NKU's Mayerson project impacts the region by impacting student experiences

Newport will feel the impact.

So will multiple places in Covington.

As will numerous other localities within the region, stretching out as far as Pendleton County.

The impact will even be felt as far away as off the Central American coast in Belize.

You may think what is being described here is something awesome and terrible, like an earthquake. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s the power of positive change put in motion with the announcement of the latest round of awards from NKU’s Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project.

The project is unique to NKU, in that it is regarded as the broadest and most diverse student philanthropy project at any American university. Using an innovative approach of linking project participation to courses across NKU’s eight colleges, the just-completed spring semester saw $34,000 distributed to 22 different agencies.

It also served as an ideal active learning experience for the 364 NKU students in the 19 courses that were part of this semester’s project, a number which included students from Pendleton County High School who participated in an Organizational Leadership class, “Leadership Around the World.”

The Mayerson project was begun in 2000 as an idea of how the benefits of philanthropy, which has impacts in ways that many people never think about, could be introduced to college students. Thanks to support from Cincinnati philanthropist Neal Mayerson, the project was launched with four classes in that first year. In 2003, a major gift from the Scripps Howard Foundation helped create the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at NKU, which became home to the project.

“The first question for anyone teaching with this approach is, ‘What are the learning outcomes of my class?’ says Mark Neikirk, executive director of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement.

By looking at the end of the process, a road map can be developed for how a philanthropy component can enhance the overall learning experience for students in the course. While at first courses that were involved came from areas that easily aligned with an endeavor like philanthropy, such as English or the Honors program, a conscious effort has been made over time to expand the scope to less traditional areas.

“Disciplines like computer science, biology, music or theater – these are not necessarily the logical places for it,” Neikirk says. “If you look at places around the country, Northern is really the only place that is embracing these challenges in this way.”

Classes in the just-completed semester included areas such as informatics, neuroscience and even German.

Faculty teaching the courses work with the Mayerson project from that end goal of desired learning outcomes to find a philanthropic component that is compatible with the course material. Each class learns aspects of how non-profit efforts are benefiting the community or the world at-large. Local funders provide support to each class – not only do the students have to decide how to apply it and who is the best match to receive it, they also have to raise funds as part of the course.

NKU students don’t know when they register for the class that it will have the experiential Mayerson project component.

“I’ve heard this story, anecdotally, over and over again,” Neikirk says. “A student will say they thought about dropping the course because it sounds like more work, and then they end up saying they are so glad they stayed because it’s the best course they ever had. They find they get more engaged once they become involved with it.”

Because it is real-world based, the learning experiences themselves can be unpredictable. Students in a costume design course from NKU’s theatre program in a recent year ended up developing their sewing skills by making costumes for dolls, which then were shared with the residential program for girls at Holly Hill Child and Family Solutions in Campbell County.

The students would work in sewing circles, and it was in that setting that the impact of what they were doing became clear.

“Everyone was talking about their first doll, and one of the students said she had been in foster homes and early on had been given a doll. She said as she bounced around from home to home, the doll always went with her and it was one of the constants of her life. So suddenly the idea of giving dolls to children who are in those circumstances was elevated even more, because of that reflection exercise,” Neikirk says.

With the completion of this semester’s courses, the Mayerson project has now helped 398 nonprofit agencies in its 19 year history. The amount of monetary support generated has now reached $870,116.

Specific classes, supporting partners and award details from this semester include:

ENG 101: College Writing, Taught by Jonathan S. Culluck / Supported by the R.C. Durr Foundation

- Fairhaven Rescue Mission $2,000

ANT 307: Museum Methods, Taught by Judy Voelker / Supported by the Straws Charitable Foundation

- Drake Planetarium and Science Center $2,000

BIO 461: Ecology and Geology of Coral Reefs, Taught by Denice Robertson & Sarah Johnson / Supported by the Straws Charitable Foundation

- Belize Audubon Society $1,000

ENV 493: Environmental Science, Taught by Kristy Hopfensperger / Supported by the Straws Charitable Foundation

- Urban Earth Farms $2,000

CMST 340: Strategies of Persuasion, Taught by Jeff Fox / Supported by the Straws Charitable Foundation, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and Student Fundraising

- Children’s Law Center, Inc. $1,250

- Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati – Buenger Club, Newport, KY $1,250

LAW 909: Children’s Law Clinic, Taught by Amy Halbrook and Susie Bookser / Supported by the Scripps Howard Foundation

- Pass It On, Inc. $1,000
- Children’s Law Center, Inc. $1,000

GER 202: Intermediate German II, Taught by Andrea Fieler / Supported by the Scripps Howard Foundation and Rich Boehne

- German Heritage Museum $1,000
- Cincideutsch, Inc. $1,000

LDR 160: Leadership around the World, Pendleton County High School, Taught by Megan Downing / Supported by the Neikirk Family Fund

- Matthew 25 Ministries $1,000

PAD 621: Resource Acquisition & Management, Taught by Jules Olberding / Supported by the Horizon Community Fund of Northern Kentucky and in partnership with the Duke Energy Foundation

- Adventure Crew $1,000

EDU 316: Racism & Sexism, Taught by Kimberly Clayton-Code / Supported by ArtsWave

- Newport Independent Schools’ Gifted and Talented Program $2,000

NEU 101: Neuroscience for Life, Taught by Chris Curran / Supported by ArtsWave

- Sidekicks Made $2,000

HIS 522: Intro to Historic Preservation, Taught by Brian Hackett / Supported by ArtsWave and the Scripps Howard Foundation

- Newport History Museum $1,500

HIS 607: Exhibits in Museums and Historic Sites, Taught by Brian Hackett / Supported by ArtsWave

- Behringer-Crawford Museum $1,000

PAD 560: Planning & Community Development, Taught by Darrin Wilson / Supported by ArtsWave

- Westside Citizen’s Coalition $4,000

MBI 620: Strategic Leadership for Informatics, Taught by Charlie Slaven / Supported by the Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation

- Be Concerned $1,000

- Reset Ministries $1,000

ENG 546: Grant Writing, Taught by Janel Bloch / Supported by the Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation

- Rose Garden Center for Hope & Healing $1,000

- Covington Partners $1,000

ENTP 320: Social Entrepreneurship, Taught by Carole Cangioni / Supported by the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation

- Housing Opportunities of Northern Kentucky $2,000

HNR 302: Humanity & Society, Taught by Ali Godel / Supported by the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation

- Brewhaus Bakery Company / Brewhaus Dog Bones $2,000

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Read more articles by Carey Hoffman.

As a Cincinnatian for almost all his life, Carey Hoffman has written about numerous subjects involving almost every Greater Cincinnati neighborhood. He enjoys history — both local and beyond — reading, anything to do with golf, most things related to basketball, and all things that make Cincinnati a more interesting and better place.