Roosevelt University’s social justice mission is being put into action by results-oriented graduates who are leading nonprofit organizations in Chicago and around the world. Some alumni, like Mark Rodriguez (BA,’00), are directing established organizations such as Changing Worlds, an educational arts organization.
“I came to understand the different voices that not-for-profits need to use in order to reach their audiences.”
– Mark Rodriguez (BA, ’00)
“I had an idea for bringing arts, literacy and culture into schools, but I didn’t have the skills or experience to run an organization,” said photographer Kay Berkson, who hired Rodriguez as the nonprofit’s first executive director in 2003.
“Mark had the passion and know-how to take my idea and run with it,” said Berkson, who has watched the organization’s budget grow from $50,000 to $1 million and its programming expand from a single location to 50 Chicago-area schools. “Thanks to his leadership, Changing Worlds has blossomed into something bigger than I could have imagined,” she said.
“The nonprofit industry attracts people from all walks of life,” said Joanne Howard, a Roosevelt lecturer in public administration who teaches nonprofit management courses. “Many have good jobs in the private sector and simply want to give back expertise, while others are motivated by altruism, religion or personal experiences,” she said. “But all have the same aim, which is to help people.”
Children in Chicago are being engaged every day in arts, literacy and culture thanks to Changing Worlds programs and the work of Roosevelt alumnus Mark Rodriguez.
Training for a Career in Service
Nationwide, nearly 11 million Americans are devoted to nonprofit causes and pursuits, according to a comprehensive study of not-for-profits by the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Economic Data Project. Those employees make up about 10 percent of the nation’s workforce.
Roosevelt University has long been a leader in training students for senior level positions in nonprofit organizations. The Master’s of Public Administration program has trained hundreds of students for careers in service and other academic programs actively promote activism and ways to make positive change for people and communities.
Roosevelt graduate Robert Petitti (BS, ’80; MPA, ’13), might still be in the private sector if not for his Roosevelt education.
“He’s a bright guy who had the desire to reinvent himself,” said Anna Marie Schuh, director of the graduate program in public administration that Petitti joined in 2011 after losing a six-figure job as a lab-instrument salesman. “Robert started with a positive outlook, which is essential for nonprofit work, and he gained a lot of empathy for people as he went through our program.”
Petitti is currently executive director of Koinonia Foundation, a social service agency that feeds and clothes 400 people each month who are down on their luck in one of the nation’s wealthiest places, Fairfax County, Va.
Majority Enter Health Care
Approximately 13 percent of nonprofit workers are in social services, according to the Johns Hopkins study, “Holding the Fort: Nonprofit Employment during a Decade of Turmoil.” Another 15 percent are involved in education and education-related causes, while the majority, including Roosevelt graduate Shawn West (BA, ’98), are making a difference in the health care arena.
“She’s one of the brightest students I ever had and I knew she could become someone who could change the world,” said Heather Dalmage, a Roosevelt sociology professor and director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.
A native of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, West grew up poor, facing family health care crises that led to the premature deaths of her mother and brother. As executive director of the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic in Joliet, Ill., she and the clinic provide health care services and education to help the working poor stay healthy.
The Will-Grundy Medical Clinic is one of the sites where Roosevelt’s College of Pharmacy students can take their interprofessional training. “I had never volunteered for a not-for-profit before, so for me to see the dedication and time that goes into running that kind of organization was amazing,” said Meredith Imler, a third-year College of Pharmacy student. “Ms. West has a lot of dedication and passion for what she does and it made the experience more unique than spending time in a doctor’s office.”
Global opportunities possible
Roosevelt graduates are not only making a difference at not-for-profits close to home. Some, like Renate Schneider (MA, ’00), are improving lives and communities in other parts of the world.
“We are committed to giving students international experiences that frequently include opportunities for civic engagement and transformational learning,” said Chris Chulos, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, which recently expanded course offerings with an international travel component. “We want them to be ready to go out into the world and become change agents,” he said.
