New SESP course gives students chance to donate $100,000

Adrianna Rodriguez, Reporter

The School of Education and Social Policy will offer a new class during Spring Quarter in which students will allocate $100,000 to a philanthropic organization of their choice.

The class, “Learning Philanthropy: Engaging in the Study and Practice of Giving,” will be taught by SESP Dean Penelope Peterson and Lauren Jones Young, former director of the Spencer Foundation, which aims to support education-related research. Offered for the first time this year, Peterson and Young are already planning to include the course in the SESP curriculum in future years.

According to the course description, the money was made available through an initiative by the Once Upon a Time Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas, an organization that Peterson said has given money to other universities in the past for similar courses. The organization approached SESP with the proposal a year ago, and the school has been preparing for the course throughout the year.

Peterson said her aim for the class is to teach students how philanthropy improves the lives of children, youth, families and adults.

“Not only does it improve people’s lives to improve organizations,” Peterson said. “But also the idea is that the person who gives the money benefits in some way.”

The class will consist of 33 students who were required to submit an application by Feb. 11. The application asked students what they would do if they were given $10,000 to donate to a cause.

Peterson said the class will be interdisciplinary and should not be viewed only as a sociology course. The plan is to incorporate all perspectives in the science of philanthropy, including those in economics, political science and psychology.

“The issues that we are dealing with are too complex to be solved by one discipline — no one discipline can have the answer,” she said. “You have to bring different disciplines to understand the problem and possible solutions.”

The students will decide whether the entire $100,000 is spent on one organization or if the amount will be divided among several different recipients.

SESP senior Morgan Purrier said this type of class structure forces students to put theoretical concepts to use. He said he could not fit the class into his schedule but would have taken it otherwise.

“It forces the students to think about a lot of issues practically, as opposed to the theoretical,” Purrier said. “It’s bringing the theoretical and connecting what’s in the classroom to the real world.”

Young said she is excited to teach her first class at Northwestern. After teaching at Michigan State University and spending 15 years at the Spencer Foundation, she said the class will bring her back to her love of teaching.

“It also enables me to be a part of conversation with young people today about broader purposes and about the resources that they will be generating in their own lives,” Young said.

The class will be taught Tuesdays from 2 to 5 p.m. The class material includes a reading from “A Gospel of Wealth” by Andrew Carnegie.

The class will offer an opportunity to learn about the importance of philanthropy and giving back, Peterson said.

“It’s an art and science,” Peterson said. “It’s about the deeper meanings and reasons why people give.”