January 16, 2015

Honors philanthropy class awards $10K to local educators


  • Lowell
Honors students presented the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust and Project LEARN with $5,000 each during their seminar on philanthropy.

A class Thomas Reimonn enrolled in just to fulfill a requirement ended up giving him a valuable view of the world, its problems and his role within it. Reimonn participated in the first Honors Seminar: Experiencing Philanthropy with 18 of his fellow honors students this semester; together, the class awarded a total of $10,000 to two local nonprofits.

“The class taught us about business strategy, sociology, ethics and just how the world works,” says Reimonn, a chemical engineering student. “We asked, ‘What are philanthropists trying to solve and whose problem are these issues?’ These are our problems and they’re connected to people we know. Everybody can be a philanthropist in his or her own way.”

Honors College Dean Jim Canning recruited instructor Nancy Lippe, a nonprofit professional who has taught similar classes at Tufts University, to bring the class to campus. Lippe, who is the daughter of Supreme Court Justice Byron White, helped the students with resources and logistics, but let them guide much of the class.

“This class has been one of my most enjoyable groups. I’ve never had such a diverse class with different backgrounds and opinions,” says Lippe. “They took their work seriously, weren’t afraid to take a stand in a discussion and all contributed to the class, making it truly dynamic. I hope they continue to stand up for what they believe in and share their passions with others.”

The seminar’s focus on discussion and bringing together differing opinions in the name of progress embodies the honors experience, according to Canning.

“This class is really what the Honors College is all about,” says Canning. “We can bring students together from different majors and get them thinking and working together while interacting with our city. Nancy has been manna from heaven in getting the class running, from connecting us to funding to guiding the students using her experience and connections.”

The students researched nonprofit and philanthropy issues, debated project priorities, created a request for proposals and then evaluated each applicant with a rubric of their own creation. The Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust (LPCT) and Project LEARN most appealed to the students’ focus on science and technology education for disadvantaged groups, earning $5,000 each.

LPCT will use the money to reinvigorate a program pairing high school and struggling middle school students for hands-on projects and trips connecting science and technology with the natural world. Project LEARN, an education consultancy, will expand its after-school SeaPerch program, during which middle school students will build and race underwater robots. Both programs emphasize experiential learning and creative educational approaches, priorities the university students appreciate in their own studies.

“It was difficult to choose our winners because there were so many good applications,” says Willie Boag, a computer science student. “Instead of picking just one winner, we decided to split the money between these two incredible projects and we’re all really happy with the process.”

The grant recipients also felt that the class was a success.

“It’s been really inspirational to be a part of this first class,” says Gwen Kozlowski, stewardship and education manager for LPCT. “Interacting with the students during this process and the project they’ve helped to fund allows us connect to youths and continue our educational goals.”

Empowering young people is a common thread in the class, both for the students and the young people who will participate in the winning projects. Learning by Giving, an organization created in 2003 by Doris Buffett (sister of billionaire investor Warren Buffett), provided the money for the students to distribute. The group partners with 35 schools and has helped 20,000 students support more than 445 local organizations.

As part of the seminar, students also created and pitched their own nonprofit ideas to philanthropy professionals, which gave them a strong appreciation for each of their applicants. The winning idea was presented by Boag, who envisioned a program providing communication and job-readiness skills to high school students.

Another part of the class allowed students to experience direct philanthropy by running a warm clothing drive called River Socks. They developed and ran the campaign on campus, and delivered more than 100 pairs of socks and other garments to the Lowell Transitional Living Center and the House of Hope.

With plans to offer the seminar again and the first students singing its praises, philanthropy has taken hold in the Honors College. Seema Shenoy, a development assistant at Project LEARN, was excited to see the students so engaged with their community.

“We’re so thankful for their support and hope the class continues,” she says. “Who knows, maybe there are 19 new philanthropists in the world.”