Your students’ careers begin in the classroom. How can you effectively prepare them to make the transition from classmates to colleagues? One successful outlet available to teachers is the non-profit industry. Connecting with non-profit companies allows you to prepare your students for workplace responsibilities, all within a meaningful and rewarding atmosphere.
No one models this more effectively than Professor Matt Dombrowski. Matt is an Assistant Professor specializing in Emerging Media at the School of Visual Arts and Design (SVAD) for the University of Central Florida, and he also works as the Art Director for Limbitless Solutions. Matt works specifically with the development and production of interactive alternative controllers and training games for children to learn how to properly use their 3D printed prosthetics.
We asked Matt to tell us more about his experience with non-profit partnerships, and how they’ve expanded the horizons for students in his classroom. Learn more about his experience below.
Careers that Do Not Exist
Ten years ago, no one would believe you if you said you were preparing your students to become cloud architects, user experience designers, data scientists, or 3-D printed drone operators. None of those positions existed. With technology constantly changing, the fact of the matter is that we are preparing students today for jobs that currently do not exist. Preparing students for their professional transition can be a daunting task for many educators. After all, how do you prepare students for jobs that aren’t even in the marketplace? The positions may not be in the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean we can’t empower our students with skills to succeed.
The job market requires students to thoughtfully communicate through various disciplines, be digital citizens, and show compassion in their work. Traditional classroom experiences fosters some of those traits, but it truly takes real-world experience to help prepare our students for their careers. A combination of the diverse skills above coupled with a longing for a meaningful and rewarding work life experience cause students to naturally gravitate to non-profit work.
Before we dive deeper into student success in non-profits, let me give you a little background. Limbitless is a non-profit organization that creates expressive 3-D printed prosthetic arms for children. We provide these prosthetics free of charge for the children. Our motto is that no child should have to pay for an arm. Our STEAM based learning lab is located on the UCF main campus in Orlando, Florida. We currently have 31 undergrad scholars from disciplines such as Visual Art, Communications, Games Design, Engineering, and Healthcare. We approach both innovation and design from varying, unique perspectives. In our non-profit, our student scholars are encouraged to break their pre-conceived traditional academic silos while leaving their egos at the door, to create truly cross-disciplinary work. It is not uncommon in our learning lab to see an engineering student working with a fine artist painter discussing bionic limbs under the large murals of our “bionic kids” that grace the Limbitless learning labs walls.
Our scholars are instilled with both our company’s mission and the practice of using creativity to empower children. At the lab they are encouraged to collaborate, communicate, and innovate. On a weekly basis we have Fortune 500 companies and major corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, General Dynamics, Galatea Associates, Gartner, and Epic Games, inquire about our scholars and their future career opportunities.
Many of our scholars even obtain internships and employment at these large companies before they graduate. Senior Engineering Scholar Juan Vila, for instance, is in his last semester at UCF. Juan interviewed and received an offer at Texas Instruments (TI) in Dallas, TX to begin once he graduates. Juan has a positive attitude, is both thoughtful and inclusive in his design choices, and most importantly, has a strong sense of empathy to guide him on the next journey of his career. It is no wonder TI recognized this and invested in his professional future.
Improving Others, Improving Themselves
Juan is not the only student with experiences like this. Non-profit work in general allows students to gain valuable skills, while acknowledging the bigger picture of their work and connecting directly with the community they serve. Unlike traditional for-profit companies, non-profits allow students to play a greater role in the betterment of an individual. This compassionate approach really speaks through their work and their efforts.
Our students’ generation is often falsely described as “Generation Me”, a generation that seemingly is buried in devices and only focused on their next social media update. My experience working with students through non-profits demonstrates how far this is from the truth. Working in higher education, I have encountered young future professionals who are compassionate, selfless, and more likely to put others needs before their own. Yes, this generation is device and technology-centric and are digitally fluent, but they are wielding that fluency for the betterment of others. Not only are they improving the lives of others, they are improving themselves.
Building empathy, thoughtful communication, and the ability to work with individuals from different fields are desirable skills for any employer. No wonder students from non-profits tend to be the first on interview lists! Students transitioning from a non-profit background understand the importance on how to utilize creativity in leu of other resources, do a lot with a little, and how to actively involve their customer or community in their work. These skills are paramount for any person entering the workplace.
As students prepare for the unknown jobs of tomorrow, they also lead by example showcasing how technology and creativity can illicit social change and community impact. I urge educational institutions, private industry, and non-profits to continue to create opportunities to foster digital citizenship. Let’s continue to encourage our youth to be active participants in their communities and be involved in non-profit work. The skills they acquire will not only benefit their own professional future, but also positively influence those they empower.