Students in the Leading People and Projects (MNGT 411) course in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Business earn hands-on experience working in the philanthropy world. Known as Strive to Thrive Lincoln, the course marked its 10th semester during an online ceremony where students awarded $10,000 in grants to two nonprofits.
“When students complete this course, I hope they have become more acutely aware of the needs that exist in the community, and how nonprofit organizations and philanthropy collaborate to address those needs,” said Amber Messersmith, lecturer of management, who teaches the course. “Such needs are not easily solved, so I want them to recognize and even begin planning the role they will play in serving their communities going forward.”
Funded by notable Lincoln philanthropist Rhonda Seacrest, the course puts students at the head of the grant-awarding process, from screening and interviewing nonprofits all the way to selection. After weeks of deliberation and evaluating more than 20 nonprofits, the students selected Visionary Youth and the South of Downtown Development Organization as their grant recipients.
Cameron Downey, a junior marketing major from Merna, and his classmates diligently considered many factors.
“When going through the process of picking our two grant recipients, we focused on nonprofits that provide growth and development opportunities for families and households while providing ways for financial stability,” he said. “We wanted to make sure as we reviewed each nonprofit, we looked into each one with extreme detail to ensure they fit every criteria we were considering when choosing our finalists.”
The challenge of selecting the nonprofits and narrowing it down to only two proved difficult, but something Mary McManus, a junior business administration major from Lincoln, and her classmates overcame.
“We let everyone in the class speak their mind and make their point,” she said. “There was no fighting or speaking over anyone, which made it easy for everyone to speak. Not everyone came to the same answer, but we all tried our best to make our point come across.”
As one of the grant recipients, Visionary Youth, a program that supports low-income youth through free haircuts, personal care items and other needs, plans to use the money to help provide a physical space and expand its mission. Founder Kwabena Mensah conveyed the importance of philanthropy and projects such as Strive to Thrive Lincoln.
“Students come from a variety of backgrounds,” Mensah said. “Some may have been fortunate enough to not understand the struggle others will encounter. This allows them to see their hard work come to reality. It also provides them the opportunity to help those within their community to succeed.”
Alongside the grants, students raised more than $500 for the Willard Community Center, which will go toward outdoor games and sports equipment for kids in their summer program. Beyond the monetary aspects of the course, students also devoted time to several service projects, such as preparing mailings, calling donors and creating marketing plans for nine nonprofits — something Messersmith recognizes as the other half of philanthropy.
“Society commonly uses the term philanthropy to describe large sums of money donated to worthy causes,” she said during the virtual award ceremony. “However, the complete definition of philanthropy encompasses giving money and time to help make life better for other people. I really think being a philanthropist means giving what you have when you can, whether that’s time or money, or sharing your knowledge, skills or network, or any combination of those.”
Messersmith said she views the course as more of an internship than a class, preparing students for life after graduation.
As he prepares to lead the future of business, Jared Schmid, a junior marketing major from Appleton, Wisconsin, said he appreciated the opportunity to learn about philanthropy through giving and serving the Lincoln community.
“As a result of this class, I know that in the future I want to help serve organizations I am passionate about and that align with my own personal values,” he said. “Strive to Thrive Lincoln has been one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my college career, and I am thankful to have been able to participate in it.”