Sociology Students Write Grants to Fund Non-Profit Organizations
Seminar is the final required class that Roanoke College students take in order to complete their majors and receive their coveted diplomas. Each senior experiences the dedication and time seminar requires.
Seminar courses focus on one particular aspect of the major and create opportunities for students to gain real-life experiences. The purpose of such a class is to train students through practice-by actually inviting the students to leave the classroom and put to use the knowledge they have gained. Sometimes seminar classes reach deeper than the eye can see and change students' lives.
Assistant Professor Dr. Daniel Sarabia and Director of Academic Grants and Foundation Relations Dr. Edward Hamilton led an exciting seminar course in the spring of 2007. In this particular seminar, students wrote grant proposals for four local non-profit agencies, which serve vulnerable populations.
According to Sarabia, the seminar course, titled "Dare to Practice Compassion: Intent and Action in Applied Sociology," revolved around two key questions: Who is most vulnerable and at risk in our society, and what is our responsibility to them?
To determine which local agencies students would work with, Sarabia and Hamilton conducted interviews with eight organizations. After these interviews, only four agencies were chosen. "We wanted to make sure the agencies were relevant and that each agency revolved around a vulnerable population," says Hamilton.
The class was organized into four groups of four students with each group responsible for producing a fundable grant proposal. Consistent with the course focus on vulnerable populations, the agencies the students worked with included: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which serves abused and neglected children; Easter Seals Virginia, an organization which assists people with disabilities, but for this particular proposal was looking to support families of soldiers deployed overseas; Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, advocates of environmental issues; and Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS), an organization which provides support services for refugees and immigrants.
The seminar gave sociology majors "the opportunity to be of service to the community, while adding to their skill set by developing the ability to write grant proposals," Sarabia says. "It is something far beyond an intellectual exercise that we engaged in, but it was also about reflecting on our own lives and our responsibility to people, and other living beings, who are voiceless and can't defend themselves."
After calculating the funds needed by each agency, the students proposed budgets to each of the deserving organizations. The class, in consultation with the agencies, concluded that funding for the grants would range from $26,000 to $250,000. With this information, the students were able to identify foundations that could potentially support the agency programs.
The purpose of this project was to "provide the agencies with a quality grant proposal that they could submit to prospective funders," said Sarabia.
Sarabia and Hamilton each worked closely with the students where they "spent time at the onset of class discussing the theme," said Sarabia. The first few weeks were primarily spent talking and meeting with the agencies at their offices, where both Sarabia and Hamilton attended each meeting.
"It's important to highlight the seriousness and exceptional work that the students were doing," Sarabia said of the grant proposals that the seniors produced at the end of the semester.
The students in the class put their knowledge to use, but more importantly, Sarabia says, "this is a way we exercise our compassion as sociologists." By learning these skills early, students are able to carry this knowledge with them into the job market or higher education opportunities. The course taught students that our communities and society can become stronger through altruism.
"I think this course is important because students could relate to issues and problems that were real. This was an opportunity for students to see the value of what they have learned at Roanoke College," says Hamilton. "They refined writing and research skills and became more comfortable with their knowledge."
"This was a collaborative effort between students, faculty and staff. We were all pulling for each other; if one group had questions, they'd ask their classmates. We also had two student assistants who were Roanoke classmates," said Sarabia noting the unity and devotion of the class.
"It is not just another paper, but a proposal with real life implications. People's lives will be impacted as a result of this project," said Sarabia. "This becomes an opportunity for students to express their sociological imagination and empathize with those who are vulnerable."
Two of the students involved in this seminar course have even pursued grant writing after graduation.
"There is something more to this course than learning skills. The grant proposal project became a vehicle that allowed students to refine their sociological skills while encouraging civic responsibility,' says Sarabia. "There is a sense of accomplishment when you're able to lend your skills as a sociologist and give back to the community. The students, Dr. Hamilton and I were all positively impacted by the experience."