Panel Educates Students on Nonprofit Sector

On Monday afternoon, Colgate students from all class years attended Inside the Nonprofit Sector: A Panel Discussion. At the assembly, held in Persson Auditorium, representatives from a cross section of national and local organizations discussed their agencies, career paths, and the challenges and rewards of work in the nonprofit sector.

The panel included Recruitment Director of the State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) Sarah Bennett, Activities Director in Morrisville of the Crouse Community Center Julie Isbell and Adam Leeman ’05, of Teach for America.

In addition to sharing their own stories, the panelists spoke about the kind of people their respective organizations look for in job candidates and brainstormed with the students on how to explore their fields and gain experience outside the classroom. They also entertained questions about their experiences, from what attracted them to their careers to the aspects of their work they find most challenging.

Bennett said that she looks for students with good communication and leadership skills.

“Expose yourself,” she advised. “Get to know your local government.”

The State PIRGs are a network of organizations that deliver activism to protect the environment, encourage a fair and sustainable economy and foster a responsive democratic government.

When the panel was asked by an audience member, “What is the toughest thing about what you do?” Bennett responded quite frankly.

“You fail for the first time,” she said. “I’ll warn you; in this kind of work you’re going to experience that. You develop a thick skin.”

Isbell spoke passionately about her experience working with the elderly.

“It’s hard losing a friend,” she said, in response to the same question. “Hopefully you grow and you learn from their life experiences … it’s so important for our generation and your generation to hear [their] stories.”

Leeman said that what he is learning from his work with Teach for America “applies to everything.” Teach for America is a national corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools, and become lifelong leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity.

“I think there are things I’m learning that I don’t even realize yet,” Leeman said. “It’s fun to get involved with kids and feel like you’re actually helping them out. You’re part of a movement that is starting to make a difference. Being part of a movement that is trying to change things, it’s not hard for me to stay motivated in what I do.”

Many of the students present were affected by the discussion.

“I thought it was a helpful look into the reality, challenges and, most importantly, rewards of working for a nonprofit organization,” junior Kaitlin Jennison said. “The speakers’ enthusiasm was contagious, as their passion for helping others was evident throughout the discussion. I was exposed to the endless opportunities available to contribute to a movement of change.”

Sophomore Lisa Henty felt that the discussion cleared up misconceptions about the field.

“Many times when it comes to careers in nonprofit work, people think that these jobs don’t exist or that they just happen to people,” Henty said. “As someone who wants to work for a nonprofit organization, I found the panelists’ words to be quite useful. They all made it clear that nonprofit work is open to everyone, not just someone with years of experience. With such a diverse panel in age, education, and field, it also showed me that there are endless options for me to explore once I leave Colgate.”