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U.Va. Commerce Students Raise More than $25,000 for Local Community

Video: NBC 29 story

Through a capstone class project focusing on a hands-on approach, University of Virginia students are giving back to the community to the tune of $25,000 for 15 Charlottesville-area charities.

The Liberty Tax/CEB Social Enterprise Project Challenge, part of the McIntire School of Commerce’s “Project Management” course, provided student teams with the opportunity to learn and implement project management concepts, gain real-world project management experience and have a positive impact on the Charlottesville community.

The teams were each given $500 in seed money at the start of the semester and were asked to identify and partner with a local 501(c)(3) charity. They were then tasked with planning an activity, function or enterprise to grow the $500 on behalf of the charity, returning the original seed money plus 10 percent of gross funds to sustain future project challenges. The remaining funds were to be donated to the charity on behalf of the McIntire School, Liberty Tax, The Corporate Executive Board Company and the project team.

Third-year student Luis Ortiz told a local TV station that the course offered practical experience in budgeting, organization and other key concepts. He and four teammates organized “HackVirginia” for their semester-long assignment to benefit Computers4Kids, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide new and refurbished computers to students.

“We decided we would do a ‘hackathon,’” Ortiz told NBC 29, which aired a report on the course Nov. 26. “Students came together in groups of five and developed some sort of software that could benefit the community, so you could do an iPhone app, Android app, or some sort of website.”

According to the TV report, more than 100 students from colleges around Virginia came together Nov. 22 in U.Va.’s Clemons Library for the 24-hour event. Corporate sponsors, including Amazon, Google and Capital One, sent representatives to set up information booths. The hackathon, which Ortiz said they hope to make an annual event, raised $6,000 for Computers4Kids.

“What better way to teach project management than to actually have students run real projects?” course instructor Jason Williamson told NBC 29. “The experience is great, because not only are the students saying, ‘This is what I learned in class and this is how we executed it,’ they’re actually able to see in the community where the work that they did in class is affecting lives.”

Another group of students organized an online auction that raised more than $1,000 for the Ronald McDonald House of Charlottesville, a charity that provides temporary housing for families to be near their hospitalized children.

Third-year Engineering student Meg Beattie, a student organizer of the auction, said it was a highly rewarding experience.

“Our assignment at the beginning of the semester was to partner with a local charity, and our group choice was the Ronald McDonald House,” she said. “Our timing was good, because their permanent location is being renovated this semester, and they are in temporary quarters in a dorm no longer used by students. It made us feel good to be helping out, especially at a time when their ability to fundraise is limited.”

Beattie said the auction project was beneficial to the students, who had to ask for donations, coordinate a large event and work with outside contacts to reach their goal.

Rita Ralston, executive director of Ronald McDonald House of Charlottesville, worked with the students on the project and sang their praises.

“One of the extraordinary aspects of this project,” she said, “was that the decision-making, planning and execution were all done in less than two months by students who have no professional experience in fundraising.”

The project also involved the solicitation of items for the auction, which Ralston said is “usually the least favorite aspect of such an event for any fundraising committee.”

“The students accomplished this quickly and with great aplomb,” Ralston said. “They were very savvy in attempting to make many of the items as ‘value added’ as possible. For example, they offered not just lunch at a certain location, but lunch with a local notable person, which elevates that item tremendously. It was clear to me they gave this kind of strategic thinking to each aspect of the project.”

Ralston added, “The McIntire students have a very good sense of their environment, how to reach others, how to use the tools available to them and how to implement change. I commend the McIntire School for recruiting this level of student and for guiding each of them in the development of these skills.”

Ralston said the funds raised by the students will help the Ronald McDonald House provide the items used daily in efforts to lodge, feed and care for families of ill and injured children receiving care at the U.Va. Children’s Hospital.

“The quality and depth of work that our students demonstrated throughout this project have been exemplary,” Williamson said. “Not only did they learn the practical application of what we teach in class about project management, but they also had a positive impact on the local community.”

It’s an impact Ortiz is seeing firsthand.

“I learned the importance of being able to execute an event really well and to please all the stakeholders, and also Computers4Kids – just being able to help them – it’s a great feeling,” he said.

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