As a part of my first-year student curriculum, I am involved in a team project with a local grant-making organization. Our team, comprised entirely of students from my MPA program, has been conducting research for this organization on promising practices in grant monitoring and evaluation; this involves both review of academic literature and performing phone interviews with grant-making organizations around the country. The project has been an invaluable learning experience for us, and is creating a product that the organization would likely not otherwise have the time or staff resources to create. While we are reimbursed for our expenses, we are not paid for our work; costs have been minimal and the value created great.
I do not know the situation in other areas, but my MPA program has a formalized system where government and nonprofit organizations submit project proposals to staff, who then present students with a list for selection. I performed similar, smaller-scale projects as an undergraduate through a service-learning program. These projects gave me interesting experiences like creating a twenty-year organization history and working to boost a marketing campaign, while involving minimal commitment of time from practitioners.
I would encourage practitioners to take the time to look for opportunities like this. As I stated above, there have been minimal costs associated with our project, and the result is valuable on both ends. Practitioners are presented with a product they might greatly need or want, but do not have the time or staff to create. Students are able to learn and gain real-world experience that is valuable for both shaping career interests and boosting marketability during the job search.
Katie O’Connor Sirakos