Students will design an interdisciplinary project to answer a research question. Written and oral communication about the project throughout the semester will enrich the steps of the process.
- Professor Megan Downing
We know that experiential learning provides students with a rich and lasting learning experience -- the process of "doing"... of actively engaging in work related to learning outcomes and reflecting on that process helps our brains retain the learning experience in a way that traditional, passive classroom learning does not. The Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project (MSPP) elevates that experience by adding the meaningful aspect of "learning by giving."
In HNR 102, Servant Leadership and Civic Engagement, we took a unique approach to the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project, partnering with one organization, Be Concerned, known as the "People's Pantry" to learn about the organization, the process of non-profit work, and how we (as a class) could also provide some 'virtual' community service to Be Concerned during the pandemic.
Students researched Be Concerned to learn about this outstanding organization's mission, programs, and customers, and the challenges inherent to serving a growing clientele during the pandemic. Paul Gottbrath graciously visited our class via Zoom to provide HNR 102 students with an overview of Be Concerned's history, growth, and the customer-focused work that they do in all their programs, but particularly in their fight against food insecurity. Other guest speakers provided additional perspective on the important related topics (Our funder, the Horizon Community Fund on funding non-profit community work; Dr. Jessica Taylor, Director FUEL NKU on food insecurity and planning community service projects; and Victoria Vogelsang, Campus Compact, on civic engagement, volunteerism, planning, and more).
Students reviewed Be Concerned programs and provided virtual community service by developing images for social media, fliers, a brochure, and a communication plan to promote the Erlanger Be Concerned food pantry location and the virtual Be Concerned Hunger Walk. Through this experiential learning process, students gained knowledge on civic engagement, community non-profits, project planning and implementation, teamwork, and more. We are so grateful to the Horizon Community fund for graciously supporting this initiative, the MSPP, and the Scripps Howard Center for Civic engagement that made this learning experience possible.
Remarks from Student Team 1 (Focus on Hunger Walk):
Overall, the experience working with Be Concerned has challenged us to expand our knowledge of philanthropy and how nonprofits are run to successfully give back to this organization in the form of raising awareness for the Hunger Walk. Before starting on the project we were faced with the task of learning as much as we could about food insecurity, for one cannot truly be invested in a project they do not understand.
Paul Gottbrauth, our primary communication with the organization, emphasizing the importance that we understand what they do and why they do it. Paul is an incredible example of the [servant] leadership qualities previously studied in class, taking action throughout the community. We recognized quickly the importance of maintaining strong communication and organization not only with each other but with the [non-profit] organization, for things can change suddenly and each individual must be aware of the change and able to adapt quickly. Although Be Concerned is making huge strides in reducing food insecurity within the local community, it remains a large issue throughout the US and we must continue to fight for change.
Remarks from Student Team 4 (Focus on Erlanger Food Pantry):
The work being done at Be Concerned greatly impacts the local community and is a shining example of why it is important that members of the community become engaged. One takeaway that our team identified is the need for volunteering in the area and how it can greatly impact our society.
Be Concerned is able to run at one-third of the cost of a fully employed organization because of its volunteers (Our Story, 2021). This allows for more funds to be allocated towards those within the community who need help. By volunteering, one allows for organizations to run smoothly and lower costs, ensuring more people are able to receive food from the pantry. Funds are especially vital during this time of widespread need. As America has seen financial disasters due to the pandemic, Be Concerned continues to fight for grants and donations in order to keep the pantry running.
Overall, this project has shown the importance of giving back in times of need and serving the community as an engaged citizen. Volunteering allows organizations to allocate more funds towards those who need help by lowering employment costs. Food insecurity is an issue within every community, and it is important that those who are able to help others in need do so; this volunteerism can be the difference between someone having access to a warm meal and having to skip dinner to save money. Giving back to the community is a fulfilling experience that allows one to open his eyes to the larger issues of his community and help others in need.
Remarks from Paul Gottbrath, Be Concerned Director:
I'd like to again commend the Mayerson Foundation and NKU for this great program. It's been such a gratifying experience for us at Be Concerned to watch the imagination, resourcefulness and enthusiasm that Dr. Downing's students have poured into the two projects they are doing with us. I expect that every one of these students will engage with other nonprofits in the near future and prove real assets to them. Special thanks to Dr. Downing for the novel format she devised for this class. Timing of the grants, which will go to buy food for our programs, could not be better as we head into the summer, traditionally a slow period for food drives.
Professor Downing: I didn't encounter any particular teaching challenges due to the pandemic. Having taught MSPP previously in asynchronous online courses, I was able to follow a similar strategy/design for his synchronous class. Since this course was unique and involved a service component, some challenges were expected -- Challenges for the students included limitations on F2F (face to face) meetings with their teammates, dispersed teammates (some on campus/some at home), the inability to collect or distribute food, and the need to remember Norse 9 precautions in all interactive situations. Norse 9 safety precaution principals were reviewed and emphasized for any students considering a site visit; however, students were encouraged to opt for a 'virtual' visit using Zoom or to conduct their interview/visit via phone or, as a last resort, via email. Students successfully used Zoom for their interactions with Be Concerned and with each other. Unable to form a team and physically participate in the Hunger Walk, students had to consider creative alternatives to advocate for this event.
Students successfully shared fliers in the community, on campus, and in social media and they will be participating in the hunger walk ‘virtually’ by walking in their own communities on May 31. If you’re interested in signing up for this great cause, visit Virtual Hunger Walk Be Concerned Team Sign Up and click Join Team.