by Laurie Laker ’12
Eight Colorado College students have been active board members of the Fountain Creek Watershed District, as well as the Mountain Song Community School and the YMCA’s downtown location as part of CC’s Nonprofit Initiatives at Colorado College program.
These organizations held open eight places on their boards for Colorado College students, allowing the selected students access and opportunities for real growth and skill-based learning.
“I think water stewardship is very important. Being a Colorado native, it blows my mind just how far water comes from to get to my sink, and the enormity of it makes me really appreciate the work involved,” says Jennifer Lam ’22, who serves on the board of the Fountain Creek Watershed District, helping to plan their annual Creek Week, a nine-day event that helps clear the watershed of litter and engages the community in learning about water issues, security, and health.
Gaining board-level experience in the workplace takes time and application, and these leadership roles are usually taken up by experienced, seasoned professionals. For students, especially at the undergraduate level, to take these positions and excel in them, is rare.
“The NPI seeks to build student interest and engagement in nonprofit leadership and philanthropy through real-world, experiential opportunities,”explains Cari Hanrahan, the staff director of the Public Interest Fellowship Program and the Nonprofit Initiatives program. Together with her faculty counterpart, Assistant Professor of Economics Kat Miller-Stevens, they both facilitate the entire NPI experience from application to culmination.
“Since the nonprofit sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country, with approximately 12.3 million jobs in the workforce, we believe it’s important for students to understand the purpose, impact, and opportunities this sector provides,”says Miller-Stevens.
“In the NPI program, we want students to learn the role and responsibilities of a nonprofit board member, one of the most important leadership positions in a nonprofit.”
Integrating students immediately into that leadership role, the NPI provides a vital link for ambitious and committed students between their college experience and the larger community of Colorado Springs.
“At the Y, we’re looking for passionate board members who’re motivated and committed to strengthening the community through their volunteer work. Maddison (Maddi) Schink ’23 fits that beautifully,” says Kim Stewart, the executive director at the YMCA’s downtown Colorado Springs location.
“We actually actively wanted a college student on our board, so we can allow a younger voice in our meetings and committee work. Maddi brings that perspective to our work, and while it’s easy for a young person to be intimidated coming into an experienced board space, Maddi’s voice is being heard and respected — she’s a real asset to the Y,” Stewart adds.
Speaking to the younger voice element of the NPI, Miller-Stevens remarks that, “learning these skills at a young age will put our students on a trajectory to nonprofit leadership, both in volunteer and paid positions.”
Launched in the fall of 2019 with grant support from the JH Edmondson Foundation, the NPI program was supplemented in January with a nine-day Dynamic Half Block class called Nonprofits and Philanthropy: You Really Can Change the World. Students in that class, including the students participating in the Nonprofit Initiatives program, learned about philanthropy and nonprofits as a real career option, as well as the time, energy, and skills necessary to succeed in that professional space. The class — especially when combined with the NPI experience — untangles the complex web of the nonprofit sector and equips the students with the knowledge of how they can make a difference.
Heather Carroll ’89, president and executive director of the JH Edmondson Foundation as well as a member of CC’s Board of Trustees, is uniquely placed to speak to program’s assets and strengths.
“The NPI serves as the primary bridge between the CC student experience and the Colorado Springs nonprofit community, with our local nonprofits and philanthropic institutions greatly benefitting from the depth and breadth of viewpoints, experiences, skills, and knowledge that CC students have to offer,” she says.
Those students come to the NPI experience from all approaches and with their own passions and motivations. For Maitland Robinson ’21, it’s a combination of reasons.
“I’ve worked for several nonprofits and NGOs over the past few years,” says Robinson. “I’m specifically drawn to the close-knit environment that it provides, as well as the sense of transparency between roles and the organization’s goals.”
Robinson, who is serving on the Fountain Creek Watershed District board along with Lam, was drawn to the NPI and the water-focused work in particular because of a “love for the environment, which has guided me thus far and will continue to guide me,” he says.
The eight students in the NPI program, through the course of their time serving on the local boards, all gain invaluable experience in a leadership role within a changeable, impact-focused sector. These roles are challenging, but with the guidance of Hanrahan and their board colleagues, the students adapt and thrive.
“Creating community impact takes a village,” says Lam. “Collaboration and communication are essential.”
“I’d say you should recognize your place within the board — you’re young, and you have passion, so take advantage of your drive,” adds Robinson.
“Also, recognizing that we at CC — most of us didn’t grow up in this community, and thus may lack the expertise or insight that some of our fellow leaders do. Listen, take notes, and ask questions.”