Honors Program Students Gain Experience Serving Nonprofits

Juliana Lehman-Felts, Honors Program Coordinator, is organizing a new and intriguing opportunity for Honors Program students at Midwestern State University. Derived from an Angelo State University program, Midwestern opened the Community Leadership Initiative Project last fall.

The Community Leadership Initiative Project provides qualified students with the opportunity to improve their sense of community by becoming ad-hoc, nonvoting members of local nonprofit boards. The goals of the project are for participating students to learn about the needs of the Wichita Falls community and develop an interest in service to nonprofit organizations.

Students must go through an extensive application process before being selected for the project. Resumes are accepted in the spring semester and reviewed by the Honors Program staff. Two to four qualified candidates will receive interviews with the executive directors and several board members of participating organizations. The board may then choose which student or students would best meet their needs. Student board members receive modifications from the role of a normal board member, such as waived donation requirements.

Currently, two nonprofit boards are involved in this project: Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra (WFSO) and Children's Aid Society. Cassie Herman and Maria Souliotis were selected to serve on the WFSO Board of Directors and inducted in May 2011. Board members elected to allow Cassie and Maria voting privileges, giving them the title of junior board members. In addition to their roles as board members, they were also chosen to serve as part of the long-range planning committee.

Maria, a music major at MSU, was immediately interested in the idea of working with the WFSO Board, as she had ties to the symphony. Although she has always enjoyed the concerts, Maria has gained a new appreciation by serving on the board. "I've gotten to see the business and logistic elements behind each concert. I appreciate the concerts more now that I am aware of the intense planning behind them," she said.

Cassie, an education major at MSU, has enjoyed her experience on the WFSO Board though, unlike Maria, she had no previous connection or musical background. She said this experience has given her a valuable behind-the-scenes look at "all the little things that go into making a nonprofit organization work." Just like Maria, the amount of planning that goes into each concert was a surprise to Cassie. She learned that some concerts are planned three and four years in advance. Cassie said she has thoroughly enjoyed the program and would love the opportunity to serve with another board that has connections to her major. 

This project is seen as a win-win situation for both the students and the nonprofit organizations. While the students receive the opportunity to serve in a leadership position, participate in the off-campus community, and broaden their volunteer experiences; the boards gain valuable perspective from a younger generation.

In the future, Juliana says she hopes to expand this project to include more nonprofit organizations. "The ideal situation would be to have enough students and willing boards that we can match the students based on their interests," she said.

Cassie says she believes the Community Leadership Initiative Project will continue to grow and "has the potential to be one of the university's most valuable programs" in which all Honors students should take advantage.

During Spring 2012, the Honors Program will meet with students and boards involved to determine what changes and improvements can be made in order to continue to grow this program. 

If you are interested in applying or would like more information about the Community Leadership Initiative Project, contact Juliana Lehman-Felts at Juliana.lehman@musu.eduor ext. 4978.