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February 1, 2018

Philanthropist Helping Nebraska Business Students Learn to Give

Philanthropist Helping Nebraska Business Students Learn to Give
Dean Kathy Farrell poses with Rhonda Seacrest at the Strive to Thrive Lincoln awards ceremony in 2017.
A meaningful class that gives Nebraska College of Business students hands-on experience with philanthropy will be offered in both fall and spring semesters, with the assistance of Nebraska philanthropist Rhonda Seacrest.

The Strive to Thrive Lincoln grant program, which annually awards $10,000 to winning proposals developed by Lincoln and Lancaster County nonprofits, is the main class project of Leading People and Projects (Management 411). Under the guidance of Amber Messersmith, participating students manage a grant application process from beginning to end, selecting projects to receive awards.

“Teaching others to support nonprofits and to be philanthropists is something my late husband, Jim, believed in and shared with others by leading through example," said Seacrest, a long-time community volunteer with a passion for education, who gave the program an undisclosed amount to assure its continuity and allow more students to participate.

Students brainstorm the mission statement for the spring 2018 class.
Students brainstorm the mission statement for the spring 2018 class.
“This course allows students to learn about the mission and goals of area nonprofits, to visit them to get a better understanding about what they do and who they serve and to award funds that directly impact the community,” she said.

“There is only positive that comes to the nonprofit that receives funding – for the students who learn how to give back and for the donor who gets to see their money doing both,” Seacrest added.

The Learning by Giving Foundation provided full funding for the class when it started more than five years ago with Colleen Jones, now professor emeritus of management. Messersmith began teaching the class two and a half years ago, knowing that additional funds would be needed with the Learning by Giving Foundation providing partial funding through fall 2020. 

“Rhonda Seacrest’s gift provides instrumental continuity to a course which influences students as professionals and citizens of their communities long after they have completed their college careers,” Messersmith said. “Rhonda is modeling exactly what we learn about in this course – uncovering needs and finding ways to meet those needs, knowing the eventual reward benefits the community rather than the donor.

Amber Messersmith directs students from her 2017 class.
Amber Messersmith directs students from her 2017 class.
Kathy Farrell, the James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the College of Business,  said Seacrest had answered a critical need.

“This course is integral in our curriculum as it teaches our students the role of nonprofits in a community and the importance of giving back, and the number of students taking this course continues to grow,” she said. “Our Nebraska business community is grateful to Rhonda Seacrest for the generous gift, which will enable the Strive to Thrive Lincoln program to continue and the community to benefit.” 

A public reception announcing this year’s Strive to Thrive Lincoln awards will be held at 4:30 p.m. April 18 in Howard L. Hawks Hall. Those who wish to attend must RSVP to

For more information, go to