Students in one Cal Poly Pomona class are poised to become the next generation of global change agents.
That’s what Political Science Professor Renford Reese envisions.
For the past eight years, Reese has taught a class in the winter quarter titled “NGOs and Social Service Outreach.” NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, are typically nonprofit groups that rally around an issue, which can range from human rights to the environment to health. The causes can be local, national or international.
The course requires students to create their own mock NGO, manage a $25,000 budget and pitch their idea to the class just as they would to potential charitable foundations.
During spring break, the 31 students who elected to extend the course into the study-abroad program traveled to Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, to study Canadian-based NGOs, many of which focused on issues as diverse as the settlement of refugees, eye care in Nepal and social service outreach to Africa.
“We were exposed to a potpourri of NGOs that do fascinating work,” Reese said. “The idea was for our students to be immersed in transformative work being done around the world. I wanted to put the students in a different environment so that they would be inspired and motivated to transform their own conceptual projects into real projects.”
Besides the academic programming, the students also had a chance to experience tourist activities that included visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Richmond Olympic Oval and the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort.
Faika Manjurr, who is pursuing a master’s in public administration, said the trip and the class, which she took as an elective, helped her visualize her goal of creating Nourisher, an NGO focused on providing healthy food in low-income communities, as a tangible prospect.
“This trip is really what grounded me,” she said. “The class allowed me to frame what I wanted to do, but meeting people from nonprofits really inspired me even more to pursue this later.”
Reese has taken 13 groups on similar trips to Ghana, Tanzania, Hong Kong, Dubai, Belgium and Amsterdam, but the Canada journey stood out, he said.
“This trip for me was the best because of the students,” he said. “They were all serious about being change agents. It was also the diversity of the students that we had and the intensity of the lectures.”
The study-abroad experience is the fruit on the tree, but the seeds for growing change agents are sowed at the beginning of the course.
During the winter break, each student in the class received a template to create an NGO. They were encouraged to share their idea for a nonprofit with their families to get feedback. By the first day of class, students had names for their NGOs, a target population, a mission statement, a logo and a strategic plan.
“They come to class with that and we work through it. We fine-tune it,” Reese said.
During the last two weeks of the course, students pitch their NGOs to classmates.
The inspiration for Katherine Camacho’s idea came from home. Her mother is an immigrant who worked tirelessly to make sure that Camacho and her younger sister went to college. It also meant putting off her own education.
Her mother recently returned to school. While tutoring her, Camacho, who is a senior majoring in political science, came up with an idea for an organization that would enlist undergraduate volunteers to tutor older Latina students. She dubbed the group Ella Por Ella, women for women in Spanish.
“I really always had this feeling that I needed to help people, that I have to be a part of something bigger than myself,” she said. “Immigrant women from other countries coming here sacrifice a lot. They have to put the things they want aside if they have children, and there are not many resources for older Latina women.”
Jo’Leysha Cotton, a junior majoring in finance, real estate and law, said the inspiration for her NGO came from a trip she took last year to Selma, Alabama, as part the university’s Diversity Ambassador Program.
While touring the city, which was the site of “Bloody Sunday,” a voting rights push in which 600 marchers were beaten by Alabama state troopers, Cotton learned that much of Selma remains unchanged because people left the area.
For her project, she came up with the idea to take a vacant African-American hospital in the city and transform it into a community center to preserve history. It would be an expensive undertaking and difficult to execute, Cotton learned.
“When you’re passionate about something, everybody has these big ideas, but Dr. Reese says you have to think of the logistics,” she said. “Do you have a five-year plan? Do you plan to be there forever? Not everyone has that foundation. Dr. Reese taught us about doing something small. If you want to end poverty, it’s probably not going to happen, but maybe you start a program that helps the poor. He emphasized what small programs can do also.”
Next year, Reese will teach the class in the fall, and students will travel to Vancouver during the winter intercession. Following the spring course, students will travel to London in the summer. During each of these trips, students will do short internships with NGOs in an effort to intensify and deepen the students ‘learn-by-doing experience.