Students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business worked hands-on to serve their community through the Leading People and Projects (MNGT 411) course, also known as Strive to Thrive Lincoln. Entirely leading a grant-awarding process, students in the course gain firsthand insight into the nonprofit world and end the semester awarding $10,000 in grants to two local nonprofits – this year to St. Monica’s Home and The Arc of Lincoln.
“Members of Strive to Thrive Lincoln determine the trajectory of this course. I set the framework, and it is up to them to make decisions and work with their peers on the various facets of our grant process,” said Amber Messersmith, lecturer of management, who teaches the course.
Split into groups, students lead several distinct areas of the class, such as managing an online blog to journal class progress, managing student deliberations and working on setting up site visits to local nonprofits. The experiential learning done in the class creates a long lasting and meaningful experience for students.
“It’s rewarding for students to see how their work is essential to the whole, and how their teams are interdependent on one another. Many former students have compared the course to an internship, as they’re learning about leadership and project management through engaging in a project with real-life outcomes,” said Messersmith.
Kate Madsen, a senior business administration major from Omaha, Nebraska, served on the class evaluation group, leading students through deliberations on their decision for which two nonprofits to award grants. The grant process and visiting various organizations enlightened her about what nonprofits can achieve.
“Strive to Thrive Lincoln made me realize the impact the numerous nonprofits around Lincoln, and across the country, can have on different communities. Even though I have lived in Lincoln for over four years, I have not been able to connect to much of the community outside of the downtown area around campus,” she said. “Being able to visit and speak with those working for the nonprofits we were considering helped give us a powerful perspective on how these organizations are making an impact.”
In order to gauge class sentiment on the 22 initial organizations considered for the grants, Madsen and her team collected and analyzed more than 4,000 different data points from a survey. The work done in class provided useful experiences for students to carry forward in their careers.
“This class has given me the opportunity to expand my skills in many areas. This includes my ability to evaluate organizations, lead large group discussions, and especially apply data management,” she said.
Now in its 12th semester, Strive to Thrive Lincoln has allocated $120,000 to Lincoln nonprofits since 2015. Messersmith credits Rhonda Seacrest, a notable Lincoln philanthropist, for her continued generous support of the course and its efforts.
“Not only has Rhonda’s financial gift allowed twice as many students to take this course each year as compared to when it began, she has been a true friend to Strive to Thrive Lincoln. She cheers us on all semester and makes the time to come visit our class to get to know us. We’re inspired by you and grateful for you,” said Messersmith.
An advocate for the course, Seacrest spoke at the grant ceremony about the impact students are making in the Lincoln community.
"The choice that you made to take this class speaks volumes about you. It plainly says you recognize there is human suffering that needs to be addressed, and you have chosen to pursue a course of study that will address that and create solutions," Seacrest said. "People like me give money and give time, but the gift that each of you is going to give by your decision to enroll in the Strive to Thrive class, taking the lessons that you have learned into the private and public sectors for literally decades to come, is more valuable than anything I or anyone else would give by way of financial compensation. I thank you for what you are doing, what you will do and for giving me the opportunity to work with you."
A unique experiential learning opportunity, the course often leaves a lasting and impactful impression on students.
“Strive to Thrive Lincoln provided me with real-world experience in granting and nonprofits. No other class I've taken has provided this type of opportunity to engage with a variety of nonprofits within the Lincoln community that students like me might not have gotten the chance to otherwise,” said Madsen.
To learn more about the class project, visit: https://business.unl.edu/strivetothrive.