Baan Tawai artisan With support from Krannert faculty member Chad Allred, students led by Xavier Thompson formed a student organization to help preserve the woodcarving heritage of artisans in the village of Baan Tawai, Thailand. (Photo provided)

Carving Out a Future

Student organization helps preserve artisanal heritage of Thai village

During a trip to South Asia in 2012, Chad Allred, a continuous term lecturer in marketing, encountered the historically artisanal woodcarving village of Baan Tawai, Thailand.

Allred was saddened to see that these artisans could not support themselves solely on the craft due to economic pressures and globalization. Much of the village had to give up tradition and turn to other jobs to support their families. But where some would see failure, Allred saw opportunity.

He came back to campus and integrated it into an experiential marketing class that focused on building a cohesive brand for the village and sharing it with the world through marketing research, Web magazine development and social media — all topped off with a trip to the village.

Xavier Thompson, a student in Allred’s experiential marketing class, realized that he did not want to leave the project behind after exams. He saw an opportunity to continue helping revive Baan Tawai’s economy and save their heritage, and he found a way to take that idea from conception to full-scale, ongoing effort.

Along with another student from the class, he did the groundwork and received a call from Purdue officials saying that Baan Tawai could officially become a student organization.

“That was honestly one of the best moments of my life,” Thompson says. “When I received that call, it was Purdue saying ‘we validate this cause and we support it,’ and from that moment we got started.”

Allred adds, "One of the Purdue Moves initiatives is to increase international experiences and, at the same time, there is more emphasis on mentoring students and helping them to use their classroom knowledge in extracurricular activities. I can't think of a project more aligned with that vision than this."

As president, Thompson runs the student organization like a consulting firm with one mission: to help Baan Tawai thrive in the era of globalization.

“To be a student and hold this position is an honor,” Thompson says. “I wake up every morning knowing what I am doing really affects someone. I don’t know how many people we are helping, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is getting that phone call from an artisan who just sold a piece of work and can now help support his child.”

Thompson says he has been honored to work with both talented freshmen and high-level upperclassmen within the organization, each with a belief that Baan Tawai's culture and heritage is a treasure worth rejuvenation. Yet there is another connection through the organization that he considers the most powerful.

“Purdue has such a large Asian population, and for the longest time I have felt like we haven’t been engaging in that connection and crossing those barriers,” he says. “With this organization, I have reached a crossing point, like the other students involved, and it has been an enlightening experience to work with these talented students.”

In the future, Thompson will keep expanding the numbers and impact of the organization. He plans on having the organization shift to a profitable model that runs at a grand scale and can contribute back to the artisans.

“As an organization, we hope to be an innovative way of learning,” Thompson says. “Our goal is to show the world that students are capable of anything.”