Course allows CSB and SJU students to help local non-profit expand efforts

Academics Campus & Community Student Features

May 30, 2024

By Frank Rajkowski

Global business leadership students at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University spent the past semester playing a hands-on role assisting a Central Minnesota non-profit expand its efforts when it comes to reducing childhood hunger.

A total of 26 students in visiting assistant professor Julie Fisk’s Global Business 310 course – titled “Non-Profits, NGOs and Social Innovation” – were granted access to the operation and finances of Feeding Area Children Together (FACT), an organization founded in 2017 at Discovery Elementary School in Waite Park, Minnesota.

The group’s main focus is putting food into backpacks on Fridays for children who need it over the weekend. Its efforts have now expanded to 14 schools spanning the St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Albany school districts.

“It was started by a group of parents who saw kids going hungry in the St. Cloud school district and wanted to help,” Fisk said. “I know the founders because our kids have grown up together, so I reached out. I thought it was a small enough organization that there was a chance my students could really move the needle.”

Indeed, Fisk’s students – most of whom are sophomores – were briefed on FACT’s history and mission, then heard a pitch from the group’s director Sara Greenberg-Hassan and board chair Phyllis Greenberg.

The students self-selected into six groups based on areas of non-profit management they had studied during the first half of the semester. Each group was charged with coming up with three recommendations and specific ways to implement them. They presented those ideas to Greenberg and Greenberg-Hassan in May, along with an in-depth paper that included a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis of the organization and more.

“They acted as consultants,” Fisk said. “A lot of the things they came up with were things (FACT) had thought about. But some were things they hadn’t. They knew this was a small organization, and the ideas they came up with had to be doable. The criteria were things they could do in the next 18 months.”

Greenberg-Hassan came away impressed.

“They came up with some absolutely fantastic ideas,” she said. “We were really impressed with the questions they asked and the depth they went into when it came to holistically examining our whole organization. They put forth some really good ideas that we’ve brought back to our board. I don’t want to reveal too much because we haven’t launched some of them yet. But we plan to.

“It was so exciting to see that some of the students expressed interest in moving forward with internships with us, or continued volunteer work. We’re looking at creating a student liaison to our board. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that they seemed to be just as invested in our mission as we are.”

The idea for the course’s structure came to Fisk when she was a part of the Bonner Community Engaged Learning faculty cohort a year ago.

I joined the cohort because our department is making an intentional effort toward community-engaged learning, and I would not have tried this experiment without the support of the Bonner cohort as well as my colleagues in GBUS,” Fisk said.

“It was really a team effort between members of my department, (Bonner leader) Ted Gordon and the rest of my cohort to get this going.”

Fisk’s students said the class provided them with valuable real-world experience.

“It was nice to get the chance to take what we learned through the semester and compile it in a way FACT can actually use,” SJU sophomore Mitchell Degen said. “You don’t always get to see the impact of your work in a real-world situation in other classes.”

“It was fascinating to meet the actual founders and find out more about why they got involved,” said CSB senior Emily Smith, who graduated earlier this month and will attend law school at the University of Wisconsin this fall. “They were just regular people who saw a need and wanted to fill that purpose. I thought that was really inspiring.

“After we met with them, I had the chance to help with a FACT pack and that was a great experience too. They’re doing really great work, and it was exciting to play a role in it.”

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