AC Students Prepare Grant Applications;
Bring in Millions for Local Nonprofits
SHERMAN, TEXAS— Sierra Thomas, an Austin College senior from Melissa, Texas, is one of 13 summer interns working with area nonprofits through Austin College’s SEPA program (Social Entrepreneurship for Poverty Alleviation). Students selected for the internship are paired with approved agencies to write grants for operational needs.
The SEPA program, directed by Austin College political science professor Nathan Bigelow, helps students engage in the local community and collaborate with local nonprofit agencies by focusing on grant writing as an entrepreneurial endeavor, teaching technical aspects of grant writing and providing hands-on grant writing experience. Since its beginning in 2013, SEPA grant writers have earned almost $5M for area nonprofits.
Thomas, a history major with a minor in psychology, hopes to become a teacher after completing her master’s degree in teaching at Austin College. She says her SEPA placement at the Pottsboro Library has helped prepare her for her last year of undergraduate studies.
Grant writing requires extensive research and clear writing skills to be successful in a bid for resources. “There’s so much research involved with these grants,” Thomas said. “We have to pull in things that make them want to give us the money. Just saying ‘give us the money,’ is not going to do it,” she said. ““I’ve become more confident in writing and my future studies,” she says, “…sometimes I get carried away because it’s just so interesting. It’s fun!”
With her SEPA partner, Pottsboro library project manager Renee Nichols, Thomas has prepared grant applications for two projects for which she is particularly excited: to purchase up to five drones for high school students’ use to be certified as drone pilots upon completion of high school; and to purchase up to three specialized robots that use Artificial Intelligence to assist with teaching students who have autism.
“Doing the research for the AI robot taught me a lot,” she said. “I’m a psych minor, but I’m also going into education, so it really tied into both.”
Some students continue their research after the summer with a SEPA Plus project. “Honestly, the work has made me realize how libraries are changing, and that’s why I want to do the SEPA Plus project [in the fall] with research on that topic. Coming here, they offer so much, and I didn’t realize so many libraries are moving toward technology and health.”
Other 2023 SEPA partner organizations include Big Five Community Services, Boys and Girls Club Oklahoma, Callie Clinic, CASA, Fannin Health Clinic, Salvation Army, Sherman Community Players, Sherman Symphony, Texoma Council of Governments, Texoma Roller Derby, and Women Rock.