As part of the Leading People and Projects (MNGT 411) Strive to Thrive Lincoln class, students normally complete service projects at local nonprofits to learn about philanthropy and serve their community. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world, Dr. Amber Messersmith, lecturer at the College of Business, ensured students would still partner with nonprofits doing impactful work by transitioning to a virtual setting.
“This semester took some creativity as I didn’t want to increase risk by having students physically enter nonprofit locations. I didn't want to cut that component if we could find a way to work around it. The whole motivation for having students serve is to tangibly demonstrate that philanthropy is not just about giving money, it's also sharing your time, your network and your skill set with an organization. We needed to continue this because I wanted the class to be as meaningful as any other semester,” she said.
Messersmith reached out to nonprofits around Lincoln, Nebraska, to see where her students could provide help virtually. Her efforts resulted in finding eight nonprofits where students complete virtual projects for and make an impact.
“This experience teaches and reminds students how valuable the skills and abilities donated truly are to a nonprofit,” she said. “Regardless of the semester, nonprofits in Lincoln are often very good at welcoming us in, and they're very appreciative of the students' time and willingness to serve even though it's just a one-time, two to three-hour commitment.”
Emily Koopmann, ’12, executive director of the Belmont Community Center, knows how the Strive to Thrive Lincoln class directly impacts a nonprofit. As a previous Strive to Thrive Lincoln grant recipient, the center purchased resources needed for their programs, and Koopmann is currently working with students and Duncan Aviation on an essential project.
“This building was built in 1955. There is a need to document institutional knowledge and keep it current, which helps the center stay well maintained in a more sustainable way. Having students help outline a plan and then work that into the final plan I'm creating will be a way to maintain this space as we have served the community for more than 100 years,” said Koopmann.
As an alumnus of the college, Koopmann delights in the fact nonprofit education is getting the attention it deserves.
“I've been working in nonprofits in Lincoln for six years, so it's exciting that students get this opportunity. That was something missing as part of my experience in college and I didn’t know a lot about nonprofit work, so it's exciting they're really integrating that at the College of Business,” she said.
The students also helped the Lincoln Children’s Museum stay updated for the current health environment. Ashley Kreeger, administrative assistant at the museum, cites the students as a source of fresh eyes in seeing new ways the museum can engage their volunteers.
“We have always solely relied on in-house volunteering, but with the pandemic that all changed. We still have in-house volunteers, but to accommodate the volunteers who don’t want to come in, we wanted to see how we can create a virtual volunteering environment for them. The research the students did for me is a great start to re-vamping and relaunching our volunteer program as we bring in that virtual piece,” said Kreeger.
George Bokobo, a junior management major from Grand Island, Nebraska, worked with his team to help Belmont Community Center develop the facility plan. The project and course became a tremendous educational experience about philanthropy.
“I have learned that when it comes to nonprofits, you must do extensive research in deciding which organization to give your money. I enjoy the group atmosphere and knowing what we do will make a difference in our community,” he said.
The course concludes with a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, November 11, where students present two $5,000 grants to two local nonprofits, funded by philanthropist Rhonda Seacrest of Lincoln and the Learning by Giving Foundation.