Nonprofits become viable option for students

SMU students working on building a house for Habitat for Humanity

SMU engineering graduate student Taylor Henry has been interning at United Way since he received his bachelor’s in Civil Engineering from SMU last May. Henry has always had a passion to help people in need. He hopes to attend Oxford after he finishes his Master’s degree and pursue a Ph.D in education so he can open up a school here in Dallas.

Right now, Henry works on the social innovation floor of Dallas’ United Way, a nonprofit organization that focuses on education and leading a healthy lifestyle. Henry has also interned at Dallas Habitat for Humanity and has held numerous leadership positions for Engineers Without Borders. He has also traveled with a group to Guatemala where he helped improved a village’s water distribution and storage center.

Henry’s experience and skill set could easily get him hired at a large for-profit corporation but he wants to keep his focus on helping as many people as he can.

“I don’t care who I work for, as long as the organization helps to alleviate human suffering or flourishes social good,” he said.

Henry is not the only SMU student who is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector. Many SMU students are looking into nonprofits in order to make an impact in their community. Others say they want to develop a diverse skill set that only a nonprofit can give them. There are also students that have an interest in working for nonprofits but are not able to because of the amount of debt that they will have to pay off once they graduate.

Jim Hart is the Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at SMU. The SMU Arts Entrepreneurship degree program gives students the abilities and resources they need to successfully run an arts venture plan. Hart believes that nonprofits help shape a students’ character as well as give them a sense of purpose.

“Nonprofits help you realize meaning as you contribute to a meaningful cause,” Hart said.

It’s difficult to find statistics about how many people work fulltime for nonprofits, and the number of jobs in the sector fluctuate. According to Nonprofit Quarterly, however, nonprofit employment rose by a rate of almost 2 percent per year between 2007 and 2009, while employment in the for-profit sector dropped by almost 4 percent during the same time period.

For many SMU students, it’s difficult to take a nonprofit job over a for-profit. The average cost to attend SMU is $60,000 per year, although many students receive financial aid to pay for some or most of that. Still, many students graduate SMU and at other colleges with an immense amount of debt that they want to pay off as soon as possible. For them, a job in the for-profit sector is the way to go.

According to the Cox School of Business, the average starting salary for Cox graduates is $54,233. The average starting salary for many nonprofits is about $30,000 with a business degree.

Senior BCIS major Braven Griffin is planning on getting married after he graduates in May. Like most SMU students, Griffin will have to start paying off loans after graduation. Griffin has been working part-time at Frito-Lay and plans on working there full time once he graduates.

But Griffin would like to work in nonprofit someday, specifically a Christian organization, but he knows that he will get better pay working at Frito-Lay.

“I feel responsible to pay off loans in order to be more financially stable,” Griffin said.

Some students want to gain experience by working at a for-profit in order for them to be more valuable in the nonprofit sector. Senior general business major Kelly Zitka is currently involved in the nonprofit world, but she plans to use her experience by going to the for-profit sector after she graduates in May.

Zitka is a volunteer at the All Stars Project of Dallas, a nonprofit that provides free, out-of-school programming for the youth in poor communities. They organize leadership workshops, talent shows, and other events to bring communities together to fight poverty. Throughout this semester, Zitka has helped organize a few trips for SMU students to work with the All Stars participants to create a talent show.

Zitka has also volunteered at other nonprofits to get an understanding of how they work. She has discovered that the organizational, management and other business skills she has received will put her in good standing as she seeks a job in the for-profit world. She also believes that students working in the nonprofit world can bring their knowledge to for-profit business to forge partnerships between the two sectors.

“We have all immersed ourselves into such a powerful network as SMU students and future alumni,” Zitka said. “I think that network would help non-profit and for-profit businesses become more connected.”

The idea of being able to learn multiple skills in a short amount of time has also motivated students to work in the nonprofit sector. Senior international studies major Katie Schaible spent her last summer interning with a nonprofit called the Pangea Network. According to their website, the Pangea Network helps to empower women and young people through the avenue of education. She has also participated in fundraising events for Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society.

Schaible is thinking about applying for a job at the American Cancer Society in North Carolina after she graduates. She said that working at a nonprofit can give graduates a diverse skill set as well as gives them a sense of understanding of the world and its problems.

“At a nonprofit, all employees do all tasks, from event planning to fundraising to communications,” Schaible said. “Nonprofit work opens your eyes to other experiences and needs in the world.”

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