By Catherine Sengel
It’s a Friday afternoon in early February and more than a dozen students are gathered in the new Idea Lab in JWU’s College of Business. Projected onto a large screen is the marketing plan they developed together for an upcoming fundraiser for Trinity Restoration Inc. (TRI), a nonprofit reshaping an historic Providence, R.I., institution. For months they’ve been meeting on weekends and evenings, emotionally invested in playing a pivotal role in the effort to create an educational center for the arts. Billy Mitchell, retired partner in advertising agency SVM — Stauch Vetromile and Mitchell — and an advisor on the assignment, watches, clearly impressed.
“It was gratifying to see the enthusiasm, creativity and professionalism the students brought to this project,” Mitchell says. “At one point I even had goosebumps!”
The Trinity project and JWU’s involvement is drawing equal excitement from students, faculty and community leaders alike. In a collaboration that is tapping the talents of every college and many departments of the Providence Campus, Trinity serves both as an educational forum and mission. Students from the College of Business are shaping marketing and public relations, technology students are structuring a database and designing websites, hospitality students are planning fundraising events and helping with grant writing and graduate students are working on strategic planning.
“We are developing a partnership with all of our stakeholders and JWU is right in the middle of it,” says Richardson Ogidan, executive director of Trinity Restoration and a trustee of Trinity United Methodist Church.
Community CoreFor 150 years, Trinity United Methodist Church has served as the community hub at the confluence of Elmwood and Broad Streets in Providence, R.I. Trinity Square — named in 1875 for the church of Scottish, Irish and English immigrants — is bordered by Elmwood, Southside and West End neighborhoods. In 1914 an annex was added to house a parish hall and what became at one time the largest Sunday school in New England. In the decades that followed, the church opened its spaces to a soup kitchen, thrift shop, refugee resettlement, health fairs, arts classes, Head Start and concerts and artists of all ilks. R.I.’s world famous Trinity Repertory Company takes its name from the complex where it was founded.
Time is not kind to old buildings. Trinity’s congregation — now mostly African, Hispanic and Asian — could no longer afford to maintain both the church and the annex. In 1998, TRI was established as a 501(c)(3) to separate the church from the hall.
In dialog with a wide consortium of community leaders, engineers, architects, consultants and city hall, and with money from the Rhode Island Foundation, TRI’s board put forward a proposal to refurbish the historic building in a sustainable fashion using state-of-the-art green technologies, and turn it into an economic generator for arts education. A charter school for the performing arts would anchor operations, and weekend and afterschool arts programs would be offered for children and adults. In addition, it applied for assistance through Social Venture Partners of Rhode Island (SVPRI). Among the national nonprofit’s missions is to serve social enterprises by building cross-sector networks to provide resources the organizations need to grow.
“[Associate Professor] Peter Bortolotti was involved in Trinity before it even came to SVPRI, so we were very anxious to get this project assigned to us,” says Joanne Galenski ’96 M.S., assistant dean of the College of Business (COB). “It’s a great opportunity for our students. It’s bringing the real world into the classroom.”
In the past five years, the College of Business on the Providence Campus has begun structuring student offerings to include directed work experience — DWE. Beginning as early as freshman year and growing in depth and complexity as students mature as learners, they are given projects assisting outside companies and nonprofits to meet goals. “Not every student is going to take advantage of an internship, yet we want every student to have some type of experiential learning. Class projects and directed work experience provide the opportunity,” says Galenski. “By bringing clients into the classroom, you have 40 students that are going to work on a project for a client. That’s probably the student’s first intro to experiential learning.”
Work-Guided Education Peter Bortolotti, who teaches marketing in the College of Business, has lived on the Southside for 11 years and served as vice president working alongside Ogidan on the board of directors for Stop Wasting Abandoned Property (SWAP), at the forefront of redevelopment in Trinity’s long-blighted section of the city. When Bortolotti toured the church annex, with its 350-seat capacity theater and parking for 125 automobiles just five blocks from downtown, he immediately understood the potential of the space, and the opportunity to use its transformation as a learning tool for his students.
Since community service is also a JWU requirement, in fall 2009, Bortolotti approached Erin McCauley, JWU community service learning coordinator, about how to involve the university in Trinity’s efforts. McCauley helped organize a plan, offered project models completed by other departments and gave advice on how to bring service-learning into the classroom. “From there it basically just snowballed,” she recalls.
Before Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) opened its doors to its first 34 7th graders in September 2010, JWU students cleaned up the site and grounds, painted rooms and a mural, chose school colors, created a logo and penned the school’s slogan, “Inspired Learning for Life.” Deirdre Newbold, community service learning coordinator, enlisted aid from arts and sciences, hospitality, business and technology departments and Alan Shawn Feinstein Graduate School.
