Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Engaging Universities Workshop

So fresh off the heels of our 31st Tutor/Mentor Conference, which we hosted on May 27th and 28th, I feel invigorated. I attended the November Tutor/Mentor Conference but was able to take a more proactive role at this conference due to the fact I already had one under my belt, and was more familiar with the organizational aims of the conference. One highlight was having the opportunity to present my own workshop about Engaging University Communities to help non-profit tutor/mentor programs find many of the resources that they need to sustain and grow themselves.

To help me I brought in a number of friends and colleagues to share their perspectives. First was Molly Day, co-founder and executive director of CampusCATALYST, an organization that engages college and business school students in high-impact, pro-bono consulting projects with local nonprofits. She graduated from NU last year and is currently a PIP fellow. We're actually working currently with a team of campusCATALYST students who are helping us to monetize our static and interactive GIS mapping capacity, found on

Another friend and PIP fellow who joined us was Ryan Pederson, who currently serves as the Campus Director for the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) at Northwestern University. He graduated from Northwestern University last year where he was heavily involved with the campus chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He discussed some ways that programs can effectively engage faith communities on campus as well as shared some insights he gleaned from working with student leaders through the Center for Global Engagement. He also spoke to the advantages and disadvantages of engaging Greek communities on campus.

We were also lucky enough to be joined by Sue Sowle, who coordinates Project SOAR, a remarkable mentoring program at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston. At McGaw, NU students play integral roles in nearly every aspect of their youth programming, particularly their mentoring program, which is comprised of both paid and volunteer staff recruited from NU via work-study positions that are paid by the university. This provides the YMCA with a reliable source of motivated, intelligent and passionate students who can mentor area youth. Sue spoke about the benefits of their relationship with NU as well as details about how exactly she went about setting it up.

Finally, future Cabrini Connections fellow Bradley Troast and co-chair of the Northwestern Community Development Corps joined us to share his successes with engaging students as volunteers at dozens of non-profit sites around Evanston and Chicago. As a current NU Senior who has headed up a major student-led community service organization he lent a very interesting perspective to the workshop.

As facilitator, I also shared my thoughts about how Cabrini Connections has benefited from intentionally engaging university communties, particulaly Northwestern as half of our full time staff are NU alumni. Through making a point to reach out to the NU community via our ning group: and personal networks, we have been able to host our spring Tutor/Mentor Conference at the NU school of law downtown and will be hosting our upcoming November conference at the NU Evanston campus. We've benefited from having a full-time intern in Diana Castaneda via her SESP practicum and a part-time intern Jessica Rockswold who is currently analyzing our students grade cards in order to quantify the impact that our program has had on our students' grades. Besides NU, our Media Outreach intern Meagan Hermanowicz from DePaul has played an essential role in our Public Relations and helping to draw resources to our organization and our steady flow of interns from IIT are constantly helping us to improve our online T/MC content.

All in all, I think this 90 min workshop offered a plethora of resources to its attendees and should be repeated in the coming years. In our struggle to stay afloat in this economy, it's important for tutor/mentor programs like ours to reach out to University communities who often have the human, financial and organizational resources that we need to maximize our impact. Hopefully future workshops can continue to make this case in new ways and taking into account emerging university institutions that hold promise for non-profits such as the Northwestern University Center for Civic Engagment.

Perhaps you'd be interested in sharing your own knowledge/experiences in engaging universities like Northwestern?



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