Penn Students Studying Philanthropy Give Away $100K

Philadelphia, PA — Students at the University of Pennsylvania taking a course in philanthropy and nonprofits are applying their lessons to the real world.

The urban studies students gave away $100,000 at the end of the semester last week.

The money the students donated came from the Texas-based Once Upon A Time foundation.

Foundation President Sam Lett said, “Our goal is to expose students to the importance of giving back, and giving back in a thoughtful manner.”

Penn is one of 13 colleges in the United States that have received a similar grant from the foundation. Harvard, Northwestern, and Yale have also received a grant. The program began as a pilot at Texas Christian University in 2010.

At Yale, “Philanthropy in Action” focused on the history, economics, and politics of charity before deciding on the causes to give their $100,000 grant.

“Very few people get the opportunity to make these types of decisions,” Frances Sawyer, a student in the course, told the Yale Daily News. “It really makes the idea of philanthropy more tactile and gives you a whole new rubric of things to think about.”

Penn student Sharree Walls said she was “definitely a little nervous” to learn that she and her classmates would actually become philanthropists at the end of the semester.

“Obviously, it’s a huge responsibility,” the 21-year-old said.

The first several weeks of the urban studies class included lectures, discussions, readings, and papers designed to teach students “how complex it is to nurture an urban community, and how critical the role of nonprofits and philanthropy are,” according to professor Doug Bauer.

The class then split up and created four “foundations” that would each award $25,000. They had to create mission statements, solicit grant proposals from local nonprofits, and make site visits.

One group got into a serious debate about funding a faith-based organization but ultimately decided against it.

Mifta Chowdury, a psychology major, said, “It’s a little bit scarier thinking about the fact this is really money. We want it to be used as best as possible, where it’s going to have the most impact.”

The group ultimately split the money among three groups. One was the Mazzoni Center, which received $7,000 for health programs serving the LGBT community.

“It was really so refreshing, I have to say,” executive director Nurit Shein said. “We always deal with foundations that are jaded in some ways … (and) here were these young people with so much openness.”