There’s an old chinese proverb that says, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Julianne Gassman couldn’t agree more. Her mission is to inspire and empower generations of service providers and she’s doing just that.
Gassman, an associate professor at the University of Northern Iowa, is also the executive director of The Non-Profit Leadership Alliance on the University’s campus. The Alliance, which operates in some 40 campuses around the U.S., offers a credentialed program that develops skills in students who want to lead in the non-profit sector. Gassman, 46, has long been focused on volunteer work at her church, serving on boards and helping coordinate resources for local non-profits.
“Bringing a service component into the mix was a way to seamlessly use my skills and increase their social awareness in the real world,” she said. With that in mind, Gassman has developed touchstones for quality service learning by involving students in local communities. “It’s a way for them to practice what they’re learning in the real world,” she explained.
Student projects have included partnering with the Blackhawk County health department to organize a health fair geared to high school students, provide English literacy programming for Spanish speaking adults and their children, and partnering with schools in rural Hudson to help instill literacy and a love of reading in disenfranchised students.
“I’m trying to promote service learning and community engagement, not just for the Leadership program students but all students and faculty,” said Gassman. “We’re not just here to educate students for the job market, but also we have a responsibility to produce good citizens. And the best way to do that is through experiential learning.”
Gassman practices what she preaches at home, with her seven-year-old son Jack. Last year on Martin Luther King Day, Gassman wanted to be sure Jack didn’t just see the day as just a fun day off from school. “I explained that on certain days people go and help other people and that’s what we are going to do. He’s a fortunate child, and I want to be sure he is thoughtful and thinks about ways he can give to others. Hopefully we can take what I practice constantly at work and make sure it happens at home.”