As an award-winning lecturer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Melinda Sopher has certainly had a positive impact on her students. What may be more surprising, however, is the number of lives she has touched beyond her classroom walls, thanks to the service-learning course she teaches and her personal commitment to volunteering.
An expert in nonprofit leadership and sustainability, Sopher teaches an upper-level communication course titled Nonprofit Leadership and Development, an immersive experience that requires students to commit 30 hours in service at a local nonprofit organization during the 16-week semester. In the last semester alone, 27 students put in nearly 1,000 hours of service and raised more than $62,000 for the nonprofits they served.
“I have found that students can rise to and exceed their potential when they make informed decisions with full access to available resources and a little support,” said Sopher, who has been named the Outstanding Communication Department Faculty Member three times and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Academic Advisor of the Year during her career at NC State.
Her students have surely exceeded expectations. Over the years, nearly 275 students have helped 50 local community partner agencies to raise more than $600,000 and have given at least 12,000 hours in service learning to the community, benefitting organizations such as Pretty in Pink Foundation, American Red Cross, Special Olympics North Carolina, and many more.
As an actively involved student at Wittenberg, Sopher, who is from Grove City, Pennsylvania, found resources that helped to feed her passion for volunteer work.
“Wittenberg instilled a caring and encouraging balance of challenge and support during my time there,” Sopher said. “I have used that model in my work.”
As an undergraduate, Sopher served as a student representative for The Commission on Mission and Priorities, was active in Kappa Delta Sorority and Panhellenic and Greek Councils, worked as a student administrative assistant for the Department of Political Science, and gave hours of hands-on service to efforts in the Springfield community, as well as several philanthropic projects.
For Sopher, volunteer work stems from her belief that the world is in need and that every human owes the world some sort of service. Putting that belief into action, she shares her leadership skills by serving on the boards of several organizations, including the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, United Cerebral Palsy of SE Virginia, and Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce Leadership HR. She also volunteers her time with Kappa Delta Sorority, Habitat for Humanity, National Inclusion Project, American Red Cross, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and others nonprofits.
She was honored by the naming of the Outstanding Panhellenic Sorority Award as 'the SOPHER CUP' and receiving 'The Order of the Long Leaf Pine' from the governor of North Carolina for her service to others in 2010, and while Sopher is humbled by these accolades, she is most proud of surviving cancer four times.
Having explored her interest in volunteer work as an undergraduate, she now has the opportunity to aid students who are also finding their place in the world of nonprofits. She advises students to be open to as many possibilities that come their way.
“Serve any way you can, especially in different agencies and for different causes that will stretch your vision, outlook, and comfort level,” Sopher said. “‘Nonprofit’ does not mean ‘no profit.’ A person can make a good living in the sector and help change the world for the better at the same time.”
Sopher earned her B.A. in political science at Wittenberg and an M.A. in higher education administration from Bowling Green State University. She is currently working toward a doctorate at NC State University.
- By Kim Estenson ’19, Office of University Communications