing the coffee sold in their shops back in the United States.
“There is no middle man from their farm all the way to the cup. There is one business that handles it, and that’s Z Beans,” Buerster said.
Alongside Buerster and Varga, a network of baristas, farmers and other employees keep Z Beans up and running on a daily basis. Their partners in Ecuador, Marie and Fabricio Paredes and Arturo Peñarreta, have been involved with Z Beans not just in the year that the Z Beans storefront has been operating, but also when the company sold its products exclusively online.
“We would not be here today without (Arturo),” Buerster said. “He’s a dreamer and a doer. It’s fun to have him onboard.”
Throughout the course of their time in Ecuador, the founders said they were able to continue their goal of giving coffee farmers a way to sell their product and prepare for changes coming in the next few months.
Buerster and Vargo said they plan to reintroduce a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic after questions arose surrounding the disappearance of the biodegradable plastic cups that the coffee shop previously debuted.
“In the cold months, we are going to try to roll out the biodegradable cups once again,” Buerster said. “I really appreciate the constructive feedback that (the community has) given.”
In addition to the biodegradable cups, Buerster and Vargo said that new Ecuadorian products recently debuted in their shops. One of these products, called bocaditos, are graham crackers with honey. They began as a class project by Maria Paula Sanchez, a student in Ecuador, and her classmates who were tasked with creating their own business. The company is called Dolce Delicia.
“As young entrepreneurs ourselves, we want to help other young entrepreneurs get their start,” Varga said.
Dolce Delicia’s products are available for purchase in both Z Beans locations.
Z Beans currently has locations in Mercer Village and on Cotton Avenue, and a third store will open this fall in the Coliseum Hospital in Macon.
As the chain continues to grow, Buerster and Varga still said Mercer University and its community are one of their biggest supporters.
“We are forever and eternally grateful for everything that Mercer has done for us and the support that we’ve received,” Varga said. He went on to say that the best part is “being able to wake up every morning and know what you're doing is making an impact for someone else, whether it's here, or five thousand miles away in Ecuador.”
Co-founder Buerster said he agreed with Varga.
“That’s been the most rewarding part, just knowing that we are continuing to push our mission forward,” Buerster said.