The Ohio State University at Marion

English class helps students link community need with generational desire to give back


Millennials may be the most maligned generation in recent history. The post 9/11 generation is often faced with stereotypes, being labeled as coddled, detached, lazy, shallow, and narcissistic. Research indicates a much different reality. Millennials are volunteering in record numbers and are considered by many to be the most civic minded generation since the 1930’s.

An ongoing innovative classroom initiative at The Ohio State University at Marion, called Pay It Forward (PIF), fulfills that millennial need to volunteer and gives students the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the non-profit world. Students are learning firsthand about fundraising, philanthropy, and grant writing and review.

The 2016 Pay It Forward project came to a close recently with students in Ohio State Marion’s English 2367 course awarding $4,000 to non-profit organizations in Marion, Ohio as part of their classroom project. Funds for this year’s PIF project were raised by a new university giving platform called Buckeye Funder. Thanks to the efforts of a group of students in autumn semester and the new platform, PIF met their fundraising goals for the year.

The awards, which were made through an open grant process overseen by the students included: $2,500 to the United Community Rx program, $1,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of Marion County, and $500 to Goodwill of Marion County.

According to Ohio State Marion English Lecturer Amy Tibbals, who teaches the course and spearheads the PIF program for the campus, this is perfect for the millennial generation and provides a great deal of relevance toward Ohio State Marion’s goal of creating a campus of global citizens.

“What I see with these students now is they are post 9/11. So, there has been a universal idea that we are not in this alone, and everybody has to help everybody else. So, whether that be giving back in your community or thinking about natural resources and sustainability, those kinds of things-that the fact that we have a green campus. The Ohio State University at Marion is so absolutely involved and committed to being mindful of the community, and making a change and being part of that. I see students here really digging in and being engaged in all of that, whatever aspect that might be,” said Tibbals.

Dixon Shapiro, a sophomore biomedical engineering major at Ohio State Marion, echoed the faculty member’s sentiments on engaging students in real world challenges.

Shapiro said, “It’s not like an in class project – where you’re just looking at papers and numbers – you’re actually talking to people and getting to know them, and you will make an impact on people’s lives. I find that really rewarding and something that you don’t really find at my age.”

The United Way of Marion County, a partner in the Pay It Forward program, also sees engaging youth in volunteerism and philanthropy as a big part of their mission.

United Way of Marion County Executive Director, Amber Wertman said, “We definitely want to get community engagement buy in from the younger generations and I think Pay it Forward program is just the first step in doing this. We really appreciate the support of The Ohio State University here in Marion,” added Wertman.

Despite the fact that college students are on a tight budget and stretched thin by school and work commitments, Tibbals sees the course as a means to make community volunteerism and philanthropy possible for the average 18-22 year old.

“I want my students to take away the fact that they actually can make an impact in the community at whatever age. They don’t have to be millionaires to make an impact, [or] to be philanthropists,” said Tibbals. “Whether they give their time, give their money, whatever that may be, they can be an agent for change and it’s necessary that they actually are agents of change.”

“I’ve donated my time in a nursing home and so it’s kind of different,” explained freshman journalism major Natalee Christman, “That was time and this is money. I can see how both correlate and how both are different.”

Tibbals expressed, she is really excited that the Pay it Forward program has now evolved to where two classes were involved this year; English 3304 – a business class that actually then raised the funds to one of the universities first ever crowd funding campaigns.

“It’s amazing to think that this whole thing is student driven,” she said. “It’s all about the community of Marion, and giving back. But, it also really incorporates what students do in those classes anyway; they did all sorts of writing tasks for the English 3304 course. They are real life business writing tasks, and the English 2367 course does all the things you have to do in an English class. They wrote papers, they debated, they presented.”

Sophomore social work major Stephanie Toombs felt going through the entire process of grant funding was very interesting.

“We started out with just reading the application online,” explained Toombs. “Once we got to go visit or hear from the representatives from the different programs, it put everything in perspective a little more. It was very interesting to compare what we read to what we see. It was a big difference for me going into the social work field.”

For Toombs, knowing that she is only one person but she can still make a difference in someone else’s life, was extremely impactful.

Plans to continue the Pay It Forward program in the 2016-17 academic year are in place. As the program grows, more students who choose to attend Ohio State Marion can take advantage of earning course credit toward their degree, feeling good about helping those in need, and learning a valuable and transferable skill that can serve them throughout their career and their lives.

“Again, it’s real life experience, but still meeting the course content, while giving back to the community. So, it’s just a win-win, win-win,” Tibbals added.