New Piper Servant Leader Network to expose ASU students to nonprofit career opportunities


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Working from the premise that the nonprofit sector can provide meaningful and fruitful career paths for people in nearly any profession, a grant from Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust will enable Arizona State University to engage students from multiple fields in the newly established Piper Servant Leader Network: Purpose-Driven Careers, No Matter the Major.

The announcement comes as the Maricopa County-focused philanthropic organization Piper Trust celebrates its 25th anniversary this month by making a $750,000 grant designed to increase local nonprofits’ capacity to serve society with a robust, next-generation workforce.

The investment will support ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions as it actively exposes students skilled in accounting, engineering, human resources, business development and other professions to the added purpose of enriching life for others.

The end goal is to create a pipeline of leadership for the sector’s workforce needs and increase graduates’ long-term commitment to Maricopa County nonprofit organizations, university and trust officials said. This effort is meant to complement the exceptional academics and public service expertise the Watts College is known for globally.

The grant, given as what Piper Trust called a “gift to the community” in recognition of its 25th year, was made to the ASU Foundation for a New American University and will support a three-credit, service-learning companion course for each of the 100 students participating per year.

Throughout the two-year program, students will be placed and serve with local nonprofit organizations through volunteer hours and a separate one-semester internship, for which they will receive a stipend. They also will complete an introduction to nonprofit organizations course and receive micro-credentials in the form of badges suitable for posting online or including on a resume.

University and trust officials said they recognize nonprofits’ essential role to meet basic needs while responding to emerging issues, especially regarding society’s most vulnerable people. At the same time, Arizona faces a workforce shortage when looking to fill open positions in nonprofit organizations, particularly in the most heavily populated areas of Maricopa County.

As the region has grown, so have the social, health, educational and financial needs of children, youth, adults and families in the community.

Portrait of Steve Zabilski.
Piper Trust President and CEO Steve Zabilski

The investment from Piper Trust will enable the Watts College to leverage the assets of the university and lead students on a journey from exposure and hands-on experience to ultimately securing professional careers in the nonprofit sector, said Piper Trust President and CEO Steve Zabilski.

“As the trust reflected on its investments in the community over the past 25 years, what immediately came to mind are the people leading and running the operations of our nonprofits. They are heroes who provide services and experiences that are very often transformative for others,” Zabilski said.

“The Piper Servant Leader Network gets to the heart of Virginia Piper’s message that ‘here in this world, we all have an opportunity to do good things on a daily basis for others,’ and that the work of nonprofits ‘is a responsibility of a truly high calling in human affairs and human relations,’” he said.

Through creating a “pipeline of leadership,” the network intends to help students with a wide array of skill sets see nonprofits and the vital work they do from the inside out.

Portriat of Cynthia Lietz.
Watts College Dean Cynthia Lietz

In the final stages of their Piper Servant Leader Network experience, students will be invited to enroll in the nationally recognized Certified Nonprofit Professional program, which ASU’s Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation and School of Community Resources and Development implement at ASU.

Watts College Dean and President’s Professor Cynthia Lietz said she is honored to partner with Piper Trust in such an important endeavor.

“As someone who started my career working for a nonprofit organization, I have a deep understanding about just how important this sector is to building more vibrant, healthy communities,” Lietz said. “It is an honor to work alongside Piper Trust to expose students from degrees outside of the Watts College to what it means to be purpose-driven by working, volunteering or financially investing in a nonprofit organization serving our local community.”

Portrait of Gretchen Buhlig.
ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig

Gretchen Buhlig, the ASU Foundation’s chief executive officer, said the foundation is deeply grateful for the trust’s unwavering support for advancing the ASU Charter to improve the lives of its students and the communities it serves.

“This generous grant will empower ASU students to meet the growing demand for social and health services provided by nonprofit organizations,” Buhlig said. “By providing them with the nonprofit exposure and experience they need, ASU is helping to shape the future leaders of an industry that is vital to the well-being of our growing community.” 

“ASU and its Watts College continue to demonstrate their ability to innovate, create solutions and advance society — and as such, Piper Trust is honored to be a partner and has great confidence in the potential of this new program for our nonprofit sector,” Zabilski said.

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