UST gets service-learning grant

By Dr. Ellen Kennedy, director of service-learning

St. Paul Travelers Foundation has awarded $20,000 to the “The Changing Faces of Minnesota Business” partnership for service-learning.

The Changing Faces of Minnesota Business is a partnership between the University of St. Thomas Quantitative Methods and Computer Science Department and Neighborhood Development Center Inc. NDC is a community-based nonprofit organization that works in the inner cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, helping emerging entrepreneurs develop successful businesses that serve their communities and helping community groups build stronger neighborhood economies.

NDC sees the entrepreneurial talent and energy in inner-city neighborhoods as the most important resources available to revitalize these communities. Many neighborhoods suffer from disinvestment, unemployment and high concentrations of poverty. NDC programs address these challenges by developing the entrepreneurial potential resident in inner city communities. Alumni entrepreneurs create new economic opportunities – and become community leaders and role models.

Since 1993, NDC has trained nearly 1,400 low-to-moderate-income entrepreneurs and, in partnership with Project for Pride in Living and Whittier CDC, is responsible for the development of the Mercado Central, a Latino marketplace in Minneapolis. Program alumni have created nearly 1,400 jobs with a combined payroll estimated at $21 million a year. These energetic entrepreneurs also pay taxes and rent, buy supplies, provide needed products and services, and serve as visible role models in their communities. Through their commitment and hard work, they are reshaping our inner-city neighborhoods.

One of the most important skills that these entrepreneurs need is computer training. Our computer science students will work as consultants to emerging immigrant-owned businesses to provide essential computer skills such as spreadsheet and database management, word processing and Internet use. The consultancies will occur within the structure of the computer science courses, linking academic training to hands-on experience. This program fulfills our community-based learning goals of enhancing students’ engagement with our increasingly diverse community, doing the work of the discipline in those communities, and creating greater civic engagement, or as Father Dease often says, "being in and of the city."

The funds will be used for UST faculty and NDC staff training, program assessment and evaluation, student support positions and information dissemination. We anticipate building this into a sustainable commitment for years to come, running in tandem with the Changing Faces of Minnesota – A Global Perspective, our ongoing partnership with Abraham Lincoln High School in Minneapolis.

Please join me in congratulating Maria McLemore-Sklar, assistant director of corporate and foundation grants, the lead writer on all of our service-learning grant applications, and Dr. Carole Bagley, Dr. Mari Heltne, Dr. Rick Smith and chairperson Dr. Steve Hansen in QMCS for their enthusiasm and commitment to this project.

For more information about service learning at St. Thomas and the Changing Faces programs, visit the Service Learning Web site.