Changes to JSOM community service requirement

Aleena Hassan
Mercury Staff

Social entrepreneurship class moves online, alternatives offered on case-by-case basis

JSOM has a community service requirement that requires students to either complete 100 hours of service or take a social entrepreneurship class; but because of COVID-19, opportunities to volunteer onsite have decreased, and the class has had to transition.

In the social entrepreneurship class, ENTP 4340, students are paired with a non-profit to help solve existing problems while learning about non-profit management and structure. Robert Wright is the associate academic director at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the professor of the class.

“I’ve been teaching ENTP 4340 since 2009. Students have been doing student projects through this class all along, and Dean Pirkul wanted to do more of it,” Wright said. “In 2018, we decided to make the community service requirement for undergrads in the business school. They can fulfill the project by volunteering and doing community service projects, or in the event they weren’t able to do that, they could substitute this class, which approximates about 100 hours of community service over a semester.”

Paola Martinez is a fellow at the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, which has been a non-profit partner of the ENTP 4340 class for the past two years. To give students projects, United Way paired up with local organizations, which include Avant Chamber Ballet, Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, Girls Empowerment Network, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and others.

“We partner with organizations months before the semester starts, and we see if they need help with any projects,” Martinez said. “For example, for United Way, our project this semester was to help us figure out our recruiting for nonprofits and how can we make it better. We have a different team of students working on how to get feedback from other organizations to see if they can make positive changes.”

The class went virtual after spring break, Wright said: there have been no class meetings, but students can email him to schedule group meetings to discuss issues they’re having with their projects.

“We’re working with students to understand how COVID-19 (is) affecting their non-profit. Among the things that might have been affected would have been the cancellation of events, the ability to raise funds and the ability to service clients,” Wright said. “The effects will be different depending on the business models for the nonprofits. Students are asked to pivot just like their organizations did. The thoroughness with which students evaluate how the nonprofit (was) affected will determine their success to their non-profits.”

Shawn Alborz, the associate dean of undergraduate program management, has been part of coordinating the response to the community service requirement in light of COVID-19.

“Graduating seniors who have not completed their 100 hours of community service can do a special project in order to meet the requirement,” Alborz said. “This exception is only for graduating seniors this semester and is case-by-case.”  

Online volunteer opportunities are still available but must be approved on the JSOM community service website VOMO. On VOMO, students can browse for volunteering opportunities and document their hours. Anne Hart, the program coordinator from the Office of Student Volunteerism, has been involved in compiling virtual volunteering opportunities for students.

“While we all must shift our volunteering engagements to a virtual format, there are many opportunities to continue volunteering and serving your communities virtually during this time,” Hart said. “The Office of Student Volunteerism has compiled a variety of resources to help students find a virtual volunteer opportunity that is the perfect match for them.”

To Martinez, the situation has highlighted the precarious nature of non-profits, both those in the ENTP 4340 class and those that Hart mentioned, as they depend on donations and volunteers. Because of COVID-19, some non-profits have suffered from sudden lack of both.

“I think the big thing is the shifting of mindsets now. A lot of organizations including United Way have shifted to emergency response,” Martinez said. “They’re trying to meet the needs of their constituents. They’re in survival mode.”

The ENTP 4340 has the capacity to go virtual in the fall if the current situation does not end,  Wright said.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that there are tools available to us like Zoom or selecting projects that are virtual at the onset that would allow us to do this virtually,” Wright said. “We’ll organize it differently and select different types of projects. But we’re full speed ahead and it will continue; it will just be different.”

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