SOLES Spotlight PhD Leadership Studies student, Colton Strawser.


hi my name is Colton Strasser I’m a PhD
student in leadership studies specializing in nonprofit management in
leadership at SOLES I’m also a doctoral research system and I’m prof Institute
and a research fellow in the Mulvaney Center for community awareness and
social action so I first got involved in philanthropy
when I was in middle school and a youth that philanthropy grant-making council
what we did is we received money from a local foundation and as the youth of the
community decided what youth programs would be funded and so that was sort of
my first introduction to grant making and to communal Anthropy and from then
it just kept going and going and going when I was completing high school one of
my mentors said hey did you know you can get a degree in this and I’m like nope
tell me more and I went in gaad’s my undergraduate
degree at the Lilly Family School philanthropy in philanthropic studies
from there I discovered oh you can actually research this stuff not only
can you do as a career you can also research and teach it and so and then
got a master’s in online teaching and also a masters and nonprofit management
and as as completing my second master’s degree I started looking at different
PhD programs that fully sort of focused on nonprofit there aren’t many of them
and a University of San Diego came up and an internet search and also I met
some alumni at a conference that really encouraged me to apply and so the rest
is sort of history I’ve been here two and a half years now I work in the
nonprofit Institute that was really important to me that the university not
only taught nonprofit but really fully researched it as well and so I applied
to three different programs that sort of met this criteria and then have been
working and community philanthropy and actually engaging with in higher
education ever since so the nonprofit entity has been really
an important place for me and souls both as a student and as a researcher I think
the nonprofit Institute sometimes like the best-kept secret at the University
as well as in the community in general our research is well known throughout
the field we’re the only University to publish an
annual State about profits and philanthropy report which is a lot of
work I’m fortunate enough to work on that project annually and we recently
released the third one that I’ve worked on but we’ve been doing it for many many
years and so my role there is doing a lot of community partnerships and
community programming which is great because that’s also what I study and so
I both have two different tracks in my research one being community
philanthropy and community foundations the other one being higher education
institutions engage with their communities and so it’s been really
interesting to grow these programs since working at nonprofit entity I’ve worked
with over 500 nonprofits in the community and so we’re really fortunate
to have such a thriving nonprofit sector within our community that you know
respects the province to and invites us and to help with different capacity
building needs and they so for my dissertation I’m looking at
how Community Foundation’s in California effectively engaged with their
communities that how they receive feedback how they make these grant
making decisions and recently the Ford Foundation put out a call for proposals
for research grants to look at what’s called participatory grant making or
essentially how they’re engaging multiple voices or the recipients of the
grant funding within the decision-making process and so I decided to apply I was
fortunate enough to receive the funding that will help me with my dissertation
without the $40,000 grant I would have been able to do the level of community
engage research I wanted to do because it’s often very time intensive includes
traveling and then a variety of other things a non-profit data is really messy
data and it costs a lot both in time and resources to download that data analyze
it request them in some cases like last week I was hand typing in 990 forms
because the nonprofit sectors data is just not up to par we’re sort of
government data our corporate data might be and so it’s a hard sector to research
but at the end of the day our findings are having profound impact on
communities and so I really wanted to go and do that you know you have one chance
to write a dissertation and so I wanted mine to be as in-depth as possible and
giving back not only to the field of academia but also giving back to
community foundations to give them insights into their own practices on how
they engage with their communities more
effectively with them a ph.d program self-care is important but everyone’s
like really bad at it every conference I’ve gone to I’ve gone to sessions on
self-care and they’re like yeah we’re not that great and so with my version of
what that looks like is finding people that have sort of similar research
interests and passions as you and then having them remind you that you need to
take a self-care so I have a couple of research mentors of different
universities that help me and navigate things helped me think through projects
so they’re not as overbearing and overcut cumbersome one self-care thing
that I do is baking puzzles painting just anything created that gets my mind
and a different space and using a different part of the brain also like
most college students Netflix and other types of things just you know you have
to remind yourself to take a break because if you over you know if you
overuse your brain you’re not gonna get as much power out of it and so that’s
sort of my strategy is you know take some creative time to not think about
sort of the research and ironically that’s sometimes when I get my best
research ideas is when I’m not thinking about research sometimes they’ll just
pop in write them down go back to my puzzle and then come revisit it later in terms of folks I’ve been influential
and both my research personal and professional life
first and foremost Jenna with the deco Foundation and she was the one that
introduced me to philanthropy as a career to the school philanthropy that I
could do these different things and I still talk to her frequently and so
she’s been a big mentor my dissertation chair dr. Hans Peter Schmitz within the
leadership Studies department keeps me grounded you could say and he would
laugh at that and then also the nonprofit’s Tituba stopped there dr.
Emily young dr. war dietrich have really pushed me to think about nonprofit
research a non-profit sector in different ways and then also some
researchers through our nova specifically critical or nova has been
really important to me I’m thinking about the nonprofit sector from sort of
a power perspective and how philanthropy can either wield power in a good way or
in a dangerous way and so those groups have been very influential and shaping
my thinking and how I’ve heard my research so my next step after I graduated from
those Souls is my goals to get a faculty position I really enjoy teaching I’ve
taught for the last couple semesters online to undergrads it’s been really
fun but I want to continue my research and continue teaching I’m also working
on the book right now about how to operate a small nonprofit within the
United States the most um profits are super small kitchen table organizations
working in their community yeah all the resources are talking about you know a
marketing department our fundraising department and oftentimes those are one
person plus the janitor and everything else that you need to run an
organization and so I think it’s really important that we do more research and
more writing about small nonprofit organizations and the large impact that
they’re having on their communities and that’s sort of where I see myself both
in teaching training writing and research as well

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