Under the guidance of Don Rodgers, associate professor of political science, Austin College students are working to end poverty in the United States—eventually. The seven students in the program are beginning with the Texoma area, but they have big dreams. “We want to serve as a pilot program for the whole country,” Rodgers said.
Students in the Social Entrepreneurship for Poverty Alleviation (SEPA) program gained grant writing skills and have partnered this summer with local nonprofit organizations. While learning about the issues addressed by the nonprofit groups, the student interns are writing grant proposals to help the agencies to address economic and social problems in the local community.
Rodgers, who directs the College’s minor in nonprofit organizations and policy and leads the students, has partnered with Katy Cummins ’07 of the Texoma Council of Governments (TCOG) and grant writing specialist Beverly Santicola, CEO of U.S. Government Grants, a grant writing and community development training and consulting firm. She donated her time for a two-day grant writing workshop this spring and continues to advise the student interns this summer.
Students receive a $2,000 stipend for their work, funded by their nonprofit agency and funds from TCOG and Austin College. And, they get great experience. “These students have an interest in nonprofit work and a big part of that is grant writing. It’s a real selling point for their career to have a proven track record in winning grants,” Rodgers said.
But any student can benefit, as grant writing skills are not that different from those needed to create a business plan or investigate a problem—checking available resources, outlining a plan of action, and setting measurable outcomes. “You’re trying to sell funders on your project,” Rodgers said. “Even students who aren’t interested in this sort of career—but who might want to be involved in their community as volunteers—can benefit from knowing how to write grants.”
Having an Austin College intern is good for the nonprofits, too, as they may not have the staff or time to do grant writing and fundraising.
Staff at TCOG will track the results of the grant requests to measure the students’ progress. Rodgers, Cummins, and Santicola plan to expand the program and increase the number of student interns next year, continuing the declared war on poverty, locally and beyond.