Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

Helping Syrian refugees motivates professor and her marketing students

Helping Syrian refugees motivates professor and her marketing students

The life vest project—which seeks to improve life for Syrian refugees by repurposing discarded life jackets—relied on Quinlan marketing students using their skills to address a real-world problem. Photo: Getty Images

By Whitney Critten |  Student reporter

As the daughter of Greek refugees, Senior Lecturer Eve Geroulis says she can no longer watch the events happening in Greece, with the large influx of Syrian refugees to the Greek island of Lesvos, and not challenge herself and her students to use their skills as marketers to help.

“I constantly tell my students that as marketers, it’s not just about how fast you can reach consumers to sell a product or service, it’s also about how can you use your skills to help solve the world’s greatest problems such as the Syrian refugee crisis,” says Geroulis.

Providing needed clothing

In spring 2016, she put her words into action after learning that underwear is one of the Syrian refugees’ most urgent needs. Geroulis placed a Project Underpants collection box in the lobby of Quinlan’s Schreiber Center and challenged students to donate underwear for men, women, and children.

At the end of the drive, 1,500 pairs of underwear were collected. Geroulis and marketing professor Linda Tuncay Zayer then traveled to Lesvos to deliver the underwear and better understand the situation on the Greek island.

Life vest to marketable product

After Project Underpants, Geroulis wanted to continue challenging her students to help Syrian refugees.

Geroulis saw an opportunity with the more than 800,000 discarded life jackets from the Syrian refugees’ journey to Greece. In addition to clean clothing, the Syrian refugees need jobs to be able to provide for their families.

Geroulis says, “The life vest project aims to teach refugees how to repurpose old life jackets into trendy marketable products such as handbags, iPhone cases, and backpacks, while providing them with employment. The proceeds would then go back to the refugees and their families and hopefully a school in Athens.”

Over the summer, students in Geroulis’ international marketing class worked on marketing plans for the life vest project to determine the best target demographic for the repurposed products and how to market and reach them.

The life vest project is seeking funding currently, but Geroulis remains hopeful that the project will soon become a reality. 

Social justice in the classroom

In all of her marketing courses, Geroulis challenges her students to not only evaluate what they want to get out of the course, but also how they can help those struggling with poverty.

“I tell my students to pay attention to what’s happening throughout the world and find a cause that they’re truly passionate about,” says Geroulis. “And then use that passion, along with their skills as a marketer, to respond to the needs of the poor, fight inequality, and ultimately help solve the world’s greatest challenges.”

She adds, “I hope my passion for helping the Syrian refugees in Greece inspires my students to do the same in various regions of the world and in their own communities, because imaginative and innovative new models of economic development that create opportunities are desperately needed in our world today.”