Throughout their time at MSU, students are encouraged to become involved in their local community. There are a number of community-oriented student organizations within the college as well as a curriculum that frequently includes community engagement projects.
Nicholas Hays, assistant professor of management, continues this dedication to engagement in his classes. For the fifth year in a row, Hays tasked the students in MGT 474, his course on negotiations, to connect with a nonprofit partner in the community or student-run organization and use course knowledge to find a way to provide assistance.
“I think community-engagement learning projects distinguish Broad students by providing real-world experience with negotiation, as opposed to learning passively via textbooks and lectures,” Hays said.
The purpose of Hays’ project is to challenge students and test their ability to translate their education in the classroom to real-world scenarios. Students are required to find creative solutions in making initial contact with organization heads, initiating assistance offers and negotiating an agreement that is beneficial for both parties.
Before leaving to celebrate Thanksgiving, seven teams presented the results from their semester-long commitments to their organizations.
Each team began by explaining the process of selecting an organization based on a member’s desire to serve specific causes. The team presentations also covered the initial offer, negotiation strategies, means of communication, deliverables promised, problems faced and lessons learned.
Negotiating with nonprofits
Over the course of the fall semester, five class teams served Smile 4 Kids, AgileCare Solutions, Special Olympics of Lansing, the Nottingham Nature Nook and the After School Action Program.
Despite the diverse organizations served, teams shared similar experiences throughout the project. Most teams used social media to better connect with their organization or the community they serve.
One team assisted AgileCare Solutions, a software service founded by Bailey Paxton (B.A. Finance ’19), which compiles medical information for caregivers, patients and their families, by revamping AgileCare’s social media presence. After several rounds of negotiations, they were able to agree on a set amount of social media posts as well as the hiring and training of a social media intern to continue the work the team started.
Another team of students used social media to assist Nottingham Nature Nook, an animal protection and wildlife preservation organization located in East Lansing. Funding is the primary issue facing the Nook, and the students used their personal social media channels to raise money for the organization.
Other teams offered a more direct approach, providing volunteer help at events their organizations were holding. Several students volunteered with the Lansing chapter of the Special Olympics. Others organized a canned food drive for the After School Action Program, a nonprofit that provides assistance to the financially underserved. Another team provided materials for a holiday event for Smile 4 Kids, a Michigan-based organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children who are suffering.
Supporting student organizations
In addition, two of the teams chose to work with MSU student-run organizations: the International Business Organization and Phi Gamma Nu, a new business fraternity.
One team hosted a panel discussion at an IBO meeting, advising students on how to make the most of their time while enrolled at the Broad College. The other was able to provide a technology overhaul for Phi Gamma Nu and improve usability and access for the fraternity’s members.
Ultimately, the teams were able to leverage their experience at the college and their past internship experiences to benefit younger students.
All seven teams reflected on the experience and had several insights to offer. They noted the importance of making contact as early as possible and establishing a rapport with the organization. Several groups suggested avoiding electronic communication if possible, as it has the potential to create confusion and possible distrust in the relationship.
Reflecting on the project, several teams explained the need to establish a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement option early in the process. BATNA is a concept taught in Hays’ class.
Additionally, each group expressed how humbling the experience was to see the level of difference they can make in their community.
Eli and Edythe L. Broad Dean Sanjay Gupta was in attendance to observe the students’ presentations. He noted how amazing it was to see the students harnessing their education to connect with and serve their community.
Hays also reflected on how projects of this nature contribute to students’ success, both professionally and personally. “I think it’s valuable to see what types of issues small organizations face in case students work for a small company or start a company themselves,” he said. “These projects are also helpful because they expose students to some of the challenges that communities face and demonstrate the importance of giving back to the community.”
He also offered a few final words about his own experience in community-engagement projects. “I enjoy seeing the pride that students have in their work, knowing that they made a difference in their community,” Hays said. “I did a very similar project when I was a freshman in college, and many of the things I learned in the process still stick with me today, almost 25 years later.”