IT students program for a purpose

Students in the School of Information Studies are in year two of a program that helps them develop expertise that employers are seeking – teamwork and client service – while offering much-needed technical assistance to vital community organizations.

Students in the school’s nonprofIT program have helped eight Milwaukee organizations expand their Web presence with new sites that enhance visitor engagement – from tracking pollution to taking donations and selling tickets – and also offered simplified maintenance for nonprofits with sparse IT budgets.

“We were looking for ways to help students get the experiences that would help them succeed after they graduate,” said Adam Hudson, the instructor who co-founded the program. “At the same time, we saw an opportunity to make a contribution to the community.”

Making schoolwork work

For her first nonprofIT assignment, UWM student Sienna Bast was on a team that rebuilt the website of Milwaukee Riverkeeper. Last fall, she moved up to project lead at nonprofIT, working closely with a community youth organization, Running Rebels, that does everything from coordinating basketball leagues to providing anger management courses and math tutors.

Bast, now a senior, is sure her nonprofIT experience helped her get an internship at Johnson Controls, a Fortune 500 company from which she recently received a job offer.

“My work at Milwaukee Riverkeeper showed I can work in a real context,” Bast said.

Christina Taddy, development and operations manager at Milwaukee Riverkeeper, is a satisfied nonprofIT client.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper got a more useful website, she said, and students learned valuable lessons in technology and communication.

“They saw the processes and the democracy,” Taddy said, “and everything that goes into working for a nonprofit, or any company.”

Looking ahead

NonprofIT is growing quickly, and it’s shown the potential to scale up to its ultimate target of 40 to 50 students working on six to eight projects each semester.

The expanded plan would bring in business, design and engineering students who are able to provide database design and management, and also identify technologies that will help nonprofit clients achieve their goals. Funding is being sought from the National Science Foundation, and businesses have expressed interest in providing material and technical support.

Aside from the contribution to the community, it’s a sound business proposition.

“It’s attractive for businesses,” Hudson said, “because it gives them the opportunity to meet and evaluate potential interns – and potential employees.”


Read the full 2016 UW-Milwaukee Research Report.