TUSCALOOSA, ALA.— The Culverhouse Learning Initiative and Financial Training (LIFT) program takes students and the West Alabama community one step further. How does it do that? Culverhouse LIFT works by connecting students in the Culverhouse College of Commerce at The University of Alabama with members of the community in a classroom setting, sharing critical job and professional development skills. And in return, Culverhouse students become better project managers, an ability that will benefit them when they enter the workforce after graduation.
Created in 2014, Culverhouse LIFT was created as a joint initiative between the Culverhouse College of Commerce Dean’s Office and the School of Accountancy. It aims to improve job skills in the adult, teen, and veteran populations in West Alabama through the use of University of Alabama resources and student and faculty talent.
Culverhouse LIFT provides community members with free one-on-one job skill and financial literacy training with one of the over 350 Culverhouse student volunteers. Included in those trainings are GED classes, professional development classes, and Microsoft Excel and Word classes in beginner and intermediate.
“I watched as the University kept getting better and better. We were going up in rankings, enrollment was growing–everything was going so well,” said Culverhouse Accounting Lecturer, Lisa McKinney, CPA. “We were doing so well, but the communities around us were in extreme poverty and there is a disconnect between [the University] and those communities.”
The value proposition of Culverhouse LIFT is clear, explains McKinney: “It’s a one-on-one tutoring relationship between the student and the participant and because it’s so intimate, the speed of learning is astronomically high as opposed to a class because every minute is for you.”
Culverhouse LIFT operates in nearby towns and cities such as Greensboro and Birmingham, high schools and housing communities in the Tuscaloosa area, as well as the local VA Medical Center. There are two sessions a year within the program: fall and spring. During each session participants and the student volunteers meet for nine weeks for 75 minutes per class.
“I learned about [Culverhouse] LIFT through Central High School, the school I work at,” Linda Horn, a community participant, said. “[LIFT] taught me things that I didn’t know and I can now apply those skills to my everyday life. The QuickBooks and Finance classes help me budget and save money. And I enjoy the young men and women that teach our class. I learn a lot from them.”
This year, the program started operations at the Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent, Alabama. At the facility, inmates who are about to be released learn how to use computers, answer interview questions, and create resumes.
“The inmates we work with are so grateful,” said McKinney. “They are the most attentive students I’ve ever had.”
Not only does the West Alabama community benefit from Culverhouse LIFT, the University students benefit as well. Culverhouse LIFT is a student-run program with over 350 class leaders and volunteers. With the program, student are able to take what they learn in the classroom, such as management skills and critical thinking, and apply it during the training sessions.
“As a class leader, I love the many challenges that come with running a class, and finding ways to improve the experience for people who attend the classes semester after semester,” Alec Van Wagnen, a senior majoring in Accounting, said. “Usually I am someone who prefers to have a plan and stick to that plan. However, LIFT can require you to think on your feet in order to make classes successful, from troubleshooting computers to coordinating volunteer-participant pairings, and numerous other problems.”
Both the students and communities have found success through the Culverhouse LIFT program.
“So many students participate because they want to participate. And they enjoy it,” said McKinney. “I hear all the time [from students], ‘I love this’.”
“Everybody wants to be of value,” she said. “It sounds corny but everybody wants to make the world a tiny bit better than making it worse.”
Want to get involved?
To get involved, contact Lisa McKinney at firstname.lastname@example.org. All donations to LIFT are used to directly benefit community participants, funding resources that include student support, laptops, and computer program licenses. The program is also seeking speakers who can share business insights. For information on program support, contact Dr. Rich Houston at email@example.com.