Mack Family Honors Innovation Fellowship Strikes a Chord with BVU Junior

(story by Tim Gallagher)

Mitchell Countryman, a Buena Vista University junior to-be, spent one week this spring at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) trade show in Anaheim, Calif., an experience funded through the Mack Family Honors Innovation Fellowship program at BVU.

Gifts provided by the Mack family allow Countryman, and a couple of dozen students like him, to move their way forward on their journey toward becoming global citizens.

For Countryman, a business major with concentrations in marketing, management, and finance, the Mack Family Honors Innovation Fellowship allowed him to travel to the NAMM event as he prepares a BVU Honors research project detailing methods to make the guitar industry more sustainable and beneficial for communities and economies throughout the world.

Several companies in the industry have stripped forests in Africa and South America of tropical woods sought for their tonal quality. “It’s been hard on countries that have little governance,” says Countryman, who learned about this issue from Iowan Tom Bedell, a guitar manufacturer who presented a talk on the subject during the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute, another BVU experience Countryman attended last summer.

“Tom said he’s visited every rainforest,” Countryman says. “I’ve played guitar for five years and enjoy it. But I never considered the business aspects, the supply chain, the marketing behind guitars, and how musicians are very loyal to this kind of wood.”

Six years ago, Countryman says, Taylor Guitars founded The Ebony Project with Madinter, a supplier of guitar wood. The two companies joined forces in an ebony sawmill in Cameroon, a country in central Africa.

“The sawmill allowed Taylor Guitars to ensure that its ebony was being ethically harvested and that the Cameroonian people working with this wood had safe working conditions,” says Countryman, who is from Moville.

The corporate initiative into social responsibility led Countryman to NAMM where he connected with professionals from Taylor Guitars, among others. He also met a tonewood supplier from Washington State who shared information about poaching that occurs in the Pacific Northwest, where wood from bigleaf maple trees is a highly valued commodity among guitar makers.

“I hope to one day tour Tom Bedell’s factory in Oregon and then make my way to Washington,” Countryman says. “Someday, I’d love to visit Crelicam, the sawmill project in Cameroon.”

The experience has heightened Countryman’s awareness and his cultural understanding. He’s learned more about Cameroon, its people, and other ways in which he can lend his time and talents to those less fortunate.

“With my understanding of business, along with everything I learn about working with other cultures, I believe my experience can be the beginning of many future service projects and will make me a far better global citizen because of it,” he says.

The role BVU benefactors have played in Countryman’s BVU experience has also raised his awareness about the value of his BVU education. The President of BVU’s Accounting and Business Association also plays basketball while earning a 3.85 grade point average. Last winter, he joined his basketball teammates in seeing historical and governmental sites around Washington, D.C., as the Beavers played in a holiday tournament in nearby Roanoke, Va. An abundance of scholarships and grants have also allowed Countryman to finance his education.

“I’m very thankful for everyone who makes it possible for BVU students like me to take what we learn in class and apply it while experiencing situations in the real world,” he says. “I was able to tie my major into guitars, a subject I’m passionate about. It would be hard to do that on this scale without the support we get from people who give to BVU.”