Professor Sara McClellan (fourth from left) and her collaborative policy students are providing support for a group looking to bring important services to the community. (Photo courtesy of Sara McClellan)

Sacramento State Professor Sara McClellan wants her public policy and administration students to “roll up their sleeves” to help community groups succeed, and she believes Sac State Downtown is perfectly positioned to help them do so.

“I love to see universities connect with and service their communities,” McClellan said. “They have not always been particularly good at pulling that off, but the opening of our downtown location shows that it’s a priority for Sacramento State.

“We’re close to state agencies, and close to community programs that are connected to the heart of Sacramento. That makes a difference.”

In McClellan’s collaborative policy course, nine master’s students are working with a group seeking to form a collective that will pool programs and resources and streamline the delivery of social services to families.

The Youth and Family Collective is made up of more than two dozen nonprofit and civic organizations in the region to efficiently provide a wide range of services that address mental health issues, sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, literacy and other concerns. The collective is looking to McClellan and her students for help in forming its infrastructure and launch various initiatives.

“Especially in our region, there is a saturation of nonprofits, and they end up competing for resources and duplicating services,” McClellan said. “Nonprofits are lean and, particularly in their early years, don’t work efficiently.”

Her course in collaborative policy focuses on “the human processes that we engage in to create something new or address problems across organizations or groups,” she said.

McClellan’s students are working with the Youth and Family Collective and its sponsor organization, Pro Youth, on issues ranging from communicating with stakeholders to running meetings and forming a governing structure. She and her students have attended collective meetings, met with organizers downtown, and addressed questions and challenges in real time with the group’s leaders via telephone during classes.

“I could write Pro Youth a white paper about what the collective should do, and then dump it on them,” McClellan said. “But that’s not how change usually works. We are supporting them and learning with them: ‘Try this now. Try this next week.’

"We’re acting as consultants, helping them design a ‘big tent’ philosophy to better serve clients, and we’re using our downtown space as a hub for this work.”

Recently, in response to a request from the collective, McClellan’s class offered tips for running meetings more effectively. She and her students proposed strategies including providing new collectiuve members with orientation packages, giving them name tags, carefully framing each agenda item, and assigning “greeters” to meet new attendees before meetings.

Angie Medina, Pro Youth’s project manager, called the information supplied by Sac State “amazing” and helpful. Medina said Sac State’s input has been invaluable to the collective’s organizers.

Among other things, she said, McClellan has provided crucial information about successes and pitfalls of collectives across the country.

“She has such great knowledge about the challenges we might face, and how to deal with them,” Medina said. “The progress we have made in the past six months with her help has just been incredible.

“Things have been moving so fast for us, and there are so many things to think about. Sara and her students have helped us step back a bit and consider how we are approaching things. It’s been extremely helpful.”

McClellan, in her first year at Sac State, has been a manager, trainer, consultant and applied researcher for several local government and nonprofit organizations. Her focus is on communications strategies and organizational practices designed to improve health, safety and education outcomes in rapidly changing communities. She has a master’s in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and a doctorate in Organizational Communication from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

An assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Sac State, she lives in the downtown area with her husband, Bryon Gustafson, and their cats, Sedona and Theo.

McClellan and her students want to leave a positive mark on the Sacramento region as it grows and develops, she said.

“The work that we are doing is on the back end, so it might not seem so exciting,” said McClellan. “But if you don’t do that the right way, you’re probably going to fail. To prepare students to be successful future managers and consultants, they’ve got to get their hands dirty and roll up their sleeves and that’s what we’re doing here.

“We may fall down and make mistakes, but we will pivot and improve, and help our community partners.” – Cynthia Hubert