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Student Experiences

Student-Run Grantwell Program Makes an Impact

In today’s faculty-advised, student-run Grantwell program, students consult with real clients on real projects.

BYU Marriott’s Grantwell program gives graduate-level students experience providing pro-bono consulting to nonprofit and philanthropic entities, including major donors. The class sprang from inspiration during a meeting among professors more than a decade ago, according to Aaron Miller, founder of the program and now associate managing director of BYU Marriott’s Ballard Center for Social Impact.

“There wasn’t anything like it then, and there’s still nothing like it,” says Miller. “I’ve been to conferences focused on philanthropy education, and there are professors attending who are teaching courses that give away up to $10,000, while our program is advising tens of thousands of dollars in any given year.” In fact, by the time Miller stepped down as faculty director, more than 200 BYU Marriott graduate students had advised on almost $40 million in giving.

In today’s faculty-advised, student-run Grantwell program, students consult with real clients on real projects to solidify the theoretical knowledge the students acquire in the classroom. Grantwell clients set aside grant allocation, evaluation, and strategy projects for student teams to undertake, and students work in consulting roles, delivering professional results and recommendations that guide the clients’ organizations.

There are two parts to the program, explains Emilie Cairns, an adjunct professor for the Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics who currently teaches the Grantwell class and facilitates the program. Some 20 students meet in class every week, where they learn key principles and ideals surrounding the grant allocation process, and then those students manage teams of student volunteers that execute on clients’ projects.

In today’s faculty-advised, student-run Grantwell program, students consult with real clients on real projects.


According to Cairns, the program’s impact is capturing the attention of those in the nonprofit sphere. “More and more companies are coming to us asking if they can be part of Grantwell,” Cairns says. “They’re seeing the incredible value these students bring to their philanthropic efforts, and they want to be part of that.

“One of the things I like most about Grantwell is watching the students take charge,” Cairns continues. “It’s an amazing experience to see them grow into that senior-officer—and sometimes even executive-level—position as they become the lead point person for their projects. It’s a powerful way for students to learn that they are capable and ready to go out and make a dent in the world in the sectors they’re interested in.”

Andrew Marshall, a 2010 MPA grad, couldn’t agree more. “I gained practical leadership skills as the executive director of Grantwell,” says Marshall, who participated in the program for two years. “I learned everything from vision-setting to engaging students in meaningful work to resolving conflicts to managing external stakeholders—Grantwell helped set the foundation for my work in nonprofit leadership, something I continue to draw from more than 10 years later.”

Currently the vice president of leadership development at Partnership for Public Service, Marshall has also served on the board for the Grantwell program. “Grantwell is what first attracted me to BYU Marriott and the MPA program,” he adds. “It served as my strongest springboard going from grad school into the world of work. I believe that Grantwell has a unique ability to at once transform the students and the world around them.”

—Kellene Ricks Adams