Founder and president of a non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Haitian Connection, Schneider has been helping others in Haiti since 2003 when she went there as a Catholic missionary, becoming one of the only foreigners to remain in the country after a coup d’etat that forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti.
The Roosevelt graduate, who speaks five languages fluently, helped start a college in northern Haiti where she is vice rectrice, the University of Nouvelle Grand’Anse, which graduated its first class of 86 last summer. After the earthquake, she also put Haitians to work building houses for needy women and their children.
Remembering what matters
Alumni like TJ Saye (IMC, ’97) are crusaders for causes they created.
“I remember TJ coming to me after my husband’s funeral in 2012 and saying, ‘Let’s start something in his memory,’” said Illinois Appellate Court Judge Mary Schostok, who is immediate past president of the Illinois Judges Association. Her late husband, Michael, a prominent Chicago lawyer and former president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, had just died at 51 years of age from an inoperable brain tumor known as a glioblastoma.
“All of us wanted to keep his memory alive, but TJ is the one who had the vision for Michael Matters,” said Schostok of the not-for-profit started by Saye, who is also chief operating officer of the Chicago law firm where Michael Schostok was a partner.
Michael Matters has raised nearly $80,000 and is currently working with NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center, where Schostok was treated, to provide emergency grants, frequently in the last days of life, to those with glioblastomas and limited means.
“TJ had a clear vision from the start for where he wanted the foundation to go,” said Schostok. “He perceived that Michael wanted to help those he met at the hospital who couldn’t afford the kind of care that we could, and I will always be grateful to TJ for making my husband’s wishes become a reality.”
Roosevelt Develops Leaders
Roosevelt graduates leading nonprofits share more than a commitment to service. They also possess leadership abilities their Roosevelt education helped them develop.
“At Roosevelt, I gained perspective on things like fundraising and grantwriting and also came to understand the different voices that not-for-profits need to use in order to reach their audiences,” said Rodriguez of Changing Worlds, who received a certificate in Nonprofit Management from the University in 1998 and a bachelor’s in Communications in 2000. He is currently working on a Master’s in Business Administration at Roosevelt.
“I can’t tell you how important the education I received at Roosevelt has been,” said Saye, who has used skills he learned in the Master of Integrated Marketing Communication program to run both his law firm and Michael Matters. “My Roosevelt experience has been an incredible blessing and I don’t think I’d be where I’m at today without it.”
Petitti said his Master’s in Public Administration degree opened him to a new way of thinking that has been essential in his work at the Koinonia Foundation. “When I used to sell a million-dollar lab instrument to someone, all I would think about was the money I’d be making,” he said. “Roosevelt helped me see the importance of serving others, to the point where I find myself asking every day, ‘Have you helped enough people?’ It’s humbling.”
“Roosevelt helped me see the importance of serving others, to the point where I find myself asking every day, ‘Have you helped enough people?’”
– Robert Petitti (BS, ’80; MPA, ’13)
“Roosevelt helped me find my way as a nonprofit professional,” added West, a Bachelor’s of Psychology graduate who wanted to go to medical school, before switching to nonprofit leadership at the Will-Grundy Clinic and other organizations due to family issues. “Not only did my professors encourage me to give back, they taught me that helping others has real value that adds stability to communities and furthers society as a whole.”
Schneider, who works in Haiti, also studied psychology as a graduate international student. “Roosevelt always was a welcoming place for global learners,” said Schneider, who came from Germany to attend Roosevelt. “I gained an understanding for who I am and my professors prepared me to stand on my own feet, enabling me to wear many hats and to take on leadership roles that I probably wouldn’t have had in the United States or Germany.”
With an estimated 1.5 million not-for-profit organizations and an industry that is growing by about 2 percent annually, according to the Johns Hopkins study, the sky is the limit on where Roosevelt graduates can go in the not-for-profit sector.
Roosevelt’s Howard said that one-third of people leading nonprofits are Baby Boomers. “As they retire and as governments continue to pull back from providing human services, our young students will have multiple opportunities in the nonprofit sector,” she said.