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Spotlight on Teaching
Learning by giving.
SOC/WRIT307: Nonprofit Organizations and American Cities in the 21st Century
Team-taught by Visiting Lecturer in Writing Anne Brubaker and Professor of Sociology Lee Cuba, the course aims to both enhance students’ communication and research skills beyond the classroom experience, and to strengthen the students’ understanding of American cities and the nonprofit organizations that serve them. The course received a $10,000 grant from the Learning by Giving Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to promote student learning about effective and responsible philanthropy and to help prepare a new generation of philanthropic and nonprofit leaders. At the end of the course, the students were given the responsibility of distributing the $10,000 to one or two of the nonprofits with which they worked with throughout the semester.
“It really is a course of consequence. They’re writing with purpose—you don’t want to write just any grant; you want to write a fundable grant,” says Cuba. At the beginning of the semester, the students are divided into teams that work together for the entire course. After the students have written a memorandum of understanding with their group to outline their expectations for one another, the teams work closely with their designated nonprofit organizations for the rest of the semester as advocates, conducting research to write a grant proposal that will earn the nonprofit the $10,000. After teams submit grant proposal comes the most challenging part of the class: deciding which of the four organizations will receive the award. “The students then have to go through a difficult thing,” explains Cuba, “which is to turn from being an advocate for their organization to becoming a foundation board and ask, ‘What criteria will we use to evaluate and make these awards?’”
“Every step of the way, everything was an exercise in writing. There are other colleges teaching these kinds of courses but they don’t often have the students write a grant, so this is really a distinctive feature of the course,” says Brubaker. The nonprofits involved with the course generously offer their time and expertise to provide a valuable learning experience for the students. Experts and professionals from the philanthropic world are also invited to address the class. Fall 2013, for example, featured four guest lecturers: Joan Wallace-Benjamin '75, president and CEO of The Home for Little Wanderers; Ira Silver, professor of sociology at Framingham State University; Ellen Luger '83, executive director of the General Mills Foundation; and Barbara Harman, executive director of the Harman Family Foundation. The experts spoke of their experiences working in philanthropy and shed light on the growing nonprofit sector.
“The skill set the students are getting is transferable to any professional context,” says Brubaker. “The group work, problem solving, effective writing and communicating, and having the experience of working with professionals—they can use all of these skills to launch themselves into any career.”
For their development of this course, Brubaker and Cuba received the 2013-2014 Apgar Award, a prize endowed by Anne Nelson Apgar '70 to recognize a faculty member who motivates students' interest, curiosity, and love of learning; proposes and applies new teaching concepts and methods; and serves as a mentor to stimulate students' intellectual development.
“This class offers students the opportunity to try their hand at this type of writing in a well-coached, inspiring and fulfilling environment. I felt very prepared for my summer grant writing work!”
—Michele Ross 'DS15