Michelle Morin, COB assistant professor teaching public relations and communications, partners with Bortolotti on the endeavor. “One of the beauties of the directed work experience is that you can have a classroom of such a collection of students,” she says. “In the real world, it’s safe to assume technology students will work alongside marketers.”
Julia Emlen, a private consultant on nonprofit fundraising and a JWU adjunct teaching philanthropy and fundraising in The Hospitality College, brought her students into the project to help with proposals and grants. “What students are seeing here they’ll see wherever they go in the nonprofit sector. Whether environmental, arts, health, social welfare or museum, there are the same issues of resources, planning, strategy. This is a good laboratory.”
Houawah Xiong ’11 agrees. With majors in both advertising and marketing communications, Xiong has worked with Trinity for a year and a half, putting in hours beyond his class requirements to create banners, flyers and brochures. He took the assignment as an added outside project to gain experience. He immediately saw Trinity Restoration’s potential. “The whole green aspect, the school and theater — I’ve always wanted to see myself help something like this grow and it actually happened,” he says excitedly. “I put in more hours than I can count, but it’s really paid off. It has been a great résumé builder and a great experience.”
For marketing major Kyle Marnane ’11, the Trinity DWE has been “a real eye-opener.” He’d already completed a directed work experience with a corporation, but working directly with children new to America, and seeing the impact of a Trinity arts workshop “was totally different,” he says. “This is more who I am.” As a result, he’s considering a community-driven career in law and public policy.
Morin sees Trinity as an opportunity for students to understand that service isn’t just about volunteering at a homeless shelter. “That work is important, but we also want them to think of service as an integral part of their profession,” Morin says. “Advertising is not all about selling Budweiser and potato chips. It also plays a vital role in helping nonprofit organizations like TRI to survive, and in turn help others in the surrounding community.”
Integrated Learning Bortolotti views the exercise as an incubator for the kind of educational model that moves away from traditional departmental silos toward integration across all disciplines, and serves students of all learning styles. “You see a student who might struggle with academics, but in a class project like this, he’s all over it and taking on leadership responsibilities. A lot of these students are more task oriented. Given a chance, they excel.”
Corporations are searching for people able to do this kind of work, he adds. “Collaboration requires a high level of emotional intelligence. Enlightened management is no longer about ‘I’m the boss; here’s what everybody does.’ It’s about teamwork,” Bortolotti says.
DWEs move beyond last century’s linear educational progression to the type of integrated creative flexibility necessary in the 21st century. “Employers don’t give much weight to grade point averages as an indicator of workforce readiness,” Bortolotti says. “A 4.0 is not necessarily indicative of employment potential in terms of the critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving and writing skills that they are seeking and requiring.”
High Impact The difference in Trinity Square has been significant thanks to JWU’s involvement, says Ogidan. “We don’t have a staff. Anything that’s been done has been done by students. The project was presented to different schools but Johnson & Wales picked it up. There’s no way I could have done this without all those people helping.”
“We’re in it for the long haul,” says McCauley. In addition to the colleges and community service learning, Facilities helped with painting and cleanup and Experiential Education & Career Services is beginning to create Trinity internships. “It’s probably one of the most far-reaching projects we’ve undertaken — the partnership that encompasses the most departments,” says McCauley.
It takes little to realize Trinity’s value to the community. Neighborhood redevelopment is progressing on a grand scale. Trinity and its theater are located at the center of community-building projects currently representing more than $100 million in investments to renovate historic Victorian mansions and build new housing units and commercial space. SWAP has made a $24.7 million investment in eight projects including 104 new housing units and commercial space directly across from the Trinity complex. Lifespan and Providence Community Health Centers are backing area development to bring 300 to 350 permanent jobs into the neighborhood.
“Those people working on building a sustainable community within the neighborhood will see this as part of a sustainable community, because now we’ve got entertainment, cultural activities, jobs and schools,” Ogidan says. TRI has gone back to the R.I. Foundation for money to create a business model and brought Emlen onboard to focus on a development strategy and action plan. Newbold, with a background in the arts, sits on the board of TAPA and McCauley is on the board of TRI. “It’s been really cool to see it grow from two summers ago when Peter and I were drawing out flow charts, and thinking, ‘This is huge.’” McCauley says.
Johnson & Wales has an extraordinary opportunity in this project, says Emlen. “What it represents is a microcosm of the best in the nonprofit sector. You see not only a mission of value, but an opportunity to connect other organizations that have missions that are not at all the same, but can work together to make an exponentially greater impact.”
Bortolotti hopes it is the first of many such collaborations. “This is the kind of project that could be a signature program. This is what Johnson & Wales is capable of.”