Social Work and Management - Belau, Kern, Cord, Rhodes, and White

Social Impact Fellowship

Research Project: Social Impact Fellowship Program

Keanna Belau ’19, Management
Collin Kern ’20, Social Work
Brittany Cord, Assistant Professor of Accounting, Management
Britt Rhodes, Associate Professor of Social Work
Alexandra White, Assistant Professor of Management

About the Project

“Collin Kern and I have been collaborating on a social impact fellowship research project,” Belau says. “We were paired with Decorah Public Library, a local nonprofit, to implement a community needs assessment survey so they can further their involvement with the community.”

Belau was very excited about working on the project since she loves public libraries. “It’s interesting to do research with the Decorah Public Library and look at all the ways they have helped people of different ages, classes, and economic status,” she says.

Fellow researcher Kern also recognizes the importance of their work. “Most public structures like libraries are designed to serve the community,” he says. “That’s why nonprofits should constantly be assessing what the community needs. The library staff wanted to gather this info and they were willing to partner with us on the project. Keanna and I were able to dive more deeply into the topic since we had time available.”

Benefits of Collaborative Learning

Last fall, the professors involved in this project started to talk about how their disciplines overlapped in the community, particularly in relation to nonprofit organizations. “We started thinking about ways that we might involve our students in some summer student-faculty collaborative research that involved nonprofit organizations,” says Rhodes. “It was also an opportunity to bring together the skills of social work and business management students.”

To get the project under way, the professors started looking at their personal connections with local nonprofits. White says, “That helped us narrow down our list of organizations, and we ended up choosing to work with the Decorah Public Library.”

Throughout the process, Cord was preparing a course in nonprofit management, so the project was a great fit. “I noticed that most of the students signed up for the class were not business students. It was clear there was a large population of Luther students who were really interested in nonprofits but didn’t have any business background. Because of this, we thought it would be a great collaboration between social work students and business students.”

Belau acknowledges that projects like this are a great way to get students from various academic areas engaged in real-life experience. “We gained knowledge and experience in the nonprofit industry and connected with a student outside our majors. I felt it was a great learning opportunity,” she says.

Connecting to the Community

Reflecting on the experience, Kern feels that the project was worthwhile. “I’ve learned a lot, especially about small-town government,” he says. “I’ve gone to a couple city council meetings, met with different people in the community, and felt like I’ve learned a lot about Decorah and how it functions. I also enjoyed getting to know the library staff and more about what the library has to offer.”

Belau appreciates how the project created an opportunity for Luther to connect to the community. “This project helped build that connection. It was also meaningful to work with a nonprofit since they don’t always get the help they might need due to limited resources.”

Students Reflect on Research

“At first, a 40-hour-per-week project was really intimidating, but having a partner to work with made it an amazing opportunity. I now I feel that I have tools in my back pocket that I can apply to my future career.”

—Keanna Belau

“I was excited to just dive into social work for eight weeks and get some experience outside of the classroom.”

—Collin Kern