Education alum Samantha Lurie receives $50,000 Food City grant to support Show Me The World Project

by | Apr 5, 2024

Over the past 11 years, the program has helped more than 150 students from eight area high schools embark on their first international trips.
Samantha Lurie and Sylvester Chisom

Samantha Lurie and Sylvester Chisom showcase two varieties of Show Me The World Coffee. In February, Lurie, a two-time UMSL education graduate, and Chisom, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at UMSL, received a $50,000 grant from Food City to support the Show Me The World Project. The yearlong program helps area high school students develop in-demand skills and culminates with a nine-day international trip. (Photos courtesy of Samantha Lurie)

On Saturdays at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, shoppers perusing local artisan goods and fresh produce are likely to find a crowd gathered at the Show Me The World Project booth.

Local high schoolers run the operation and chat freely with potential customers as they sell sustainable, single-origin coffee from countries including Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Peru. But they’re not just selling light, medium and darks roasts, they’re selling themselves and an investment in their future.

Over the past 11 years, the Show Me The World Project has helped more than 150 students from eight area high schools embark on their first international trips. The initiative offers much more than a study abroad experience, though. The yearlong program focuses on developing skills in cultural awareness, entrepreneurship, finance, leadership and STEM through weekly workshops.

It has grown significantly since Samantha Lurie started it as a biology teacher at Vashon High School in 2013. What began as a grassroots fundraiser has become a 501c3 non-profit organization and sustainable entrepreneurial endeavor, with Show Me The World Coffee serving as the flagship product.

Lurie, the executive director and a two-time MEd graduate of the University of Missouri–St. Louis, co-founded the Show Me the World Project with Boahemaa Adu-Oppong, the director of data science and computational biology at Arana Biosciences, and Sylvester Chisom, the CEO and founder of Global CTE Learning and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at UMSL. They have worked ardently to expand the educational offerings and open the program to many more students in under-resourced St. Louis communities.

A recent investment will ensure that work continues. The Show Me The World Project received a $50,000 grant from Food City, a Serving Our Communities program. It’s the largest single grant or donation the program has ever garnered. Reflecting on the award, Lurie credited the St. Louis community’s perennial encouragement.

Show Me The World Project students

This year, Show Me The World Project will support 50 students – a single-year record – from Vashon High School, Soldan International Studies High School and University City High School.

“I just really appreciate the community support because over the years our project is a combination of so many different people and community members supporting us and believing in us even when it was just an idea at the beginning,” Lurie said. “I think, to me, it just symbolizes our growth and our determination and the community effort.”

The capital injection will help the program reach more students, among other benefits.

“This grant will allow us to strengthen our programming in terms of our entrepreneurship, learning the farm-to-cup coffee process, expanding that to more students,” Lurie said. “Also, it will help us get the word out in terms of marketing around our coffee so that it can continue to be leveraged as a teaching tool and a funding tool for these trips.”

Humble beginnings

The roots of the Show Me The World Project – originally known as the Show Me Costa Rica Project – lead back to Vashon High School. Lurie moved to St. Louis to take a Teach for America position at the school in 2008, while she also earned her first master’s degree at UMSL.

In 2012, she and her students participated in a school swap program with Clayton High School to study education equity. The students saw a flyer in the cafeteria advertising an educational international trip and were shocked that such an incredible opportunity was available to their peers.

Lurie’s students pushed her to find a way to make it happen at Vashon.

“They kept asking, and at the time, I was like, ‘I have no idea how we would be able to fundraise all of that money to make that happen,’” she said. “They were really the ones who were the catalyst for first starting it.”

They identified Costa Rica as an ideal destination because the country’s wealth of biodiversity aligned neatly with the school’s biology curriculum. Then the students got to work doing anything and everything to raise funds for the trip. They worked concession stands at St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Rams games, hosted carwashes and sold candy bars. By spring 2013, they met their fundraising goal, and 10 Vashon students traveled to Costa Rica.

The trip’s impact was clear immediately.

During the first two years of the program, students increased their average cumulative GPA from 2.9 to 3.6, and 90% of those participating scored proficient or above in the standardized statewide biology end-of-course assessment. But Lurie recognized that was just a starting point and far more was possible.

