By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
A new Civic Innovation Project, set to take place in the fall, will connect graduate students with nonprofit agencies to better understand the political landscape. The collaboration between Cleveland State University and United Way of Greater Cleveland will offer participants real-world experience in policy-changing strategies.
Organized by United Way staff members Hannah Lebovits, knowledge building manager, and Anne Feleppelle, director of public policy and government affairs, the project began as an internal collaboration between United Way’s community impact and public policy teams. Participants in public policy’s Community of Practice — a group of nonprofits that meet monthly with Lebovits and Feleppelle — will act as mentors, allowing students to make connections in the industry.
“In public policy, building those networks is very important,” Lebovits said.
Lebovits and Feleppelle then partnered with Cleveland State University’s Joseph Mead, the interim director of the Master of Nonprofit Administration and Leadership at the Levin College of Urban Affairs and a graduate professor in urban studies and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Mead was awarded a grant by CSU, which will pay for students’ travel and overhead expenses, making participation easier for small nonprofits. Students will present their work at the end of the semester in a competition for a “small nominal award” via the CSU grant money.
United Way of Greater Cleveland will act as an organizer, pairing students with a broad spectrum of focuses with more single-minded agencies.
“We’re happy to be able to leverage our relationships in the community to help CSU students maximize their public policy experience and level of learning that nonprofits will also benefit from,” Feleppelle said.
A broad role
The course is cross-listed between the Levin College of Urban Affairs and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, allowing graduates from both disciplines to combine their skill sets on the public policy project, Mead said.“It’s of interest to both master’s students and law students,” he said. “When I taught the class before, it really was beneficial to have the legal perspective on things. Law students can help navigate the complexities of policy making, because they’re trained to parse the [language] lawyers like to use.”
This is the second year the course has been taught, but the first time CSU has partnered with United Way of Greater Cleveland. Lebovits and United Way Relationship Manager, Martina Pace, were in the first cohort of the class and recently won an award for a paper on their experience. Mead said his goal is to provide students with hands-on experience in public policy advocacy, so they have the tools to continue work in the future.
“As a faculty member, first and foremost my goal is that they learn, that they learn the subject matter, how policy is developed and executed by local governments,” Mead said. “But I am also hoping that they learn that they can make a difference in the world. And they are equipped with some of the tools that they will need to make the difference they aspire to make.”