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NIU students respond to community needs with 40TUDE

October 5, 2020

This summer, NIU’s Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development (OERD) coordinated with community and campus partners to respond to the needs of small businesses and nonprofits during the COVID crisis. The result was 40TUDE Business and 40TUDE Nonprofit.

“40TUDE is community/university engagement at its finest,” says Jennifer Groce, NIU director of community promotions and 40TUDE project manager. “40TUDE brings together the expertise of NIU faculty, staff and students along with local business owners and nonprofit leaders to respond to needs identified by the community.”

Krystal Hegg, 40TUDE Business

When undergraduate Krystal Hegg heard about 40TUDE, she was thrilled to have the chance to participate. Hegg, a senior majoring in accountancy and minoring in business analytics, completed a tax internship this past summer and recognizes the benefit of real-world employment in understanding the day-to-day work of a given job. “I’m really looking forward to both the real-world experience and the experience of being able to work in a team,” Hegg says.

Hegg, along with fellow students and NIU College of Business Instructor Federico Bassetti, will be helping DeKalb area small businesses amplify their online visibility and sales capacity with design and web services.

“We’ll work essentially as a creative agency team for which success is measured by the value received at the customer’s end,” Bassetti says. “It doesn’t get any more real than the 40TUDE setting. Problem solving, meeting tight deadlines, helping clients with real needs and a tight operating budget, managing multiple and conflicting priorities.” Most of all, Bassetti says he is thrilled that the team will get to work with and learn from Brian Oster, creative director and president of DeKalb’s own marketing and creative firm OC Creative. “To work with a successful creative firm, which is producing two regional Midwest Superbowl commercials, for example, is an amazing experience for our students,” says Bassetti.

While 40TUDE Business team members gain hands-on experience as part of a creative team, 40TUDE Nonprofit team members will gain practical experience in the nonprofit sector, in areas such as data collection and analysis, fundraising and communications. These paid positions ease students’ current finances and are a stepping-stone to future career success.

Sydney Webster, 40TUDE Nonprofit

Sydney Webster, a senior majoring in organizational and corporate communication with a minor in nonprofit and NGO studies, is looking forward to expanding her skills. “As a senior, I am starting to look into what I want to do and where I want to be, so having skills such as working with a team to help nonprofits prosper is a really great thing. I hope to be able to expand my network, hone my skills and really make an impact in a nonprofit’s mission.”

Webster and fellow team members will work with NIU Associate Professor Alicia Schatteman, director of the Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies, to apply what they’re learning in class.

“40TUDE Nonprofit is very important for undergraduate students to gain practical experience in the sector, which will make them more competitive in the job market when they graduate and help them determine potential career options,” Schatteman says. “Real-world projects are by nature multi-faceted, so students will be introduced to many different challenges that nonprofits are facing.”

One of the major benefits students receive from this kind of employment is the chance to put into practice the concepts they’re learning in the classroom. With such a creative and accomplished group of students, the mix of different experiences and academic specializations they bring to the table is truly impressive.

Sheila Martinez, 40TUDE Nonprofit

Senior Sheila Martinez, for example, is majoring in marketing with an emphasis in sales, and she is also proud of her minors in Latino and Latin American studies and Spanish, as well as her nonprofit and NGO studies certificate. She’s excited to apply her knowledge to help local nonprofits, especially Randy’s Rescue, an organization in Kingston, Illinois, dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming elderly and abused horses. “I cannot wait to see how we can give more exposure and resources to the organization for the animals and for the community,” she says.

Emily Alvarado, 40TUDE Business

Emily Alvarado, a senior studying operations management and information systems (OMIS) and pursing her criminology certificate, grew up with many small businesses in her family and has been a small business owner herself. She hopes her experience with everything from designing menus to managing IT for small businesses will help her contribute to the community as part of the 40TUDE team.

The student team members will be paid through an Illinois Board of Higher Education grant, managed by NIU’s JobsPLUS.

According to Chad Glover, director of JobsPLUS, “These are the kinds of work experiences that we frequently hear from employers that they looking for when recruiting graduates. So we hope this experience will not only have immediate value for the student but also lasting impact into their career after graduation.”

“40TUDE is a truly collaborative and interdisciplinary effort that internally cuts across colleges and departments, spans both the operational and academic sides of NIU, and engages the local community to help solve real challenges,” Glover continues.

The student team members are motivated by the chance to solve these challenges and make a positive difference in the community – especially at a time when so many businesses and nonprofits are facing challenges due to COVID-19.

Nolan O’Rear, 40TUDE Business

Nolan O’Rear, a junior majoring in finance with a minor in business analytics, says thinking about the end results of his work helps to keep him motivated.

“It’s really exciting to me to help DeKalb businesses specifically,” he says, “especially because COVID has negatively impacted a lot of businesses. It would be really special for me if our work is able to impact DeKalb businesses in a positive manner.”

Learn more at

40TUDE is still hiring team members. Interested NIU undergraduate students should contact Chad Glover at [email protected].