Last year, Rice became the 22nd partner of The Philanthropy Lab, a Fort Worth-based organization dedicated to supporting philanthropy education at universities. It joined a cohort of schools including Harvard, Stanford and Columbia that offer an annual course in charitable giving that culminates in the distribution of real money to local organizations. This year, students in “Giving To Learn: Philanthropy in Theory and Practice” were able to award nearly double the amount raised by that initial 2017 class and presented $50,000 to seven Houston nonprofits.
At the April 19 awards ceremony in the Moody Center for the Arts, Danika Burgess, director of curriculum and fellowships for Rice’s Center for Civic Leadership (CCL), introduced course instructor Vida Avery and the 13 students who spent the semester reviewing proposals and deliberating the merits and missions of the dozens of nonprofits that applied for the grants.
“As philanthropy has filled the void created by decreases in public funding, it is important for a healthy democracy that citizens possess the critical tools to assess allocation and efficacy of these resources,” said Burgess. “This course provided students the opportunity to learn about the history and role of philanthropy in America and to serve as grant-makers themselves.”
Over the spring semester, students Alex Addy, Chris Burbridge, Carolyn Daly, Sydney Franzen, Phil Hedayatnia, Patrick Kowalski, Nayva Kumar, Sara Meadow, Jiatian Qu, Jordan Szymczyk, Carter Taft, Sonia Torres and Seyvion Waggoner formed three fact-finding groups under the guidance of Avery, the author of “Philanthropy and Higher Education: A Fateful Hour Creating the Atlanta University System.” Readings for the groups included Avery’s own writings as well as Bill Gates’ commencement speech at Harvard in 2007 in which he famously encouraged graduates to “be activists” and “take on the big inequities” through philanthropy and public policy, and John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon delivered to American colonists aboard a ship bound for Massachusetts titled “A Model of Christian Charity.”
Toward the end of the semester, Avery said, the groups engaged in a “very passionate” three-hour board meeting to finally select their seven local recipients for the grant money.
“They started out as students and they’ve grown from learning the history and theory of philanthropy to becoming program officers and board members,” said Avery. “They’ve vetted organizations. They sent out RFPs. They did their due diligence through researching, reviewing and scoring the applications to conducting site visits of the nonprofit organizations that they were interested in. These students have definitely achieved the lab’s goals.”
An increase in charitable giving to the course itself enabled the students to give quite a bit more than last year’s $28,000, thanks to donations from the Hilda Rich Circle of Giving, the Houston Jewish Community Foundation and Rice alumnus and noted philanthropist Purvez Captain ’93. The Philanthropy Lab also offered funding for the course and will host its annual ambassador conference in Dallas this summer for students from all partner institutions. There, Rice students will pitch their chosen grantee for further funding and debate with other student ambassadors the best way to disperse an additional $150,000 in grant money.
At this year’s ambassador conference in June, Rice students Sara Meadow and Jiatian Qu will champion Houston’s TXRX Labs, a nonprofit hackerspace in the East End that offers courses and access to a rapid prototyping lab, woodshop, machine shop, electronics lab and a variety of other tools in its 30,000 square-foot space. The Giving to Learn class awarded TXRX Labs $7,960 to expand its programs into Second Ward high schools through their Made to Market program. The six other Houston-area awardees were:
- Air Alliance Houston: Awarded $4,720 to conduct air testing projects in Super Neighborhood 41 in Fort Bend County, where a recent oil-well blowout has left officials concerned about hydrogen sulfide emissions in the surrounding area.
- BakerRipley: Awarded $5,000 to use in its immigration and citizenship program, which helps guide immigrants and refugees through the naturalization process.
- BridgeYear: Awarded $9,750 for its work in connecting underserved communities with high-paying, high-growth careers that are accessible through local community colleges and vocational programs.
- Children at Risk: Awarded $8,195 to fund the publication of its annual Growing Up In Houston Guide, a leading resource on important issues, including local research regarding parenting, education, food insecurity and human trafficking.
- Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees: Awarded $6,375 to extend its Global Learners summer program from two to three weeks, giving middle school-aged refugee students more time for educational and personal growth before starting school in the fall.
- The Montrose Center: Awarded $8,000 to fund a shelter for survivors of intimate partner violence through Houston’s foremost LGBTQ+ community center.
BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT
May 1, 2018
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