Rice MBA students make their mark on Houston with nonprofit board service

Students serve organizations as part of the Jones School Board Fellows Program

HOUSTON – (Aug. 30, 2011) – For the fourth consecutive year, Rice University MBA students are making their mark on the city of Houston with their involvement in nonprofit boards as part of the Jones Graduate School of Business Board Fellows Program.

The program matches Rice MBA students with Houston community-based nonprofit organizations. Students serve as nonvoting board members for either 12- or 18-month appointments and attend board sessions and relevant committee meetings under the mentorship of a current board member. As students become familiar with their organizations, they have additional opportunities to work with the board to develop special projects that will identify and address issues faced by the organization.

The program is mutually beneficial for both students and the organizations involved, said Donna Platt, associate director of development for the Jones School and the program’s coordinator. 

“It’s remarkable not only how much the students gain from the program, but how much it benefits the Greater Houston community,” Platt said. “Students develop valuable leadership skills and experience, and organizations gain access to the ideas and energy of future business leaders.” 

MBA students LaMecia Butler and Rahila Odhwani both serve on the Board Fellows Program’s student leadership team and have witnessed the program’s benefits firsthand. Butler served on the board for Amazing Place and said she especially appreciates the experience gained from applying classroom knowledge to business issues.

“As a board member, I’ve had to draw from my studied subjects to contribute in board meetings,” Butler said. “It might be something as simple as using what I learned in accounting to analyze financial statements. When you have to apply those principles in real time during the course of your studies, it further justifies the importance of the instruction we receive in the classroom for our post-MBA endeavors.”

Odhwani, a fellow at the Women’s Home, said the program provides new and valuable learning opportunities for many students, herself included. “I get a glimpse of how boards make various decisions on sponsorships, budgets and future planning, and sit on a committee to strategize development opportunities.”

Many of the students, including Butler, enter the program with prior experience serving nonprofits; however, Butler said she appreciates the opportunity to participate in the decisions affecting the long-term health of the organization. “As a (nonvoting) board member of a well-established nonprofit, I have the opportunity to witness more long-term strategic planning, which influences the future of the organization.”

Collaborative for Children’s CEO and President Carol Shattuck, a 1982 Jones School graduate with a master of business in public management, can speak firsthand about the mutual benefits of the experience offered through the Board Fellows Program. Her organization has partnered with the program since its inception. 

“One of the things I feel very strongly about a Jones School education is the opportunity it provides students to gain real-world experience,” Shattuck said. “It’s so valuable for them to get outside of the classroom and see what life is like.”

Shattuck said the Collaborative for Children’s fellows have completed several projects that have had a direct and positive impact on the organization’s daily operations, including a recent analysis of the organization’s fee-for-service structure. 

“Our organization works very hard to raise the resources needed to support the programs that we provide, many of which are offered free of charge or at low fees. Our board was interested in doing an assessment of the programs we offered for a fee to determine if we were covering costs. One of our fellows led this analysis, which provided our board with valuable information for planning our future strategies.”

An added benefit of the program is that it allows students to make the connections needed to plug into the Houston community. Both Odhwani and Butler said they appreciate the opportunity to network with local nonprofit organizations and volunteers.

“It helps me connect with several young professionals and individuals in business who want to stay actively involved in the community,” Odhwani said. 

“Most MBAs are admittedly pressed for time, and being a fellow allows me to give back to the Houston community throughout the course of my MBA studies,” Butler said. “As a result, I’ve been exposed to a number of causes that I can choose to support after graduation.”

Students and boards apply to be a part of the Jones School program and are matched based on the mutual interest of both parties. Students are chosen based on academic and professional excellence, knowledge and skills relevant to the particular agency, sensitivity and commitment to issues of community needs, financial concerns and confidentiality, and a commitment to serving the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofit organizations are selected through a simple application process. They must demonstrate regular and efficient opportunities for the student to participate in board proceedings, the appropriateness of the proposed project and the promise of a high-quality mentorship relationship. The organization must also provide a formal orientation to the organization’s work and expectations for board members, as well as facilitate regular communication and feedback about the progress of the Board Fellow’s project.

“We’ve witnessed so much positive growth in just four short years and hope other organizations will apply to be part of the program,” Platt said. 

The program seeks a range of boards from every sector, including those with local, regional and national orientations. Organizations interested in participating this year can contact Platt at 713-348-3724 or dplatt@rice.edu by Oct. 1. For an application, visit http://business.rice.edu/BoardFellows.