Above, Metropolitan State University of Denver Professor (and JVA Senior Trainer and Facilitator) Sandra Harris Howard stands with students in her introduction to high impact nonprofit management class earlier this month.

By Sandra Harris Howard, Senior Trainer and Facilitator at Joining Vision and Action

For the past two years, I have been teaching Nonprofit Studies courses at Metropolitan State University of Denver, an experience I really enjoy.

In the intro to high impact nonprofit management course, we explore important elements that contribute to nonprofit organizations’ ability to achieve meaningful and lasting impact in their communities. The students also have an opportunity to choose a single nonprofit to investigate throughout the semester and present what they learn to the class.

The following were some of the highlights of the class for me.

A safe setting

We start off by building a community of support that increases throughout the semester. Ground rules of respect, honesty, responsibility, fun and confidentiality are established and agreed to.

These agreements form the basis of an amazing class culture that emerges as a safe setting for most to share thoughts, beliefs and feelings. Since I have high expectations of students, they always reach to achieve their best in the course.

Shared learning

Sandra Harris Howard, right, with a student at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s recent commencement ceremony. Sandra was a marshal at the ceremony.

Throughout the semester, we explore topics from a curriculum developed by JVA that includes leadership and governance (board vs. staff roles), strategic planning (importance of the mission, the vision and the core values), financial management, trends in the nonprofit sector, social enterprise, and the roles of identity and intersectionality.

Using learning techniques from my practical experience with nonprofits, various readings, pair and group discussions, guest speakers, current events and each other, we all end the semester having a greater wealth of understanding about the value of nonprofits in the world.

A sense of community

The classroom represents diverse perspectives, ages, genders and cultures and blends together into a human kaleidoscope of folks who share many of the same values as human services students. Many of them have selected to major, minor or receive a certificate in areas of nonprofit studies, addiction studies, high-risk youth studies or mental health counseling.

Students describe the experience with appreciation for the space to develop a supportive, warm, welcoming community where they are inspired to achieve. The close connections formed may continue on as they navigate their lives and careers.

Graduation day

As a special treat for me, I enjoy culminating the semester by participating as a marshal for commencement activities. That means that I get to put on my doctoral regalia (gown, cap and hood) and cheer on the graduates or walk them to their seats after they get their diplomas. It’s really exciting to celebrate the accomplishments of the students that I spent a semester or more with.

The goal of graduation is just one milestone that the students accomplish. Each completed assignment, course, semester and year brings them closer to the education that will help them change the world in their own sphere of influence.

I hope you’ll join me in congratulating MSU Denver’s newest cohort of changemakers!