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40TUDE students gain career experience and extend the capacity of local nonprofits

July 12, 2021

Ashley Hines learned that she loves conducting research. Michelle Nuñez Salas discovered that she wants to commit herself to activism. Emma Hazen discovered an affinity for community outreach, Chenaire Barmore is convinced that data is the future, and Kirk Williams learned that he could make a big difference in the community through nonprofit consulting.

Michelle Nuñez Salas

These are the experiences of just a few of the nine students who took part in the 40TUDE Nonprofit program this past year. The students share a dedication to serving the community and putting their classroom knowledge into practice, and they also bring unique experiences and skills to the table. 40TUDE Nonprofit offered them the ideal chance to further develop these skills and get an introduction to the wide range of nonprofit careers available, while also helping local organizations.

40TUDE Nonprofit and its partner program 40TUDE Business grew out of DeKalb County UNITES, a university-community initiative to support organizations through the pandemic. 40TUDE Nonprofit is a collaboration between the NIU Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, the Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the DeKalb County COVID19 Response Fund.

Jennifer Groce, director of community promotion in the NIU Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, calls 40TUDE an example of community engagement at its best. “NIU listened to business owners and nonprofit leaders to find out how they were doing, what they needed and how we could co-create a solution. And we responded with a specific set of services to fill those most pressing needs while also providing mentoring opportunities to NIU students that will help them in their future careers.”

Alicia Schatteman, director of the NIU Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies, says the experience of working for 40TUDE has been formative for her students. “40TUDE offers a higher level of engagement and networking than students often have access to with student employment,” she says. “Instead of working on one project at a single nonprofit, the 40TUDE team has had a chance to work with dozens of different organizations on a wide range of projects. Each student got to know four or five nonprofit executive directors in a single semester, working on projects related to fundraising, volunteer coordination, marketing, and data management. There are so many different types of nonprofits and different nonprofit career pathways. 40TUDE has offered students an amazing chance for career exploration.”

40TUDE has also helped to strengthen nonprofits in the region, who were able to access professional consulting services at no cost.

“We were fortunate to have two students working on our project with 40TUDE,” , says Patricia Steffens, community relations director for Fox Valley Community Services, a nonprofit that supports independent living for older adults. “They were very thorough in interviewing me about what our agency does and what we would like our website to look like. They had periodic meetings with me during their process to make sure their suggestions were in line with our objectives. At the end of the project, they presented us with their recommendations.. I was impressed with their maturity and creative insights. I am so happy we had this experience. We will be implementing many of their ideas in the future.”

Teri Spartz, community engagement director for the DeKalb County Community Foundation, appreciated the fresh perspective the 40TUDE team brought to the foundation’s Workforce Development Committee, which needed assistance creating a marketing and roll-out plan for their Essential Skills Video Series. The video series focuses on creating awareness and emphasizing the importance of essential career skills (often called “soft skills”) in middle and high school age youth.

“Our experience with 40TUDE provided an important ‘outside’ perspective on this project,” she says. “The group had great insights on strategies and creative ways to connect with our target market. The diversity of the team brought valuable insights on content value and various ways to increase awareness of the Essential Skills Video Series as a free resource to enhance classroom engagement and discussion. They also created a comprehensive database of contacts for future marketing efforts. Thank you NIU 40TUDE!”

As the 40TUDE Nonprofit team prepares for year two, they’re celebrating the relationships they’ve built so far and looking forward to expanding and nurturing new connections.

“The nonprofit sector is very large and complex,” Schatteman says. “In any given town or city, you’ll find large, established nonprofits, and small startups that are entirely volunteer run.”

“There are thousands of nonprofits in the northern Illinois region, so the growth potential for 40TUDE Nonprofit is limited only by time constraints and how many projects a student team can take on,” she says. “This coming year, we’re looking forward to adding a graduate assistant who can do more of the organizing and collaborating so we can continue to grow. We’re also looking forward to expanding outside of DeKalb County as word of our services spreads across northern Illinois.”

Ashley Hines with Associate Professor Alicia Schatteman.

“This past year, our nonprofit partners have been facing diminished revenues, especially because they had to change or cancel their in-person events. 40TUDE Nonprofit has helped nonprofits come up new ideas and address gaps to move these organizations forward,” Schatteman says. “These nonprofits are planning for what’s next after COVID. And we’re excited to be here with them to support them in that process.”

Participating NIU students credit their work with 40TUDE for affirming and clarifying their thinking about their career paths. Recent graduate Ashley Hines wrote her honors capstone project based on her 40TUDE experiences and won a Capstone Community Engagement Award for her work. That experience affirmed her affinity for research, and Hines is planning to attend graduate school in the area of public policy. Fellow graduate Michelle Nuñez Salas created an online magazine for her capstone project, and she is seeking a nonprofit job where she can use her art and design background to advance social justice.

Learn more on the 40TUDE Nonprofit webpage.