SoTL SHOWCASE: Learning with Community: Evaluating the Nonprofit Fellows Program (5 min lightning talk in 90 minute roundtable)
TEACHING CHALLENGE: High-impact practices are student experiences that promote active and deep learning in ways that increase student engagement in the classroom setting and across their college experience. Practices such as common intellectual experiences, internships, community-based learning, collaborative assignments, and others, increase students’ self-reported learning and have been shown to increase student retention. However, across the higher education landscape, high-impact practices are often unstructured and unassessed, leaving unanswered questions of how high-impact practices are connected to specific content learning outcomes and the ways these practices can bridge theory and practice. SOLUTION STRATEGY: The Nonprofit Fellows Program at Mason combines a series of high-impact practices into a semester-long learning community that connects academic learning in three courses with an internship experience in a local nonprofit organization designed to increase students’ knowledge of the nonprofit sector. Through community-based learning, collaborative assignments, and research, students explore both the external and internal environments of nonprofits. After a one-year hiatus, the Nonprofit Fellows Program has been thoughtfully redesigned toward the goal of providing students with an experience that adequately prepares them for work in nonprofit sector. To understand the effects of the re-design, the authors evaluated student expectations, experiences, and learning, and assessing the needs of nonprofit employers, information which can be used improve future program offerings. CONTEXT/EVIDENCE: There is considerable variation in the way academic programs deliver nonprofit curricula and the courses they offer. Extensive work has been done around the skills and competencies nonprofit leaders expect university graduates to have, yet little is known about the ways in which students acquire these competences. And while there has been some research on the motivations and expectations of graduate students who study nonprofits, there is little available research on nonprofit degree or certificate programs at the undergraduate level. Using a program evaluation framework, the authors conducted focus groups and individual interviews with nonprofit fellows and reviewed student reflections and work samples from classes to better understand the students’ experiences in the program. Further, a focus group was conducted with community organizations to better understand their needs. These evaluations specifically sought to understand how students engaged with, and derived meaning from, the high-impact practices embedded into the program, and what effect each experience had on their learning. FORMAT: This presentation is designed to introduce the audience to the scholarship of high-impact practices and programs, including their features, design, and implementation challenges, and demonstrate their important role in teaching and learning. The presentation will also walk participants through assessment practices that can be used to evaluate high-impact practices using backward planning, collaboration, and community engagement. TAKE AWAYS/ADAPTATION: Participants in this session will be able to: Design a learning community with student and community stakeholder input, Respond to potential implementation pitfalls and learn how to avoid them, and Design and implement a program evaluation.