When Julie Olberding first began her career at Northern Kentucky University
, she knew she would need to find a nonprofit to partner with for her Resource Acquisition and Management course. After browsing the newspaper, she came upon The Inner City Tennis Project
, whose aim is to provide low-cost and high-quality tennis instruction to inner-city students.
“I felt compelled to work with them,” says Olberding, who currently serves as director of NKU’s Master of Public Administration and Nonprofit Management graduate certificate programs.
“It was run by two people who had worked for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission who weren’t millionaires, who weren’t loaded with resources,” she says, “but the story went on to talk about how each of them contributed something like $10,000 of their own money to pay for renting courts and vans for their teams to participate in matches. They were basically pooling money from their pockets, from their retirement, to pay for it.”
Both her Resource Acquisition and Management course and her Volunteer Management course engaged in service learning projects with the Inner City Tennis Project, and in the 10 years since, Olberding’s classes have continued to engage in projects that have long-lasting impacts.
“I had a student who went on to do an internship for them and then became a board member and ultimately their president,” Olberding says, “and he invited me to one of their special events called the Sneaker Ball, which is a gala where everybody dresses up and they wear tennis shoes, and there’s a silent auction. ... It was an idea that was created, or further developed, by the original Resource Management class.”
Unsure of what to expect, Olberding attended the event and was “blown away,” she says, at its success.
“It opened my eyes and my imagination — or interest — in terms of wondering what happened to other organizations, but I hadn’t had or taken the time to follow up with them to see what these long term impacts were,” she says.
So she worked with a graduate student to follow up with community partners and conduct surveys years after projects took place.
“In looking at the literature on service learning and even student philanthropy, which is part of that, there didn’t seem to be a lot on how these projects can have longer term impacts,” Olberding says. “We kind of assume they are, because in our classes in particular we focus on things like nonprofit strategic planning, program evaluation, fundraising, volunteer management — all things that have that potential.”
So Olberding and a former student compiled data to co-author a piece that speaks to the long-term impacts of service learning, which will be published in the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership
later this year.
“I think sometimes when people think about service learning,” Olberding says, “they think of the undergraduate class maybe going to a food pantry or homeless shelter — providing hours of service in a way that’s very helpful but is somewhat contained to that moment of providing direct services — versus a graduate-level class like the ones we have where students are professionals themselves, bringing different content that really is designed to have longer term impacts.
“The most common comment or theme that the nonprofits I’ve been involved with have said are, ‘I haven’t thought about that’ or ‘I haven’t had time to think about it,’ and once they have information and a plan in front of them hopefully they can find a group of volunteers or a committee or board members to take the lead on helping them implement the ideas students brought to the table.”
NKU's Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement with a service learning idea.
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