Emory Report
June 8, 2009
Volume 61, Number 32


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June 8, 2009
Projects that matter for Sierra Club, Center

By Ann Hardie

The undergraduates taking advanced business communications this spring expected to brush up on how to give presentations, write memos and pull together sophisticated PowerPoints.

They got much more than they bargained for after taking on the Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter and the Center for Working Families as clients.

They gained real world experience working with the nonprofits — the kind that can only help, given the challenging job market. But they also got to try on a business model driven not by money, but by purpose and passion. They liked how it fit.

“In business school, we hear about maximizing personal wealth and profit. This class really gave me an appreciation for dedicating your career to helping someone else,” says Tori Sundheim, who received her BBA on May 11 and whose long-term plans include law school.

The architects of the class were Nikki Graves, assistant professor in the practice of management communication in Goizueta Business School, and Sam Marie Engle, senior associate director of the Office of University-Community Partnerships (OUCP).

The OUCP looks to integrate teaching and research in ways that benefit the Atlanta community, one of the goals of Emory’s strategic plan. The office provided funding or technical support for 18 teaching and research projects this spring — a record number since the OUCP was founded in 2000.

Graves believes that communication skills can be best learned by difficulties that arise in real time, not from textbooks or case studies. “With this class, I wanted them to learn professional communication in a way that mattered for something,” she says. “It is imperative for business students to recognize the impact that business has on people’s lives, to look at business as a form of long-term economic stewardship.”

Nathaniel Q. Smith, OUCP’s director of partnerships for equitable development, linked Graves’ students up with the Sierra Club, which needed help with its campaign promoting energy efficiency.

The Center for Working Families, which helps residents near Turner Field develop job skills, was looking to increase participation in its programs as well as boost its number of corporate donors and volunteers.
The OUCP awarded a $3,000 grant to the students, who worked in teams and used the money to develop brochures, fliers and PowerPoints. The Sierra Club team also produced a jazzy video to accompany its campaign, “Don’t be Fuelish, Be Efficient.” Sierra Club program manager Seandra Rawls says the students brought excitement to the chapter and she praised their professionalism and work products. “I really think they knocked it out of the park,” Rawls says.

Engle was equally impressed with all the teams. “We always expect Emory students to do great work. I think this class did exceptionally great work,” she says.

It wasn’t easy, Sundheim says. Her team, who was paired up with the Center for Working Families, consisted of a half dozen take-charge personalities, each initially cemented to his or her ideas. In the end, they worked it out because of the respect they had for the center.

“We were fighting a lot but we had to sit down and figure it out because we had a goal that was bigger than us, to help this nonprofit,” Sundheim says. “There was a lot riding on our success.”