Through the course CSPL210: Money and Social Change students recently awarded three grants of $3,333 each to the North End Action Team (NEAT), the Connection Fund, and Connecticut Legal Services. The annual course allows 16 students the opportunity to distribute a total grant of $10,000 to three non-profit organizations in Middlesex County.
Students in the course hosted a grant-making reception on Monday, Dec. 1 in the Daniel Family Commons, an opportunity for students and faculty to meet representatives from the three organizations that received the grants.
This course was first taught three years ago, and this semester was taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Public Policy Joy L. Anderson ’89. In an interview, Anderson explained that the course allows students to research different local organizations, hear from speakers who are experts in the field, and develop their own theories of social change.
“The goal of the class is twofold,” Anderson said. “One is that the students think through the theory of change, or how they think change happens in the world. By that I mean not what they think should change, but how does that change happen, instead of just wishing that things were different. Then they reconcile how to give the grant money, because even figuring out how to make decisions about social change is very difficult.”
The Learning by Giving Foundation makes the annual funding for the course possible. Warren Buffett’s sister Doris Buffett founded the first Learning by Giving program in 2003 at Davidson College. Now, the organization funds courses similar to CSPL201 at more than 35 partner schools and has awarded grants to more than 445 local organizations since its inception. The course is organized collaboratively with the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
The reception marked the first time that the course’s students met the grant recipients they had chosen. According to the course’s Teaching Assistant Ben Romero ’16, students were required to make their final decisions without contacting any of the representatives of the organization beforehand. Romero also remarked on the the differences between taking the course and helping teach the course.
“There’s something incredible about the process of giving out grants as a student,” Romero said. “It’s truly a learning-by-doing class, so it was awesome to learn the process of the class versus participating in the class. Joy is incredible, a really dynamic speaker, and she helped stimulate my interests in the nonprofit world as a Wes student who is both idealistic and pragmatic.”
Nina Gerona ’15 spoke first to give a general overview of the course and to speak about the theory of change that the students developed. She emphasized that students had difficulty settling on the final grant recipients of the course, and that those difficult moments marked significant opportunities for growth.
“As liberal arts students, we engage in the world in distinct and curious manner,” Gerona said. “We are lucky to be offered classes through the service learning cluster, because they show us the real-world implications of our actions. While we learned so much, one of the most significant findings of our class was that that it can be time-consuming and emotionally challenging to give away money.”
Jojo Weinberger ’15 spoke next about the course’s specific process of narrowing down grant candidates. At the start of the semester, the course’s 18 students were given a list of 275 qualifying nonprofits. After learning the missions and programs of each, they went through three rounds of examinations and several six-hour marathon course meetings to determine a list of 11 candidates. The students spent weeks learning the details of the 11 final candidates before settling on a final list of three. Weinberger spoke about how allocating grants worked in a classroom setting.
“Our passion and drive to make a difference allowed us to put differences aside, work together, and award grants to three organizations who are truly deserving of what they do,” Weinberger said. “We as representatives of Wesleyan want to recognize them. We all care deeply about Wesleyan’s role in community building.”
Catherine Alvarado ’16, a member of the course’s marketing and social media team, followed up with a comment about the impact of Facebook and Twitter on her own learning process.
“We were able to connect to the Stanford Innovation Review via Twitter,” Alverado said. “People who had written multiple articles could respond to our tweets. You could send a question to a person you never knew and they would respond. This showed me how many different people want to work together to create social change.”
Students then presented the three organizations that won the grants. Representatives of each non-profits delivered a brief acceptance speech, along with a summary of their organizations’ goals.
In an interview with The Argus, Zia Grossman-Vendrillo ’15, a religion major, commented on the unique structure of the course.
“I wanted to take it because I’m interested in having a career in the nonprofit world.” Grossman-Vendrillo said. “Mostly I think it is a way of creating change in a more personal way. I also think its important to have classes that are more rooted in reality and not only about theory, and I think that this class is unique in that sense.”