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Voinovich Scholar inspired to look toward career in public affairs

Daniel Kington
April 22, 2016

Jasper Wirtshafter, a senior economics student at Ohio University, found his niche at the intersection of social enterprise work, nonprofit work and economics during his time as a Voinovich Undergraduate Research Scholar.

Wirtshafter works primarily with TechGROWTH Ohio, a public-private partnership composed of the Voinovich School as well as other public institutions and members of the private investment community, which supports startup technology companies to generate jobs and build the economy of Southeastern Ohio. Wirtshafter was first interested in working for the program because of TechGROWTH’s unique employment of ideas from Wirtshafter’s own field of economics.

“I heard about TechGROWTH Ohio trying to use business ideas in social enterprises and nonprofits,” Wirtshafter said. “That really appealed to me as a way of applying what I’m learning in my classes to something I’m interested in and care about.”

Through TechGROWTH Ohio, Wirtshafter works primarily with UpGrade Athens County, an environmental nonprofit focused on energy efficiency and projects such as the distribution of LED light bulbs and the placement of solar panels on public buildings.

Wirtshafter serves two primary roles to support the organization: identifying grants that UpGrade Athens County may apply for and helping the organization as it shifts its status from a governmental organization to an independent nonprofit.

This often means that Wirtshafter’s primary, day-to-day focus is paperwork -- however, Wirtshafter said that, for him, this work is meaningful.

“I feel like I’m doing a very small part of something that matters,” Wirtshafter said.

Wirtshafter also works with four to five other projects through TechGROWTH Ohio at any given time.

For example, Wirshafter is working with the Center for Social Enterprise Development, an organization building a network of social enterprises in central Ohio. At the moment, the organization’s primary focus is in sharing skills with and finding funding for central Ohio enterprises. Wirtshafter works to profile different enterprises that could be part of the group’s network.

Due to the variety of Wirtshafter’s projects, his work frequently leads him in unanticipated directions.

“In almost every project I get with TechGROWTH Ohio, I have no idea how to do it and then I eventually figure it out,” Wirtshafter said. “My projects often involve going very in depth into something I’ve never thought about before. For example, right now, I’m researching the processing of waste and byproducts from wood production. It’s been a learning experience for sure.”

Wirtshafter enjoys his research and his day-to-day work with TechGROWTH Ohio to such an extent that he has reevaluated his plans for after graduation.

“I kind of switched paths in what I wanted to do next because of TechGROWTH,” Witshafter said. “Now I’m going to get a master’s in public affairs because I really enjoy work that I’m doing.”

Next year, Wirtshafter will attend the MPA program at Indiana University Bloomington – the top MPA program in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report.

John Glazer, director of TechGROWTH Ohio, supervised Jasper’s work.

"We introduced Jasper to realms of application for his existing talents that opened up whole new areas for Jasper to explore,” Glazer said. “Jasper saw how his background in economics could generate value and make substantial contributions to the realm of non-profits and most especially the emerging sector of social enterprises. I greatly enjoyed working with Jasper, and we benefited from his research, from his ability to organize and present information, and from the real impact his work had on our projects.  Jasper enabled us to accomplish so much more than we could have working alone. He leaves behind a track record of accomplishments, and we hope to keep track of what lies ahead as his career unfolds.”

Wirtshafter also connected with Faith Knutsen, associate director of TechGROWTH Ohio, during his time at the Voinovich School. Knutsen interviewed Wirtshafter when he first applied for the position, and they quickly related to one another through their shared roots in the Athens community.

“I was delighted to meet Jasper for the first time when he interviewed for this role, which he has fulfilled extremely well,” Knutsen said. “Jasper is an extremely hard worker who has turned his passion for research and academic excellence to good effect for the multiple ventures aided by our entrepreneurial ecosystem. His work has had direct positive impact on multiple clients.”

Wirtshafter is just one of many honors students who have participated in the Undergraduate Research Scholars program since its inception in 1995. The program offers Honors Tutorial College students as well as high-achieving students across the campus the opportunity to participate in basic and applied research. Scholar positions are awarded on a competitive basis; students selected for these positions work 10 hours per week, 14 weeks per semester for two semesters at the rate of $11 per hour.

The mission of the Undergraduate Research Scholars program is to encourage undergraduate research and support research efforts of Voinovich School faculty and professional staff.

To learn more about the undergraduate program and how to participate, click here.