Dec 6, 2022
By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Mountains of research goes into finding grants that non-profits can qualify for, followed by mounds of paperwork to shift through before finally sitting down to compile an application.
Enter SEPA — Social Entrepreneurship for Poverty Alleviation. This Austin College program sends students out on a mission with summertime service-learning work that can further their academic and career goals.
One student said, “I have worked or volunteered in non-profits for a while now but this was the first time I've worked under a project that was specific towards the career I hope to go into. It confirmed for me that this is the path I want to stay on.”
In the spring of each year, SEPA opens applications on two fronts: applications for non-profit agencies to apply for a college student grant writing intern, and applications for students of all majors to apply for a paid summer grant writing internship program that gives them community work experience.
These applications come from a range of non-profits such as the African American Museum, Child and Family Guidance Center, Grayson County Shelter, Meals on Wheels of Texoma, and more.
Each application is thoroughly reviewed and selections made. The matching begins, aligning a student’s strengths and goals with the needs of an agency. One example is how performing arts and music majors are often matched with the Sherman Community Players and the Sherman Symphony Orchestra.
Nate Bigelow, associate professor and chair of political science at Austin College, runs the SEPA program along with Krystal Hutcheson and staff at Austin College.
“The agencies put all of their time and effort into delivering the vital programs they offer the community,” Nate says. “We hope by offering up some of our most talented students that they are able to continue on with the fundraising they need to be successful.”
After the students and agencies are matched, all attend the college’s grant writing workshop before the students enter the field for their 200 hours of work with their assigned agency. Because of the range of non-profits that have benefited from the program, SEPA provides a vehicle for Austin College to integrate deeply with the city of Sherman, where they are located, and in surrounding areas.
“When we look at the SEPA program as a whole, we’re happy for our students who get to have this transformative learning experience,” Nate says. “We’re happy for the college because we get to engage the community in a meaningful way. Of course, we’re really happy for our agencies who, without our students, might not have been able to finish that grant application and get it in. We see it as a win-win-win program for everyone involved.”
To date, students through SEPA have generated nearly five million in grant dollars for dozens of agencies.
“When students can put those [successful] grants on their resume, it makes them look like they have magic powers,” Nate says. “And people want to hire them because they’ve had these successes.”
The Texoma Health Foundation (THF) provides steady and consistent support for SEPA, enabling SEPA to pay the interns and offer summer housing funds. Many of the agencies supported by THF apply for the SEPA grant writing internship program annually.
“We are thankful to the Texoma Health Foundation for their long-lasting support of this program,” Nate says. “They’re one of our anchors when it comes to being able to deliver this program.”