Class gives IU students real-world experience helping the community

Arpita Bala has a good reason for wanting to do well in her Acquiring and Managing External Funds for Health and Human Services class this semester.

“The big thing for me is we are not doing this work just to get a grade and pass the course,” said Bala, who is working toward a master’s degree in public health administration. “We are doing something for the community and for the people.”

That something is helping a community organization that focuses on youth substance abuse prevention apply for a federal grant to help keep their program going.

The Acquiring and Managing External Funds for Health and Human Services class, through the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, pairs 17 students with eight community agencies throughout the state.

The students help prepare a grant through the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, which provides $125,000 a year for five years to agencies focusing on substance abuse prevention, with a potential for an additional five years.

Students in grant class

IU student Arpita Bala, middle, during the Acquiring and Managing External Funds for Health and Human Services class. Photo by IU Communications.

Bala and her team are working with Johnson County’s Communities That Care. Michelle McMahon is coordinator of the program whose focus is changing the perception among youth about the dangers of alcohol, drug and tobacco use.

“We have a lot of family conflict and low perceived risk of drug use,” McMahon said. “So we have a lot of kids that are saying ‘I’m not going to get in trouble or I’m not going to get hurt if I drink alcohol or smoke marijuana or use tobacco before I legally should.’ So we are trying to change that perception, using some positive norming campaigns. We are trying to show kids who are making good decisions, who are not going out and using alcohol and drugs, but instead are finding other alternatives to have fun.”

The Johnson County program is funded through the state’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction. McMahon said that working with IU has given them the opportunity to potentially receive funding they might not have otherwise.

“This is a huge benefit for us,” she said. “We talked about applying for this grant, but it’s federal funding, so it’s its own kind of animal. So any help we can get, any kind of outside resources, is wonderful. This money can help us sustain what we have already started with Communities That Care.”

In addition to serving as a resource for community agencies, the funding class also serves as a great benefit to students, said class instructor Jeanie Alter, a research associate with IU.

students in grant class

IU students work with Michelle McMahon, coordinator of Johnson County’s Communities That Care program. Photo by IU Communications

First, students learn the ins and outs of writing a grant, which can be highly detailed and time consuming. It also provides them real-world experience they wouldn’t receive from a textbook.

“It gives them an opportunity to really practice their skills in a real-life setting,” Alter said. “They are working with a real agency who’s applying for a real grant, and they have real needs. So it is giving them the opportunity to learn in an environment that not only mimics what they will be encountering as professionals but is a real-life experience that agencies find themselves in where they need to write grants to support their efforts.”

Bala, who was a little overwhelmed at first at the size of the grant, said that working with McMahon has been a great learning experience.

Although grant recipients will not be announced until the spring, Bala said she is keeping her fingers crossed that her team’s work will prove successful for Johnson County.

“If we get this grant, we will be really proud because all of our hard work will have paid off,” she said.

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