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how to work with students, with Peter Moscone and Catherine Brassard

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While we all know small charities and nonprofits need help and students are potentially really great sources of that help, it can be overwhelming and difficult to think about how to manage them and how to really create a meaningful experience for both the organization and the students. So Peter, do you want to tell us a little bit about the Seneca 360 program and the genesis for it?

As a professor in the computer engineering department, I saw that the students want to do good things and they will really want to get out and they really want to show what they can do. But they’re somewhat limited in terms of experience or somewhat limited in terms of opportunities. We said, ‘let's remove all the roadblocks for doing as much social good as we can and create a very, very small program that we could ramp up over time that align the interests of all three of these stakeholders. One being Seneca College, one being the student body and the other being the not-for-profits.

Our faculty lead the project, so they oversee a lot of what gets done. It's all project-based and not a typical internship. All of our projects are finite so they have a start date and an end date and a scope of work.

The college will pay the student and then the student goes out and treats it as if it was a client. We want our students to have that client minded sort of idea. They're getting paid to do the work. So they're paid for their time, but then the not-for-profits are getting a student who's engaged and being paid to do their work.

Catherine, about some of the projects that you're excited about?

There's been some really meaningful projects that we've done. We did a project with an organization where we helped them develop an internal communication strategy to make sure that they could run smoothly. Another project we did for another organization was we created a promotional video for them that they could connect with their clients, is to kind of tell them what they do. The video that ended up being created by students was really moving. Uh, I've watched it a few times and I'm still just so impressed that our students were able to put that together. And again, I think that just shows that our students have the talent and when you put them out there and you provide them an incentive and you trust them to work with a client, they produce really great things.

We know that having students being paid is really valuable in the sense that we show up differently when we think of it as a job. But even if there isn't that pay, what are some other insights that we can think about if we need or want to invest in student support?

Well, in terms of engaging students, many of the students who we do engage are at the top of their class. We want to deliver quality to the organizations. One of the things that makes Seneca 360 unique is that we do have faculty who are subject matter experts. We have them involved in the very early stages before the students get hired.

What I really like about this program is that it's project-based and so whether or not you're working with Seneca 360 or a local school, having a clear scope and clear outcomes and objectives I think first. That's the foundation, right? And I really want to highlight that point because I know it's only one part

of what makes the program great, but it's something that everyone can think about.

At the early stages, to your point, it's so important to know specifically what we hope to accomplish before we even engage the student. When the student comes on board, there is a very clear and job description. So the scope is intended to say, here's what the project, here's the deliverables on this project, start to finish.

And then the job description is ‘here's what you're going to do. Here's what's expected of you in this process. And here are the landmark dates and here's where we hope to be finished. And here's how we measure success.” So a lot of that being defined beforehand is so important in maximizing the effectiveness of anybody, whether it be a student or even a service provider. If you're paying money to go out and get something done, but you don't really have a clear goal, it's going to start to cost you more

I think the best sort of thing to do is if you're an organization listening to this and you have some ideas, is to research the programs offered at the local schools. I

What makes this kind of work rewarding or how we, how can organizations make working with students more rewarding beyond the financials?

There's something intrinsically rewarding to be working for a community-based organization and feel like you’re giving back, to be doing something that feels meaningful. For a lot of young people that I know, that's an incentive. The fact that we do projects and there's very specific goals and objectives and deliverables and timelines. I think that's something that people can get excited about because they can really see the end goal and they can feel challenged in their project.

It's hopefully something that they're comfortable doing, but that's a little bit new for them, something they can get their hands on and really get that experience.

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Resources from this Episode

Seneca 360

Find your fundraising alter-ego quiz

TalentEgg Awards

The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano