Josh Erickson ’07, MBA’10 readies a group of young “Ticas” for their turn in a soccer tournament.
Grant Leslie ’09, MBA’10 draws up plays in the huddle, giving Costa Rican high school students their first taste of American football.
To date, more than 1,200 Costa Rican children have attended a camp offered by Beyond Study Abroad.
Atkinson grads design study abroad program with athletes in mind
When he was a student athlete, Josh Erickson feared studying abroad would interfere with his training schedule. So he never went.
But after earning his MBA from Willamette University in 2010, Erickson and Grant Leslie ’09, MBA’10 created a program designed to appeal to students and coaches alike — one that features athletic training, community service and academic courses.
They named it Beyond Study Abroad.
Designed specifically for student athletes, Beyond Study Abroad is a cultural immersion program based in Costa Rica. Participants take academic courses offered through two local universities. They continue a rigorous workout routine with qualified trainers, and they stay with host families. They also volunteer in the community by coaching youth sports.
In 2010, Beyond worked with a few universities in the Northwest, offering six-week summer programs. A year later, it expanded to 20 top-tier liberal arts colleges nationwide and began offering year-round programming.
“We’re very relationship driven, and we give our students the freedom to have their own experience,” Erickson says.
Daring to dream
After graduating from Willamette in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Erickson traveled to Costa Rica. Inspired by months of coaching basketball and teaching English, he knew he had found his calling. But before he started his business, he enrolled at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management and auditioned his idea in the New Ventures course.
“We worked with students from other countries and we learned a lot about international communication,” Erickson says. “It provided a great foundation.”
Leslie, Erickson’s longtime friend and basketball teammate, became Erickson’s business partner. He says the guidance from Atkinson’s professors was incredible.
“The professors are still engaged with us after graduation, providing an invaluable support network for entrepreneurs,” he says.
Creating a brand
While Erickson stays in Costa Rica, Leslie spends much of the year directing marketing and recruiting efforts from New York City. He works predominantly with coaches and athletic directors, doing his part to excite them by what the program offers.
Spreading word of their product is a constant challenge, Leslie says, but Beyond’s sports camps are an alluring component. To date, more than 1,200 Costa Rican children have attended a camp, and in summer 2011, student athletes and staff spent more than 1,100 hours coaching kids.
For Leslie and Erickson, giving back to the community is how they stay true toWillamette’s motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”
“Seeing college athletes connect with kids is what this program is all about,” Erickson says. “Those camps are what they take with them and what they remember.”
Thrilled by what the future holds, Leslie and Erickson are moving into new offices in Costa Rica. They’re constructing a larger gymnasium — which they will make available for community use — and they plan to expand their program into an English-speaking country next year.
“It’s important to have a positive attitude, to see it as a passion in your life rather than just a job,” Leslie says about starting a business. “Combat the fear. Just go for it.”