The Importance of Connections

By Kelly R.

Through this fall semester I have learned a great deal about how nonprofits are a part of their community and just how long and difficult the process of grant giving can be. I also had a chance to find out a little bit more about myself and how I work in such a large, opinionated group of engineers. At the beginning of this fall I had little background knowledge of what nonprofits did and what qualified them as such. Through volunteering and community service I had a small grasp of what these groups do, which is give back and make change in other people’s lives and the environment. I had so much to learn.

Through the grant making process I learned that there exists just about any type of nonprofit imaginable. There are nonprofits that work to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which is something I focused on during research, to nonprofits that are dedicated to education and health in foreign countries. I found that nonprofits rely on their connections and the communities around them to help make change and inspire others to do so too. I have not seen one nonprofit in these past few months that do not have at least one or two organizations in which they pair up with or depend on. During our grant making process we asked applicants their connections and all of them had resources both helping fund them and to also help implement their projects and that was incredible to discover. This point of helping the world was also driven home by each of the lecturers who had such big impacts on their lives by nonprofit work. Bringing engineering to the nonprofit world through this class was eye opening because as an engineer I am most likely focused on making a better, more efficient product or process. The project may relate to making the world a better place but it has never been made the main focus of a class and therefore was never brought to my attention. I believe this should be available to as many engineers as possible because we can bring such big innovative changes to the world for the better.

Not only did I learn about nonprofits and their connections, but I also learned about myself in the process of grantmaking. At this point in my engineering career I am used to working in group projects. This class had not one, but two group projects with a twist. The small group projects were familiar to me and worked like most of the other classes I have been in before. The full class group project, deciding which nonprofit would receive $10,000, was a challenging one. As a person more on the shy side of the social spectrum when it comes to voicing my opinion in front of a large group of unfamiliar people, I had a hard time expressing my thoughts and views at first. I typically do not have this problem in small group settings so when it came to this class project I found myself a little flustered. I found that as points were being repeated over and over again by the same couple of people I would get frustrated. Once I got frustrated enough I would finally raise my hand and voice my opinion, usually stating that I think we need to come to a conclusion or move on to a new topic. I learned that such large group settings are not comfortable for me when I have an opinion that I want to express and even bringing down the groups to a third of the class helped me express my opinions more easily. This may have affected the way some of the discussions in class went and I wish that sometimes we had the chance to break away in smaller groups so that even the littler voices can be heard. This class is definitely run by those with louder voices and stronger opinions and class dynamic will change with every new group of students.

I feel lucky to have been able to participate in such an innovative class project and I have been bragging to friends and family on the experiences I will not be able to receive anywhere else. I am fortunate to have been a part of the Neilom Foundation’s grantmaking process and I get to help impact a community in a big way this semester. No other engineers get to say that this semester but us.

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