What’s it like to be a new student at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy?
Topher Anderson is finding out now. The Marian University graduate began the in-person master’s degree program on Monday, beginning his journey studying philanthropy. Anderson will also serve as a McKinney Fellow during his time on campus.
He came to philanthropy a roundabout way, though.
“As a Christian, one of the important things you can do is care for others around you. So, I spent my first three years of undergraduate school at Marian planning and studying to become a doctor,” he said.
“However, between my sophomore and junior years, I read an encyclical (an explanation of doctrine for the Christian community) by Pope Francis that stated that everyone has a moral obligation to care for the environment. You can take care of others through other ways, but if a person can’t live off of the land they live on, everything else is just temporary relief.”
With this mindset, Anderson moved forward to create a group focused on sustainability at Marian.
“We wanted to figure out how to work on sustainability issues at Marian. I fell in love with it – the community organization, the lobbying with administration, making plans and implementing them, etc. The administration was so receptive and willing to work with us that it was so empowering to be involved,” he explained.
When his senior year rolled around, Anderson realized that he did not want to become a doctor anymore.
“I realized that for me, I felt like I could really make a difference in the nonprofit sector. From my experiences at Marian, I realized that I loved coming up with good solutions and then implementing them in partnership with others,” he said.
After graduating in 2017, he began a year’s term as a Governor’s Fellow, spending three months each in four different areas of state government.
“It’s been an important educational opportunity. I’ve gotten an inside look on working on legislation and how policy gets passed,” Anderson said. “The time working in that space also gave me the skills to be a bridge between the government and their constituents through the nonprofit sector.”
Anderson has also been volunteering with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nationally-run but locally organized group that works on passing bipartisan environmental solutions through Congress.
“I knew when I graduated I needed to put my energy somewhere,” he said. “So, I started volunteering there, and I’ve been co-leading the group for about 10 months now.”
When he first heard about the master’s degree program at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and the McKinney Fellowship that focuses on environmental causes in particular, Anderson knew he had found the perfect program. He’s excited to return to school and learn more about philanthropic studies.
“I’ve realized since I’ve been accepted how little I know about the philanthropic world,” he said. “I started reading the Nonprofit Quarterly recently and realized that there’s so much knowledge about the sector out there. I have this drive now to go do something and I’m excited to have the tools to understand the system to do that.”
With his science background, Anderson is also excited to be a bridge with lab and content experts and others.
“I love data, and I enjoy popularizing it and helping people understand it outside of a lab setting,” he said. “My science background has taught me how to understand how to engage with those in a lab, but my community-organizing experience has shown me how to communicate that information and work with both sides in order to understand important data.”
And his future path?
“I’m hoping first to gain familiarity and knowledge about nonprofits and the philanthropic sector. Then, it’s a question mark. I’m focused on this opportunity. It aligned so perfectly with what I love doing now that I’m just excited to see what will happen in the near future.”
Anderson is just one of many new graduate students at the school. Check out our blog posts over the next few months as we highlight these unique individuals.