Steady growth

Over the years, the program has grown steadily, which Lurie attributes to the combined efforts and expertise of the three cofounders – an educator, a scientist and an entrepreneur.

Lurie met Adu-Oppong when she was a PhD student studying ecology and ecosystems. Adu-Oppong developed the program’s STEM curriculum, leaning on her experience with Washington University in St. Louis’ Young Scientist Program. The curriculum is aligned with the Missouri state standards for biology, and lessons focus on topics such as ecosystems, food webs and symbiotic relationships among flora and fauna.

“They’re able to study these different relationships and interactions beforehand through very hands-on experiences, and then actually go into the rainforest and be able to point out these biological concepts and expand their knowledge,” Lurie said.

Chisom became involved early on when he received an email about one of the program’s car wash fundraisers. It piqued his interest because he owned a carwash business at the time and was able to donate supplies. It also happened that 14 of his family members graduated from Vashon High School, and his first international trip was to Costa Rica to visit a cousin studying abroad.

Shortly after joining the Show Me The World Project, Chisom had an “aha moment” that would lead to the expansion of the program’s entrepreneurial component. After touring a coffee farm in Costa Rica and watching Lurie buy numerous bags of coffee as gifts for donors back in the U.S., he began thinking about how to integrate it into the program.

Chisom leveraged concepts he teaches in his Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at UMSL to get the project’s specialty coffee program off the ground during the 2016-17 academic year.

“We took a lean startup approach to it,” Chisom said. “We started with the resources we had, which was Google and friends and partners. We started telling people this is what we’re trying to do. I ran a workshop with students where they were actually doing the research trying to find the best coffee importers and the best coffee shops. Early on, some of the local coffee shops were very helpful in teaching and coming in and talking to our students. It started very grassroots. We ordered some craft bags on Amazon – something very modest – and the students helped design a two-inch Avery sticker that we were printing at Office Depot that said ‘Costa Rica Coffee’ on it.”

New horizons

Several years later, the operation rivals those local coffee shops. Show Me The World Coffee now features single-origin beans from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru and is available for subscriptions, doorstep delivery and purchase online and at all Fresh Thyme Market locations.

Students learn about all aspects of the farm-to-cup process and how to speak about flavor and roast profiles during skill-based workshops. They utilize that knowledge selling the coffee at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market and conducting tastings across the city – activities for which they’re paid. The hands-on entrepreneurial experiences instill confidence and cultivate interdisciplinary skills that will serve them well into the future.

Show Me The World Project students

Students work a booth at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, where they learn entrepreneurial skills and gain confidence.

“We use the coffee as a tool to expand and increase educational outcomes,” Chisom said. “That’s the priority. They’re branding, marketing, so they’re learning things that are valuable in the marketplace where we’re preparing them for post-secondary success and career readiness. All of that is wrapped in there. We’re super intentional about that. The durable skills like communication, collaboration, teamwork, critical thinking, these are things we actually track.”

In addition to STEM and entrepreneurship, global competence and cultural immersion are core components of the program. Lurie said the nine-day international trips are transformative for the students.

“Every experience is brand new for them, and a mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions,” she said. “I think just being able to be outside of your normal day-to-day, we see them filled with excitement and curiosity as they are immersing themselves. They have worked so hard to get there. They are taking advantage of everything possible.

“They’re the first ones to jump up when tour guides might be asking for volunteers. They’re asking the local people that we’re interacting with about their education system, about their government. They are completely immersing themselves and operating with a ton of curiosity, a ton of gratitude, and a ton of respect for a country that they have been working for over a year to travel to.”

A bright future

The Show Me The World Project now travels to four countries – Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Panama – and it has expanded its reach within the St. Louis community, as well. This year, it will support 50 students – a single-year record – from Vashon, Soldan International Studies High School and University City High School.

Lurie said there are plans to pilot a summer program and launch a broader range of products. The organization will also look to build a larger team and continue expanding. For her, the past 11 years have been a dream come true.

“I continuously think about all the students, family members, educators and community members who have been impacted by this,” Lurie said. “So, I feel a great sense of responsibility to carry out this mission with an amazing team and community to break down barriers for students in low-income and under-resourced communities to have access to transformative educational experiences.”

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