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TLTC Grant Fosters Real-World Community Application of Classroom Objectives

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group of students on site visit
PLCY213 students visit the sanctuary of Reid Temple A.M.E. Church

SPP Associate Clinical Professor Ebonie Cooper-Jean, in partnership with Lecturer Selvon Waldron, was awarded a TLTC Teaching and Learning Grant for Experiential Learning in July 2022 for their project, Hands-On Nonprofit Leadership & Social Innovation.

This project utilized practical, community-based learning as a basis to reinforce the objectives of the courses PLCY213 and PLCY310, neither of which were grounded in experiential learning prior to receiving the grant. “As a professor and practitioner, this grant was a wonderful conduit to bring our classroom learning to life,” remarked Cooper-Jean. “The grant especially helped to reinforce the lessons of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging by uplifting the real-world experiences of persons of color within the nonprofit sector.”

Cooper-Jean and Waldron integrated in-class activities that applied course content to real-world contexts; community-based or service-learning; corporate or community partnerships; problem-based learning, and interdisciplinary tools. In collaboration with five nonprofit learning sites, two local grantmakers and one national social innovation fellowship, students were able to see firsthand the real-world possibilities of social change. As a result of the experiential learning made possible by this grant, students like Darcy W. felt inspired and encouraged to pursue their social change goals with tenacity and passion.

Both courses began with an introduction to the Social Change Wheel which centers on anti-racism, equity and co-creation and has two rings: the outer ring focuses on ways to make social change broadly, and the inner ring focuses on the variety of campus-based strategies in civic and community engagement. This tool allowed the students to identify methods by which they could address social problems and systemic inequities. Then, through writing assignments and in-person dialogue, students investigated the social change practices they were drawn to or may have personally experienced. 

With the help of the national social innovation fellowship organization Echoing Green, students screened the documentary “Unwavering: The Power of Black Innovation.” Dabney Brice, senior associate, research & equity thought leadership at Echoing Green, notes that the documentary “features Black social impact leaders who are helping to build thriving, equitable communities across the U.S.”  A class discussion revealed that students could identify the need for Black innovation in the nonprofit sector and the unique challenges Black-led nonprofits face. 

Following the screening, PLCY310 students participated in a lecture and film discussion with leading Black innovator Shawn Dove, who was featured in the film. Students described their surprise and humility regarding learning the themes in the movie, such as Black exclusion, Black resistance and Black social progress. Students then utilized the Social Change Wheel to think of challenges and actionable solutions within their local College Park and Washington, DC communities. They participated in weekly peer discussions on fundraising, starting a nonprofit, imposter syndrome in the nonprofit sector, anti-racism/equity in the nonprofit sector, allyship, the grant writing format, advocacy in the nonprofit sector, and race and power. 


Although some students were a bit apprehensive about the site learning, 100% of them were overflowing with gratitude for their new-found experiences
Ebonie Cooper-Jean

For PLCY213 students, the next post-screening step included site visits to select local nonprofit organizations whose work aligned with course modules and strategies that could be found on the Social Change Wheel. “Although some students were a bit apprehensive about the site learning, 100% of them were overflowing with gratitude for their new-found experiences,” reflected Cooper-Jean. “The joy I heard from the students was the best marker of success I could have asked for!” 

Reimagining learning is one of four commitments in the UMD Strategic Plan describing the university’s vision to move fearlessly forward in pursuit of excellence and impact for the public good. Ryan C. expressed his plans “to use what I have learned from this class in the rest of my time as a student at the University of Maryland and beyond in my career.” The experiential learning activities made possible by the TLTC grant allowed students in both courses to see and experience the real-world application in the community of the objectives they learned in the classroom. 

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Megan Campbell
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