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Regan Schaffer Leads American Humanics Scholars
Gabriella Neumann didn't have a compelling reason to take the service leadership class; she just needed credit. In the course Neumann acted as a management consultant for local nonprofit Cars4Causes and found a unique match with her interests. She followed the experience with a summer in her native Brazil. There she interned with Comunitas, a nonprofit organization that helps community leaders in impoverished areas build self-sufficient technology centers for teens.
By the time she graduated from Seaver College in 2006, Neumann had logged more than 900 hours of volunteer service and joined a thriving community dedicated to nonprofit management: the American Humanics Scholars.
American Humanics (AH) is a national alliance of colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to preparing future generations of nonprofit leaders. Now in its 60th year, the organization partners with nearly 75 universities nationwide. Pepperdine was one of the earliest schools to join, initiating the relationship in the mid 1970s.
At the time AH emerged as a popular and influential force on campus. The group led service opportunities and offered a certificate in youth and human services. AH students helped establish the Pepperdine Volunteer Center, and built thriving partnerships with local nonprofit organizations.
In 2000 the AH Scholars gained a new leader in Regan Schaffer, assistant professor of management and organizational behavior at Seaver College. Among other responsibilities she heads the service leadership capstone in the college's Business Administration Division.
Through the course, required for all majors in that division, students serve as consultants to nonprofit organizations. Schaffer has worked with more than 200 nonprofits-including the American Cancer Society, Heart of LA Youth, Ventura County Community Foundation, and United Cerebral Palsy-through that course alone.
A lifelong volunteer, Schaffer experienced nonprofit management firsthand while volunteering with United Way. There she joined a team responsible for assessing whether the United Way would provide funding for certain nonprofits. She studied the structure of these organizations, became a consultant in the field, and brought her expertise to Pepperdine.
Schaffer changed the AH Scholars club to function as a small nonprofit. She serves as executive director and heads a staff of students. All positions and structures, including the board of directors made up of community nonprofit leaders, are exactly modeled after a nonprofit.
"I am a big believer that students should have a genuine educational experience while developing relevant skills," Schaffer says. "That includes everything from fundraising and public relations to budget management and recruiting, all in addition to volunteering."
At Pepperdine the AH Scholars program (closely allied with the minor in nonprofit management) certifies students for professional competencies in nonprofit management. To gain certification, students are required to complete at least 300 hours of volunteer work and 180 hours in an internship with a nonprofit. On average, Schaffer notes, students complete nearly 1,000 hours before graduation.
Students take courses in financial development, management, field work, and courses related to the nonprofit, and attend the annual AH management institute: a national, professional conference at which students interview for jobs, network with nonprofit professionals, and meet prominent keynote speakers like the presidents of the Red Cross and Boys and Girls Club.
Other responsibilities include conducting workshops, holding peer advising sessions, attending career-building events, and undertaking special projects like "Pierre's Place," Pepperdine's first Habitat for Humanity home. Schaffer wrote the grant for the project, the Pepperdine Volunteer Center recruited volunteers, and the AH Scholars coordinated everything else: public relations, fundraising, and management. The Oxnard, California, house was dedicated on March 31, 2007, and now serves as home for a family of four.
The AH Scholars also host conferences, like the innovative conference on character held January 21 on the Pepperdine campus in Malibu. School of Law dean Ken Starr delivered the keynote address, sharing the conference's goal to inspire individuals with futures in education, law, public policy, and the nonprofit sector.
"We want to bring the nonprofit world to Pepperdine," Schaffer says. "We want the University to be known as a place that not only graduates students active in nonprofits but also as a place with opportunities for professional development."
Helping to bridge the gap between higher education and the professional world, Schaffer also developed Pepperdine's nonprofit professional education project. Through the program she invites prominent nonprofit professionals to enroll in the University's nonprofit management courses free of charge. In exchange they mentor students, offer real life case studies, host students at their organizations, and conduct service learning projects with the students. Ed Truschke, former president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, flew from Las Vegas each week to participate in the Malibu-based class.
The nonprofit professional education project helped lead Neumann to her current position with Junior Achievement (JA), a Southern California-based nonprofit that seeks to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in the global economy. Now regional program manager in education, Neumann met JA's vice president of education in class. They formed a meaningful professional relationship that continues today and has shaped Neumann's career.
"The experience struck me," Neumann recalls. "I hadn't planned to work in nonprofits, but I thought, 'If there would be one nonprofit that I would work for, and that I had a passion for, it would be this one.' And here I am."
Though the nonprofit sector is flourishing, the typically low salary range can deter recent college graduates like Neumann from entering the field. The national AH program offers ways to assist and encourage these individuals, often enabling them to pursue work opportunities they otherwise could not afford.
Max Kelemen, a December 2007 graduate, is one such person. He was named a Next Generation Leader through an AH scholarship program. With that financial support Kelemen embarked on his first internship experience with Share Our Strengths, an anti-hunger nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Neumann similarly received a renewable educational award through AH and Americorps. Both graduates credit the financial support with helping them stay in the nonprofit field.
For AH Scholars like Kelemen and Neumann, the youthful spirit of volunteerism transitions with knowledge and experience into the professional world of nonprofits. "We talk a lot about vocation here at Pepperdine," says Schaffer. "I get to see students embrace their vocation and help equip them live it each day. Service isn't just what we do; it's a part of who we are."