When teaching her Honors Business TIDES Class, Professor Ashley Nelson encourages students to have challenging conversations and develop their skills in real-world situations, a unique opportunity for first-year Honors students. Nelson, a Professor of Practice in Business and Legal Studies, achieves this by giving her students the freedom to collaborate and pursue their interests while engaging in academic discussion and service learning. Her Honors classes involve “a lot less lecture,” instead using assignments like pop-up presentations, in which students contribute their information to a conversation about their reading. She says, “people start really talking and it kicks off an excellent conversation.” This kind of experience is a key component of fostering an Honors community, and Professor Nelson facilitates these discussions with intelligence and ease.
One of the most compelling elements of Professor Nelson’s “More Than Just Business” course is the emphasis on service learning. She began collaborating with her service partner, Upturn Arts New Orleans, seven years ago. Upturn Arts New Orleans teaches children in the community about dance, music, theater, creative writing, and other arts with the goals of building their self-esteem and honing their problem-solving skills. Her students help the organization raise money to give arts scholarships to local children through assisting in the planning and execution of various projects and fundraising events that vary based on the students’ strengths and the organization’s need. Last year, they helped raise close to $60,000, the equivalent of roughly 800 scholarships. Nelson says that when her “students see this impact, they understand that the contribution that they make has meaning.”
She initially chose to partner with Upturn Arts because a student in her Social Media class had volunteered with the organization and Nelson was “really overwhelmed by how open Dana [Reed, Executive Director of Upturn Arts] was and allowed the student to work with her and trusted her.” This close collaboration continues in the Honors TIDES course, as both Professor Nelson and Dana Reed invite students to volunteer in ways that match their interests and strengthen their unique skills. For example, a student who enjoys and has a talent for writing may write articles for the organization’s website, while another who prefers working with statistics, data, or finances may work in those areas.
Through her continued collaboration with Upturn Arts, Professor Nelson has created a cycle of substantive and intellectually rigorous service among her students. She says “many times, students go back for an internship with her for their second tier, and we promote that heavily. [Reed] will ask a student to be an unpaid intern in the spring, and that student becomes the liaison to my class.” Students from Professor Nelson’s class have also pursued paid positions in Upturn Arts. She encourages her students to “really get tied to the organization,” in order to establish this network of students and community members.
This semester, Professor Nelson’s students are working on a unique assignment in which they create an original project for students to do during art camp at Upturn Arts. She says, “It’s just like business: you come up with an idea, you write it up, you make a presentation, you make a pitch, then you do it. That's the real world.” In this sense, Professor Nelson’s course embodies the spirit of the Honors Program by challenging students to apply their knowledge from readings to real-world scenarios while working creatively and collaboratively.