Students gain nonprofit experience through Honors, Foundry collaboration

Photo Credit: Honors students teaming up with the Foundry for nonprofit experience
Tue, 05/31/2022 - 12:41

A collaboration this past semester between the University Honors Program and the Foundry in downtown Lincoln has given Huskers hands-on experience working with local nonprofits.

The spring semester was a pilot for the Internships at the Foundry Program, which began in January. The inaugural cohort included eight students completing internships, each assigned to one or more local nonprofits. For about 10 hours per week, students worked for the nonprofits and attended professional development workshops and speakers, focused on topics like fundraising, public relations, and career development.

The program grew out of a vision for the Foundry, located just blocks from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, to be partially student-run. Julie Murray-Jensen, executive director of the Foundry, said the program was a logical fit due to the proximity to campus and ease of access for students. It was also mutually beneficial for the Foundry, which is composed of many small nonprofits that often have little to no full-time staffing, and for university students seeking meaningful professional experiences in the nonprofit sector.

“When students do an internship with a small nonprofit like so many of the ones at the Foundry, they often have a richer experience," Murray-Jensen said. “Because there aren’t the same hierarchies and layers of people one often finds at a larger organization, students can do more meaningful work and internships can be more purpose-driven.”

Three CAS students participated in the program:

  • Ethan Clinchard, political science and philosophy
  • Laura Perez-Villagomez, sociology and psychology
  • Zuha Qadeer, psychology

Qadeer, who hopes to one day attend law school, was paired with OutNebraska as a legislative intern. She helped track legislative bills with an impact on the LGBTQ+ community, attended hearings at the State Capitol, and worked on presentations to raise awareness about the organization’s work throughout the legislative session.

“The advocacy work I did with OutNebraska was very hands on and really allowed me to interact with the political process,” said Qadeer.

One of Qadeer’s favorite experiences of the semester was delivering her own testimony on a bill at the State Capitol.

“Seeing the political process up front was very inspiring and showed me the impact that advocacy can have on the ways laws are made in our country,” Qadeer said.

The program is a clear win for the nonprofits that take part, because of the increased staff capacity that interns provide. Some of these nonprofits are entirely volunteer-run, making the support of the interns invaluable. Still, the internship program has been developed with an emphasis on student learning first.

“This is not just about providing nonprofits with capacity, but about making sure students are learning and growing through meaningful work,” Murray-Jensen said.

The interns had the opportunity to develop professional skills while working on projects that included policy research, website redesigns, updating fund development plans, and helping to plan the Do More Good conference, which took place in early May. In addition, the students who participated in the program are on the path to receive a professional certification in nonprofit work at no cost to them – a national certificate with an establish curriculum that culminates in a test students may take to earn the professional credential.

Throughout the semester, students also participate in reflective assignments through UHON 99H, the Honors Program’s experiential learning course intended to help students maximize their experience. Perhaps most importantly, though, students benefited from the mentorship of professionals working for nonprofits and other purpose-driven businesses.

The success of the program this semester has both the Foundry and the University Honors Program planning for the future. The program is currently structured as a spring-only experience, which allows the Foundry time to identify and train nonprofit partners to serve as employers and have projects vetted before students begin. However, the Foundry is also hiring two students to serve as intern program coordinators, who will spend the fall preparing for the spring internship season, with a goal of expanding to a cohort of 20 interns next spring.

Patrice McMahon, director of the University Honors Program, looks forward to continuing the collaboration.

“This is fundamentally about equipping our students with the skills and experiences they need to be successful after graduation,” McMahon said. “At the same time, because we know internships and community-based engagement provide students with the contacts and experiences that lend themselves to employment in the future, this partnership is also meant to address Nebraska’s brain drain. We need more collaborations like this one that benefit students and our community.”