August 3, 2010

The Front Porch: Community Based Learning Partnership Helps Students and Nonprofit Organization

By Debra Karp

For nonprofit organizations, social networking can be an effective means of marketing and fund development.  However, for many nonprofit leaders, social networking is an unfamiliar tool. Grass Roots, Inc., a local nonprofit organization, found help navigating this new world by working with University of Wisconsin-Parkside Communication students who designed a social networking campaign for the organization.  In this win-win scenario, students gained valuable real life experience and the organization received service that helped it meet its mission.

“Until students engage in projects that get them in real work situations, it’s just the teacher talking at them. They don’t understand what it means to perform in a professional manner until they have a chance to experience it,” said Dr. Megan Mullen, professor of Communication, who taught the course “Understanding Advertising Messages” in which students worked with Grass Roots, Inc.

Projects such as these fall under the heading of community-based learning or CBL at UW-Parkside. 
“CBL is a partnership among all stakeholders – faculty, students and the community organization. Not only does each contribute to student learning, but students as well as faculty and community partners learn to negotiate diverse roles when executing a CBL project.  In a real life setting, we all work with a variety of people at different levels of authority and with diverse skills. CBL prepares students to work within such structures and facilitates their ability to connect what they learn in class to a real workplace experience,” said Dr. Helen Rosenberg , faculty director of Community-Based Learning and Research at UW-Parkside.

Each year, more than 700 UW-Parkside students participate in CBL courses completing projects as diverse as business planning, brochure design, human resources, technology assessment and marketing research. Of the dozens of projects, about 75% are completed for nonprofit organizations and the other 25% are for businesses and government agencies, according to Rosenberg.

Ashley Hubers, UW-Parkside senior Communication major, was one of the four members of the student group that worked on the project for Grass Roots, Inc., an emerging Kenosha organization whose mission is AIDS education targeted to the African American community.

“At first our group was worried because Grass Roots didn’t have anything developed for their media at all. They didn’t have funding to pay for this kind of thing.  So, we showed them easy and cheap ways to promote a nonprofit organization,” said Hubers. “I think they might have been overwhelmed at first because we had so many great ideas.”

Norma Carter, executive director of Grass Roots, Inc. had nothing but praise for the partnership with the students. She and Roy Carter were the primary community contacts for the students.  “We were especially grateful to be working with young people. They had fresh approaches to getting the word out about our organization.”

 “They were giving and we were receiving their expertise. It was our role to let them know our expectations and to reign them in when necessary.  It was a real partnership,” she said.

Professor Mullen attributes much of the success of this group of students to the time and patience invested by the community partner. “Norma and Roy Carter exemplify productive community partner relationships with the students and the instructor,” she said.

According to Mullen, the students’ final presentation went well beyond her expectations. Delivered to the Board of Grass Roots during a conference at Wingspread in Racine, it was an unforgettable experience for students.

“It was beautiful there at Wingspread.  We felt so honored to be there.  We made a presentation in a gorgeous room.  This was a real professional setting for us—a great experience” said Hubers. “We met a lot of professional people.  It helped prepare us for what we’d have to do in our future careers.”

According to Mullen, she was not the only one impressed with the students’ work.  After the presentation, Carole Johnson, director of Local and Regional Community Programs for the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, approached her about having her students work on publicity for a new community project.   As a result, this fall, students in Mullen’s “Understanding Advertising Messages” will be completing integrated media campaigns for The Racine Healthy Birth Outcomes Initiative which seeks to address infant mortality in the black community.

UW-Parkside’s Center for Community Partnerships matches community organizations to courses taking place each year.  Currently, staff members are matching projects for fall 2010 and spring 2011 courses.  Any organization interested in working with a CBL class should contact Rosann Weber at 595-2184 or

Front Porch Rockers:

Educators Get Educated: Chiwaukee Academy, a professional development opportunity for area educators, will take place at UW-Parkside August 9-13, 2010.  For more information or to register, please contact Marisella Malacara at (262) 595-2753 or visit our website keyword: K12 Education.

Paddle Power: Rent a kayak or a canoe and paddle the Root River in Racine. The REC (Root River Environmental Education Community Center) is open Friday 4:30pm - 7pm, Saturday 11am - 5pm and Sunday 11am - 5pm through Labor Day. Come in and learn about the nature, take a spin on the bike path or paddle the river.

Kick it!: The 26th annual Lake Shore Soccer Camp (Formerly Ranger Soccer Camp) will be held August 16- 20, 2010 at UW-Parkside. The longest running and largest Soccer Camp in the Kenosha-Racine area, youth ages 4 to 14 years old receive top soccer instruction from UW-Parkside Men’s Soccer Coach Rick Kilps, a 2002 WYSA Youth Coach of the Year and 2005 WSA Hall of Fame Inductee. Cost is $65 for youth 4 to 5 years old, and $85 for youth 6 to 14 years old, and participants receive an official Camp T-Shirt and tickets to UWP home soccer games. For more information, call (262) 884-7657 or 
Debra Karp is Director of Community-Based Scholarship and Nonprofit Development in the Center for Community Partnerships at UW-Parkside.

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