College of Liberal Arts

UT Undergrads Give $100,000 to Charity through Philanthropy Course

Posted May 2, 2014

By Emily Nielsen

Imagine walking into class on the first day knowing you will be responsible for giving away $100,000 at the end of the semester.

Forty students enrolled in the undergraduate studies course Philanthropy: The Power of Giving don’t have to imagine the feeling – they’ve done it.

The class, taught by sociology and government professor Pamela Paxton, is designed to teach students about the nonprofit sector and the importance of philanthropy to American society.

Paxton’s background as a social scientist has led her to incorporate social science techniques in the course that attempt to quantify charitable giving. That makes selecting the winning organizations at the end of the semester a little bit easier on students.

Synneve Williams, a freshman majoring in history, has always felt drawn to charitable and volunteer work, so the class seemed like the perfect fit to her.

“The essays we wrote and the presentations that we gave were great exercises in being concise and thinking on your feet, both crucial skills for college and later work life,” Williams says. “The coursework was unique in that it involved examining form 990 and other detailed financial information for these charities, which may be an unusual experience for most students.”

All the work students are assigned is linked back to the decision the class will make at the end of the semester, so the effort students put into it is unparalleled.

“The students take their assignments incredibly seriously, they’re extremely passionate about advocating,” Paxton says. “Their oral presentations may be the best prepared presentations they will ever do, because they’re trying to convince the class to pick their charity.”

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