More Than a Paycheck

For a relatively small program that has only 40 majors, USC Upstate’s Nonprofit Administration students and professors logged more than 5,636 hours in 2007 volunteering or interning with nonprofit organizations to help make our community a better place to live, work and play. The Nonprofit Administration program, offered by the Center for Nonprofit Leadership as both a major and a minor, prepares graduates for careers in management and administrative positions within a wide variety of nonprofit organizations such as social services, youth activities, health, the environment and the arts. Basic leadership and management principles are key components of the curriculum.

United Way Students also gain real-world experience through the required internships and service learning projects with local nonprofits and have a chance to see if a career in the nonprofit sector is a good fit for them. “We’re able to connect academic majors with practical experience,” says Dr. Theresa Ricke-Kiely, director of the Center. “Often an organization will mentor the student during the internship and create a position for them after they graduate.”

And more often than not, the hard work and energy the students bring to their internships continues to flow into the community after graduation as most nonprofit leadership graduates find full-time jobs with nonprofits in the Upstate. At one such organization, the United Way of the Piedmont, several recent USC Upstate graduates are working in the community through the AmeriCorps*VISTA program, a national service program that places volunteers with other agencies in communities to alleviate poverty by building capacity and programs to sustain their missions.

Rochelle Ladson ’07 is working with Bethlehem Center in Spartanburg, providing public relations assistance and volunteer recruitment and has made it a personal goal to help keep the food pantry stocked. She joined the VISTA program “because I wasn’t done giving back.” Ladson graduated from Upstate with a degree in interdisciplinary studies and credits her experience with the nonprofit leadership program as shaping her as a person. “Nonprofit leadership is a good fit for people who aren’t just looking for a paycheck,” she says.

Lakisha Spears ’07 agrees and says all students should take at least one class in nonprofit leadership. During her senior seminar, Chris Steed, vice president of community impact at United Way, gave a presentation about the VISTA program and she liked what she saw. “I was the first person to sign up!” Spears is working at SAFE Homes Rape Crisis Coalition in Spartanburg providing domestic violence and sexual assault education in an age-appropriate manner to K-2 students. The outreach program she is helping to develop will eventually be used in all schools in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties. Spears will soon begin a new position with the Girl Scouts of South Carolina Mountains to Midlands as a development and marketing assistant. Her advice to students? “Join AmeriCorps. It is a great learning experience,” she says.

As a nonprofit administration intern with the United Way last spring, Carolyn Turner ’07 helped Chris Steed write the grant that now funds the VISTA program at the United Way. She is now a VISTA member herself, working with the Middle Tyger Community Center where she is researching parenting among adolescents, creating a volunteer training manual and writing a report on programs to address teen pregnancy. Turner says working with the center “makes you very appreciative of all you have.”

“The agencies we work with have had great experiences with VISTA members,” says Callie Hammond, director of Volunteer Connections & AmeriCorps*VISTA at United Way. She adds that the nonprofit leadership graduates “have a clear understanding of the structure of nonprofit agencies; however I think they have really learned a lot from actually working in nonprofits. They all have been extremely grateful for their experiences. What you learn in a book can often be a lot different in reality.”

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