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NKU student philanthropy classes benefit campus and community

An interview with Dr. Whitney McIntyre Miller, faculty coordinator for the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project

By Terry Boehmker
NKU Web Marketing + Communications

This semester, Northern Kentucky University is offering 14 student philanthropy classes that will provide small grants to meet community needs while teaching the value of stewardship to students.

Each class will receive either $1,000 or $2,000 from the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project (MSPP). The students’ job will be to identify a community need, then find nonprofits addressing that need and, in the end, award grants to nonprofits that, in the students’ judgment, are best meeting the need.

Dr. Whitney McIntyre Miller, an assistant professor in NKU’s Department of Political Science, Criminal Justice and Organizational Leadership, is the faculty coordinator for MSSP classes. She works closely with NKU's Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, the administrative home the program.

Dr. McIntyre Miller answers some questions below about the program as the spring classes get started.

To learn more about NKU student philanthropy, go to SOAPBOX Media’s current online issue to read the story, “NKU Students Help Award $83,500 to Area Nonprofits."

NKU student Erynne Carter gets a hug after awarding a $1,000 grant to Robin Anderson, program coordinator for Mentoring Plus, a nonprofit in Newport. Carter and Alexandra Wilburn, left, were in the student philanthropy class that decided which nonprofit could use the money to address a community need.

Q: You’ve taught student philanthropy classes and you’ve now had one semester
of managing the program. What excites you about NKU's student philanthropy classes?

I think the most exciting part for me is the passion and excitement with which students speak about the organizations they select to fund.  Many of these students believe so strongly in the mission of the organizations they fund and are really connected to the work they do.  In a semester’s time,  students can go from not knowing an organization and its work to becoming an engaged  volunteer.  Those connections are exciting!

Q: Why is student philanthropy valuable in the classroom?

Student philanthropy classes give students the chance to get out and really put what they are learning in the classroom to use in the community.  Students get a chance to see how concepts are applied in the real world and make connections that enhance their learning in a very meaningful way.

Q: Why are student philanthropy classes valuable to the community?

Student philanthropy classes create students who are interested in their communities.  These students go on to become alumni who are engaged in their communities and care about the community’s future.  Being able to complete a Mayerson project in the classroom serves to provide students with experiences that enable them to become lifelong community stewards.

Q: Any favorite stories or anecdotes you might share about the student philanthropy program, either from your class or a colleague?

I had a student in my most recent class who was not very interested in the project at first.  He and his group tried to reach out to a few organizations that did not get back to them or seem interested in the project.  Finally, he found an organization that was interested in the project and willing to work with this student and his group. 

Connecting with this organization enabled him to learn firsthand of their experiences, and he became increasing fascinated by their work.  This student went from completing a project for a grade to giving his classmates and impassioned presentation about why his group should be awarded the money.  In the end, his passion came through and his organization was awarded the $2,000. 

It was so wonderful to see the change in this student in just a few short months.

Q:  Does it work – why is this program more than just giving money away?

It works.  Students learn about community needs and the organizations that serve these needs.  Students get out of their classrooms and connect with the world around them. 

By having students give the money that would normally be given directly by foundations or other groups, students get a chance to be more engaged in the moment and in the future, and nonprofits received funds to assist with valuable community-based projects.  It is more than a win-win.

Q: What do students tell you about the philanthropy classes?

Students really appreciate the project.  Many often say they thought it was just another group project at first, but then really see that it is a chance to make a difference in other people’s lives- and that makes a difference to them too.  Many say they would love to take another MSPP class in the future.

Q:  What’s ahead for this program, this spring and beyond?

We are very excited about the project this spring.  We have a class running for the first time in the nursing school.  This course is on community and public health, so it is a perfect fit.  Also, for the first time we are going completely digital with our surveys.  Students participate in a pre- and post- survey in each of the classes.  This semester these surveys will all be done online with the help of Institutional Research. 

In fall we piloted a new model of giving volunteer hours instead of monetary funds to an organization.  The freshman honors society group will be contributing those hours this spring.  We hope that this new model will continue in the future and that we can explore other inventive ways of giving. 

We have a goal of having student philanthropy classes in all of the colleges and schools on campus, and we are almost there.

Also this spring we have a record number of sections participating in the project.  We hope to keep the level of interest in the project high in the coming semesters.