When Communication Arts major Isle Jerez signed up for Advanced Public Speaking this past Fall, she had no idea that it would rekindle a spark ignited years before and pay off in a big way for her future. On the first day of class, she listened as her professor, Elena Nuciforo, explained the course’s philanthropic theme and the students’ initial multi-week assignment to select, research, and present a pitch for a South Florida-based charity/non-profit of their choosing. She was excited to learn that she and her classmates would be participating in a unique exercise in philanthropic pedagogy. They would award a worthy charitable organization with a $25,000 gift, thanks to the generosity of both a current and a former FIU student: Herb Gruber and Donna Steffens (’06). (See “Donors’ Gift Creates Student Philanthropists.”)
Jerez immediately thought of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, which she had first heard about a number of years earlier in an introductory public speaking class. That speech, and the organization, had stayed in her mind, and she wondered if they had a branch in South Florida. She soon discovered that they not only have a South Florida presence, the national headquarters is located in Boca Raton. With her agency selection completed and approved, she began her research online. She reacquainted herself with the charity’s mission and history, discovering that they pioneered the “speedy swab” method of collecting DNA to determine potential donors’ compatibility. She was surprised to find out that although family members represent the best chance for a bone marrow match for someone in need of a transplant, the odds are only 30% that a family member will actually be a match. Thus, the national bone marrow registry that the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation maintains and a large pool of candidates is crucial for those in need.
As part of her preparation to pitch her chosen organization, Jerez wanted to review financial data on the donations the Bone Marrow Foundation receives and how those donations are spent. Although she had found the website to be very transparent, she still had some questions so she went straight to the top; she emailed Gregg Francis, the Chief Operations and Financial Officer. He returned her email and they spoke by phone. He invited her to visit their headquarters and he offered to provide information and answer her questions.
Jerez says that when she finished interviewing Francis, he began interviewing her. She told him about the connection between his Foundation and her public speaking curriculum – past and present – and she shared that she had always been interested in health and wellness, and had originally considered pursuing a health-related major. She felt the pull to make an impact and decided that she could best do that as an advocate. Still uncertain, she sought advice and when her sister told her to “do something you love and the rest will fall into place,” she changed her major to Communication Arts. After spending time with her, Francis was so impressed with Jerez, he offered her a paid summer internship with the national organization right there and then. Jerez could not believe her luck and later found out that he had 250 applications for the three summer internship positions sitting on his desk when they first met.
Although the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation was not selected as the ultimate choice for the financial award, it will benefit from the class in the form of one very energetic and ambitious student advocate. And Jerez plans to link back to the class as well, by enlisting her fellow public speakers from the Fall to assist her in an educational campaign and bone marrow donor drive at FIU as part of her work for the agency.
To learn more about philanthropic pedagogy and the Communication Arts Department courses, read “Donors’ Gift Creates Student Philanthropists.”