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CIPA students serve community nonprofits

Ithaca nonprofit and government agencies have a unique opportunity to receive consulting services free of charge from graduate students in the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) Public Service Exchange.

In exchange for providing students with access to real-world problems, issues or opportunities, you receive the enthusiastic effort of a team of graduate students, supported by experienced faculty and staff mentors," says David Lewis, professor of city and regional planning and CIPA director.

During fall semester, CIPA students enroll in a course called Approaches to Consulting, Research, Evaluation and Program Development, which teaches consulting and research skills and prepares students to consult for a specific organization in the spring.

"The course teaches students about best-practices research through studying topics that benefit local nonprofit organizations, which are often constrained by time or resources," explains Linda Haas Manley, course instructor and coordinator of the exchange. "We are fortunate that Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and the Human Services Coalition (HSC) of Tompkins County are providing guidance and support."

Course topics -- including succession planning, board development and training, recruitment and retention, and program evaluation -- were generated from an assessment of local human services agencies conducted by HSC, which is collaborating with Cooperative Extension to develop materials to help organizations and the clients they serve.

This semester, student research includes conducting a literature review and examining secondary sources to determine what tools and processes might be helpful to small human services agencies. Students will provide recommendations and compile a resource manual for organizations.

CIPA offers a two-year master of public administration (M.P.A.) degree. Last spring, CIPA students served as consultants to 10 organizations including the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance, American Red Cross, Educate the Children, Village at Ithaca, Namaste Montessori Day Care and the city of Ithaca.

Student recommendations from last semester are being used by organizations to improve outreach, processes or services. "[The research] has and will continue to play a role in the development of our strategic plan," says Christopher London, executive director of Educate the Children.

Shawn Galbreath, executive director of the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance, used data provided by CIPA student Sharita Alam along with other data to convince her board to change its mission and name to the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes to provide outreach and information on all cancers, not just breast cancer. "We also used it to decide on our priority outreach target populations," she said.

"There's no lack of project possibilities in the local community," says Haas Manley. "Many agencies want evaluation, strategic planning, budget analyses and best-practices research conducted but do not have the staff or time to do so. The students are filling a significant need in the community. I'm already setting up meetings for spring projects."

Agencies interested in participating in the Public Service Exchange should contact Haas Manley at LAH55@cornell.edu.

Lisa Jervey Lennox is assistant director for external affairs at CIPA.

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