Professor Elisabeth Miller and the University of Nevada, Reno have partnered with several local nonprofits, and for Miller’s English 401B Advanced Nonfiction class, students work with these nonprofit partners. In the class students work on creating and perfecting their own resumes and cover letters. However, they also work closely with their community partner in order to determine the needs of the organization and produce written content to help meet those needs. The coursework varies based on the needs of the organizations. The students are expected to produce approximately 10 pages of content for their community partner. The class is neither volunteerism nor an internship, but rather service-learning.
“Service-learning is a mutual exchange between the organization and the university. It goes beyond volunteerism, and it goes beyond internship,” said Miller. The service students provide to their community partner adds to their understanding of nonprofits and technical writing. The students provide weekly reflection logs about their work for the organization to solidify their learning. “The actual practice of doing service is itself like a text, with the reflection that follows.”
Some students are working on grant proposals, others on creating brochures, online content, and more. English major, Hannah Schotborgh is working with the Northern Nevada Literacy Council (NNLC). NNLC is a local nonprofit dedicated to furthering education for adult learners. They provide English Second Language (ESL) classes to help students attain their Certificate of High School Equivalency (HSE) and citizenship classes. Schotborgh said she previously worked with the SPCA, but that service-learning has allowed her to work more directly with her community partner compared to traditional volunteering. “They actually put us in contact with leaders in the nonprofit,” said Schotborgh, “It was interesting to basically be a part of the staff working for the nonprofit.” Schotborgh works close with Susan Robinson, the executive director of NNLC.
Schotborgh said that one aspect of service-learning that appealed to her was having the freedom to work independently on her project for the organization. Schotborgh has helped the organization by creating profiles about students of the NNLC. “We’re trying to compile it so that Susan can use quotes and summaries,” said Schotborgh, “Because she doesn’t have the time to interview all of these students all the time.” Schotborgh said that personal anecdotes help the organization to demonstrate how they help people in a tangible way.
While the organization has gained useful written content from the partnership, Schotborgh says that she has gained technical writing skills. “I’ve always understood the creative writing aspect of authoring,” said Schotborgh, “I’d never thought about the technical writing of businesses.”
Another student, Warren Bottino, has partnered with Neighbor Network of Northern Nevada (N4). N4 is a local nonprofit based on the concept of time exchange. Members earn time credits by helping one another and can use those credits to receive assistance later on. This assistance can be in the form of yard work, transportation, education, and more. “They’re an altruistic kind of organization,” said Bottino, “It’s kind of a community building thing.”
Bottino said at first he was skeptical and unenthusiastic at the prospect of doing extra work outside of class but soon found the research he was doing quite interesting. “I ended up really liking it,” said Bottino, “It’s something I want to research more of.” Much of Bottino’s research was on the concept of social capital theory. “It’s our connections, it’s our community, and it’s our way of measuring that,” said Bottino.
Bottino says that the class and his community partner have changed his understanding of community. “It’s not just going out and helping people, it’s work,” said Bottino, “They need money to do it, and they can’t accomplish everything they want. It’s harder than it seems.” Despite the inherent difficulties, Bottino said the experience has made him consider entering the nonprofit sector of business in the future. “Before, I had no plans at all. Now I know what I like,” said Bottino, “I learned that I like writing, but I learned that I also I like people."