Vanderbilt SCNO kicks off first annual speaker series with focus on nonprofit leadership and impact

The event brings 15 social impact leaders to campus virtually this spring; organizers cite hopes to widen Vanderbilt pre-professional focus to include nonprofit work.

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WeDo Program Manager Tara Daniels presents on the intersections of feminism and climate justice at a March 15 SCNO event. Screenshot taken of Zoom event. (Hustler Staff/Emma Mattson)

Emma Mattson, Copy Editor

The Vanderbilt chapter of Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations (SCNO) launched its first speaker series this March, bringing a total of 15 nonprofit and social impact leaders to speak virtually on topics ranging from healthcare to sustainability. 

The first two events of the four-part series drew approximately 60 attendees and 45 attendees respectively, per Nonprofit Speaker Series committee head Ben Wong. The last two events in the speaker series, scheduled for March 29 and April 12 respectively, will bring in social impact leaders to discuss environment and awareness, then impactful leadership and involvement. In the culminating event, SCNO will host speakers from Boston Consulting Group, the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Vanderbilt students can register for the events here

For Wong, who also serves as SCNO director of client relations and partnerships, hosting a speaker series offered a way to connect the larger Vanderbilt community with the nonprofit sphere in Nashville. 

“There’s maybe only 40 Vanderbilt students in our organization at a time doing work, so I really wanted to connect the Vanderbilt community to the nonprofit community in a more community-led manner,” Wong said. “That’s the underlying spark of this speaker series.”

Per senior Vasi Argeroplos, who co-leads the speaker series committee alongside Wong, the events also aim to expand career expectations for Vanderbilt students.

“Our main goal of the speaker series is to inspire the student body to either go into nonprofits, start a social enterprise or even just whatever they decide to do, have them want to give back with what they’re doing,” Argeroplos said. 

Per Wong, Vanderbilt’s pre-professional culture often overlooks nonprofit careers because students believe the work is low-paying or don’t see how their industry connects to the nonprofit world.

“Our culture [is] very pre-professional, and a lot of people go into medicine, business and the like,” Wong said. “The nonprofit realm is still not really recognized. We wanted to elevate that so that Vanderbilt students can see that that is also another option to enter in terms of a career.”

Series attendees will also gain access to a collection of internship resources the speakers have shared from within their organizations, Wong said. 

“I decided to attend this speaker series as a way to broaden my horizons on issues I don’t deal with on the day-to-day,” sophomore Shahar Hartman said in an email to The Hustler, following the second event. “By going to each one, I am able to carve out the time to round out my education.”

Senior Samantha Speer serves as SCNO’s managing director. Though she wasn’t involved in planning the event, she added that her experience working with nonprofits over the past three years convinced her how important talks like these can be. 

“I have been able to see how incredible non-profit leaders, their ideas, and their experiences [are],” Speer said in a message to The Hustler. “So, I was super excited about this series that showcases their areas of expertise and exposes the Vanderbilt community to nonprofit work.”

The speakers are currently all giving their time on a pro-bono basis, but Wong expressed hope for the future of the organization, including the ability to fly future speakers out to campus and provide programming to enhance their experiences. 

“We’re excited to flagship this [event] this year,” Wong said. “Unfortunately, we can’t do it in person, but the fact that a lot of people came to our first one and [we’re] hopefully going to get a lot of people over the next few sessions already shows Vanderbilt’s interest into the nonprofit space.”