OU’s crowd­fund­ing site ben­e­fits stu­dents, cam­pus

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - METRO | STATE - BY PAM OL­SON For The Oklahoman

No mat­ter what the day, or the time, Nikki West is con­stantly us­ing her phone or com­puter to check progress on the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa’s of­fi­cial crowd­fund­ing web­site, “OU Thou­sands Strong.”

“If I’m sit­ting at home watch­ing Net­flix, watch­ing for the show to load, I’ll check the progress. It’s not nec­es­sary, but you get at­tached to the projects and want them to suc­ceed,” says West.

As di­rec­tor of OU’s Dig­i­tal Ini­tia­tives for Univer­sity De­vel­op­ment, West is the dig­i­tal guru for mak­ing sure it all works.

“It’s en­tre­pre­neur­ial, it’s so­cial me­dia,” West states bluntly.

West is the con­tent and web man­ager for the web­site, pow­ered by ScaleFun­der. There are no ser­vice fees and 100 per­cent of dona­tions goes to the par­tic­u­lar project. All dona­tions are tax-de­ductible.

The crowd­fund­ing project had to get of­fi­cial ap­proval from the OU Board of Re­gents and ul­ti­mately, OU Pres­i­dent David Boren. Six to nine projects are usu­ally avail­able at any given time. Projects are given 30 to 45 days to raise money be­fore they “ex­pire.”

Each project must have a fac­ulty or staff spon­sor and stu­dent lead­ers who are re­spon­si­ble for pro­mot­ing the cam­paign on so­cial me­dia or with fam­ily and friends. OU staff serve as con­sul­tants and will “hold your hand” to get the project launched, West said.

While the project is run and man­aged by stu­dents, there are strict checks and bal­ances. Money goes di­rectly to the OU Foun­da­tion, not to the stu­dents. It is then dis­trib­uted on an “as needed” ba­sis.

Ac­cept­able projects are those which di­rectly ben­e­fit the stu­dents or cam­pus com­mu­nity, such as re­search, schol­ar­ships, equip­ment, travel costs, and stu­dent-led or­ga­ni­za­tions. Not al­lowed are projects for build­ing cam­paigns, salaries or tu­ition.

Fund­ing goals are capped at $5,000.

Based on the num­ber of donors, one of the most pop­u­lar cam­paigns ben­e­fited the OU Food Pantry. That ini­tia­tive at­tracted 82 donors who con­trib­uted $4,763.

The teacher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion cam­paign raised nearly $3,000 from 31 donors.

In or­der to grad­u­ate, ed­u­ca­tion ma­jors must do their stu­dent teach­ing for one se­mes­ter, but that work is un­paid. Gregg Garn, dean of the Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion, com­pares stu­dent teach­ing to un­paid in­tern­ships.

At the same time, teach­ers must pass cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ex­ams and back­ground checks which can cost as much as $500.

And “ev­ery dol­lar mat­ters for these fu­ture teach­ers,” says Garn.

“There’s al­ways a dozen or so of our grad­u­ates that are kind of right on that fi­nan­cial line, where a cou­ple of hun­dred dol­lars may make the dif­fer­ence between be­ing able to do that, or de­lay it. It’s a game-changer. It’s def­i­nitely a big deal for a num­ber of our stu­dents.”

Mandy White, a 2016 ed­u­ca­tion grad­u­ate, was one of those stu­dents.

She had no in­come since she had been prac­tice teach­ing but needed the tests to get her teach­ing li­cense. Her first job was teach­ing kinder­garten at Ep­perly Heights ele­men­tary school in the Mid-Del school sys­tem.

White, now on ma­ter­nity leave, says get­ting the cash gift was “fi­nan­cially, a bless­ing.”

Af­ter pay­ing for the tests, she had money left over which she used to buy sup­plies for her class­room.

“For me, it was a very hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence. I didn’t go into teach­ing for the money. I went in it for the pas­sion. With the sup­port I re­ceived, this made it even more hum­bling to start my ca­reer in such a low-eco­nomic area.

“Not ev­ery stu­dent can bring the sup­plies on the sup­ply list. So I was able to pro­vide that for them,” she said.

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