UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State student Nic Birosik knows a thing or two about helping others and creating change. The political science and social data analytics major, who is also pursuing a master of international affairs degree, is the founder and president of NicNac Charities, a nonprofit dedicated to providing tools for education to students in need.
Founded in August 2016 when he was still in high school, NicNac Charities started out as a way for Birosik to capitalize on what he saw as his own privilege to obtain an education and give that opportunity to those who were less fortunate. The nonprofit works to provide students with laptops and other kinds of technology that will assist them in their education, as well as courses that teach topics like technical literacy, introductory programming, and job searching.
“It really started from a place of recognition of privilege, which I have,” said the rising junior. “I wanted to ensure that everyone else had equal opportunity and equal footing, especially when it came to technical literacy, technology, access to the Internet, and making sure people had computers so they could go to school and learn adequately.”
In the four-year existence of NicNac Charities, the nonprofit has grown to provide over $600,000 in grants to students in need and has obtained corporate sponsors from Advanced Auto Parts, the Disney Store, Ann Taylor, QVC, and Walmart that have provided nearly $40,000 worth of donations to patrons in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
Birosik’s charity was also reviewed by GuideStar, a nonprofit that determines the validity of other nonprofits throughout the United States, where NicNac’s outward facing transparency and the efficacy of their donation placement system placed them in the top 0.5% of all U.S. nonprofits.
Getting to this point of success required a lot of hard work, and Nic has never been afraid to accept a challenge. In order to obtain Federal tax-exemption status for his nonprofit, he compiled a 258-page 501(c)3 application, working directly with the IRS and executives from other nonprofits to ensure that the charity met the criteria to be exempt from taxes. This was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hours of work that he’s put into making sure this nonprofit runs smoothly and effectively, and he did it all while he was still a teenager.
“Being selfless, not taking commission, you know. Our board of directors, before we swear them in, we make sure that they don’t [take money from this],” he said. “They sign a form that says, ‘I will not take any compensation for this role,’ myself included. Even though I put in hours every day towards this nonprofit, and so do they, it’s out of general honesty and goodness for the world.”
This drive for success and the ability to work with others is something that Birosik has only gotten better at during his time as a Liberal Arts student. He believes that the skills he’s learned through his classes at Penn State will only help him once he graduates.
“I think that the College of the Liberal Arts has afforded me the opportunity to think about something that’s happening in the world from a multi-disciplinary approach, whether it’s quantitative or qualitative,” he explained. “How do I address a problem both from a purely theoretical standpoint, and how do I also apply my data analytics? It’s afforded me the versatility of mindset. I don’t necessarily feel like I have to be on somebody’s side, one way or another. It’s given me that freedom of thought.”
As someone who has devoted much of his time to creating opportunities in education for others that are less fortunate than him, Birosik has also made sure to take advantage of all of the benefits of his own. As a Paterno Fellow, he says, he has found joy within the intensive interdisciplinary seminars on special topics offered through the Paterno Fellows Visiting Scholar Program.
“The Paterno Fellows Program offers these one-credit courses, and they are my favorite thing in the world,” said Birosik with a smile. “Unlike prescribed courses for your major, these one-credit electives look at rather niche problems in the world, and they get the best, most foremost scholars in the world to teach them.”
One such niche topic was a seminar offered on war memorials, which was taught by John Horne, a professor of modern European history and director of the Centre for War Studies at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. For his final assignment in the class, Birosik chose to redesign the World War I memorial in Washington, D.C., redesigning the current Pershing Park into a monument that provides the public with more in-depth information about the war and teaches them about the people that died fighting.
“The Paterno Fellows Program also affords you grant opportunities if you want to enrich your experiences,” he said. “I applied to go to a certain service and learning experience in Kenya and Tanzania. They funded that just so I would have that personal experience. In those ways, I’ve realized the most value [of being in the program], and by virtue of being a Paterno Fellow, it demonstrates to potential employers that you are committed to a rigorous education. You’re not just looking for a good GPA, you’re looking to maximize your global perspective.”
Although Birosik has spent years cultivating his hobbies and interests into something tangible that can help others less fortunate than him, he claims that it’s easy for other students to make a change in something they’re passionate about. Again, he emphasized how much a liberal arts education could benefit someone who is looking to change the world.
“I’m not part of the problem if I’m actively part of the solution,” said Birosik.
To learn more about Nic Birosik and other Liberal Arts Change Makers, visit la.psu.edu/changemakers.