Six students majoring in Community Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) at Northern Illinois University spent spring break in the nation’s capital learning more about advocacy, nonprofit organizations and the political process.
“The program was designed to provide students with real-world, practical experiences that reinforce what they learn in the classroom,” said Ben Bingle, program coordinator of the Center for NGO Leadership and Development (NGOLD), which offers the CLCE major.
“The theme was nonprofit advocacy, so we arranged meetings with a variety of large nonprofits based in Washington, D.C., and also with congressional staffers to learn how they perceive nonprofit advocacy.”
David Anians, a CLCE major, acknowledged the importance of observing advocacy efforts live and in person.
“This trip put advocacy in a perspective that I could both understand and be excited about,” Anians said. “Seeing it firsthand has helped me learn how NGOs actually carry out these activities. My favorite part of this trip was being able to see the way the field I have been studying actually works.”
Students were selected to participate through a competitive application process and received financial support covering airfare, lodging and meals from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Bingle accompanied the students to Washington, D.C., where they participated in meetings with nonprofit leaders and congressional staff, took a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol building, toured monuments, visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and attended an NIU Alumni Association event.
“Meeting with the nonprofits enlightened me on the importance of advocacy for these organizations,” student Isabelle Bourgeois said. “It’s one thing to hear about it in class, but when you actually go out and talk to people who work for these international organizations and who do the hands-on work, it puts advocacy in a new light.”
Students met with the Pan American Development Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, the International Housing Coalition, InterAction, Africare and members of Congressman Peter Roskam’s staff.
“The trip to D.C. really helped put things in perspective for me,” student Amanda Insalaco said. “There’s definitely something very beneficial about meeting people in the field that you aspire to join. It’s a hands-on experience that provides perspective that’s impossible to get just by reading a book.”
Students also learned about working in the nonprofit sector and how they should prepare themselves to pursue nonprofit careers.
“Not only was this a learning and networking experience but it was also an opportunity to empower myself and define my career path,” student Maria Torres said. “Now I know that the nonprofit sector offers countless opportunities to grow as a professional while I help my community.”
“I was surprised to learn that the people we met with have really varied past work experience,” Insalaco said. “They all bring a unique skill set to their organization, but I did notice that few, if any, had a degree specifically in nonprofit studies. It makes me realize how fortunate we are to have this innovative major here at NIU.”
NGOLD was established in 2010 as NIU’s resource for excellence in the study, research and practice of nongovernmental organizations.
Its mission is to enhance civil society through the work of nonprofits and related public service. To do this, NGOLD provides comprehensive programming and services to students, faculty, researchers and nonprofit organizations.
In addition to the interdisciplinary CLCE undergraduate major, in Fall 2012, NGOLD will begin offering a certificate program that allows students in other majors to gain specialization in nonprofit leadership. To learn more, visit http://www.niu.edu/ngold/.