Learning to Give, Learning to Lead

Philanthropy exercises in two of Michael Vaughan’s courses taught students lessons in giving, as well as lessons in leadership, research, collaboration and conflict resolution. As director of Weber State’s Center for the Study of Poverty and Economic Inequality and an economics professor, Vaughan immersed students in his MBA leadership class and freshman Honors class in real-life experiences requiring the allocation of funds to nonprofit organizations.

In Vaughan’s MBA course, three teams of four students were challenged with identifying, selecting and contributing $2,000 — donated by Vaughan — to a nonprofit organization in Weber or Davis County.

“Leadership exercises are very common in courses such as this one, but most are artificial. For example, participants are taken to a 10-foot-wall, where they must work together to scale the wall,” Vaughan explained. “I wanted to put students in a situation where they had to collaborate and make decisions, but in a realistic environment, where they had to decide how to allocate actual money to real organizations.”

Vaughan didn’t intend to incorporate the exercise in his freshman Honors course, which included students majoring in everything from criminal justice and social work to math education and health professions. But he was so impressed by his students that he decided to try it.

“Earlier in the semester, the (Honors) students created artwork to convey the message of poverty. The pieces were put on display in the Kimball Visual Arts Center. I felt like they were ready to handle the philanthropy exercise,” Vaughan said.

It was a success.

Student evaluations from Vaughan’s courses were positive. One called the project “thought-provoking.” Another said, “I enjoyed the philanthropy project. It gave me a new outlook (on poverty and economic inequality).”

Between the MBA and Honors classes, students donated


to charities such as Youth Impact, Your Community Connection, the Christmas Box House and the Homeless Veterans Fellowship.