U alumni wins trip to Ghana, Africa

The Facebook contest required 5,000 “likes” and a creative video.

Raya Zimmerman

Proving his professors and parents wrong, one University of Minnesota student used Facebook to do something worthwhile.
Tom Mitchell, a 2010 Carlson School of Management graduate in human resources and education, got 10,000 Facebook users to attend his digital event in December, making him one of the two winners set to embark on a two-week trip March 17 to his destination of choice: Ghana, Africa.
With his online victory, Mitchell has the opportunity to visit the nation to work with an HIV/AIDS project.
The trip was created to recruit more fans to âÄúlikeâÄù the Facebook page for ShermansTravel, a travel agency. The agency partnered with Projects Abroad, a volunteer organization that specializes in international volunteering.
The competitors had to post a one-minute video explaining why they should be picked as well as attract 5,000 fans to ShermansTravelâÄôs Facebook page.
Mitchell went beyond that.
He created his own Facebook event titled âÄú10 seconds sends Tom on a volunteer tripâÄù and invited about 1,000 of his friends, inciting a snowball effect that he said eventually attracted 10,000 users to attend.
The page directed fans to the travel page where they were instructed to âÄúlikeâÄù ShermansTravel. The required benchmark of 5,000 was trumped just before the deadline.
Mitchell said he frequents the travel site and saw the contest open in December.
âÄúIt was a shot in the dark, but it was absolutely worth it,âÄù Mitchell said in a Skype interview from Helsinki, Finland, where heâÄôs currently traveling.
The dates of the Ghana trip were prime because his job in human resources development in North Carolina starts in June, leaving him time now to travel.
âÄúI thought the trip was a perfect chance to broaden my horizons to travel to a continent and a country IâÄôve never been to,âÄù Mitchell said. âÄúI know I wanted to challenge myself.âÄù
Mitchell will work in conjunction with the governmentâÄôs hospital in Accra, the capital. The project is designed to care for people who are infected or affected by HIV and AIDS with counseling, helping doctors test for the virus, campaigning for proper nutrition and awareness, and prevention outreach.
Mitchell said he doesnâÄôt have any experience with HIV or AIDS, but he was eager to help out and learn more.
Alyssa Shefveland, who worked with Mitchell when the two were Middlebrook Hall community advisers, helped record his video, a personal narrative accompanied by sketch cartoons.
âÄúTom has an extremely magnetic personality. HeâÄôs very interested in meeting other people and getting to know them beyond the surface level,âÄù Shefveland said. âÄúHe always wants to learn, and that came across in the video.âÄù
ShermansTravel is covering $3,000 of MitchellâÄôs expenses for two weeks. He decided to extend his trip another two weeks and pay the rest out of his pocket.
Christian Clark, program adviser for Projects Abroad, said his organization decided to partner with ShermansTravel not only to provide people the volunteer opportunity, but also to spread awareness of their organizationâÄôs goal.
âÄúThe point is for young Westerners to be able to experience life in a developing country,âÄù Clark said, âÄúand we hope that positively affects them to have awareness of different cultures.âÄù