How One Professor, One Student and One Class Showed that One Dollar Can Change the World.


Speech Professor, Tammy Voigt, is a favorite among students at Indiana University Southeast. With a rare 5.0 score on RateMyProfessors.com, it’s no wonder undergrads flock to her classes, but even this veteran instructor can still be surprised by her students now and then.

Junior level speech class SP 324 — Persuasion has always opened with a warm-up speech. The goal for this assignment is for students to use the persuasive techniques that come naturally to them prior to diving into a curriculum of theory and techniques to identify where they could improve their rhetorical skills. In the past, these speeches were hypothetical in nature (“What would you do with a million dollars?”), which never seemed to be fully effective — students were not personally invested in the process (beyond a letter grade), nor did it feel “real” to them due to the hypothetical nature.

So this year, Professor Voigt asked each student to bring in one dollar, which was put into an envelope, then she added a few bucks to round up to $25. So this time, it was real money — their money — on the table. The assignment was for each student to present a persuasive discourse about why he or she deserved the cash, with the class voting and the winning speaker getting it all (and no, no one was allowed to vote for themselves).

Speeches ranged from donuts for the whole class to down payments on engagement rings to pet supplies for a special dog. There were several students who opted to request support for philanthropic causes via sending a $25 check — which was nice to hear, but still didn’t win over the class.

Enter Jonathan Ham, Senior Communication Studies major. He persuaded students to give him the cash to help the homeless — not by sending a check, but by personal action. He even gave his classmates a choice: If he won the money, he could spend all $25 on one homeless person, or spread it around. He promised to video his experience and share it with the class.

Needless to say, he won the $25 and his classmates overwhelmingly agreed that he should spread the $25 around.

Jonathan took his cash, visited McDonald’s, ordered sandwiches from the Dollar Menu, paired each sandwich with a bottle of water (donated by Professor Voigt) and hit the streets in the Louisville/Southern Indiana area, offering a meal to any homeless person he and his friend Lily encountered.

When he was finished, he crafted a video of his day, including a personal “thank you” to each of his classmates in the piece. He shared the video with the class on Wednesday, September 24.

They were overwhelmed at what an impact $25 had that day. Students watched as one of their own left his comfort zone to literally get out there and make a difference. Some realized that their work in college often goes beyond “getting the grade” — as it should.

For Professor Voigt’s part, she’s happy to have turned what was always a simple classroom exercise into a powerful lesson about having a vision and persuading others to see it, and join the fight. “I feel certain that my students left that classroom understanding that fixing the problems of this world can often start with us — and a dollar bill.”

Can’t wait to see what happens next year.

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