Giving Back Through Education
PROVO, Utah – Apr 20, 2020 – Jill Piacitelli didn’t always know she wanted to work in the social impact field. However, after participating in socially conscious projects during college and later unexpectedly landing a director role in a nonprofit, she found her personal calling. Piacitelli is now using her expertise to teach students as a new adjunct professor at the Ballard Center for Social Impact at BYU Marriott.
Piacitelli comes from Price, Utah, a small, coal-mining town just an hour and a half south of BYU. She attributes the root of her involvement in social impact to the close-knit community she was raised with in small-town Utah. “Price has a value system of believing in community as a place to innovate, improve, and benefit the group as a whole,” says Piacitelli. “I didn't know how deep that was in me until leaving Price, but it's formed everything I’ve done since then.” She took that value system with her when she left for college.
Piacitelli’s first undergraduate year was spent at a local Utah college. While there, she realized she wanted something different from her education. “I wanted a hands-on experience,” she says. Piacitelli didn’t find her hands-on experience until she transferred to BYU to study sociology and participated in class projects. As she gained the experiences she had been looking for, Piacitelli became interested in projects that addressed broader social and systematic issues.
One of the projects she participated in involved interviewing unemployed steelworkers who were laid off due to mine closures and the community leaders who were faced with making the hard decision behind the closures. “I think the project changed my initial perception that education was sort of like a throwaway certification process. As I did rigorous real-world work, I began to appreciate my college education.”
After graduating from BYU in 2002, Piacitelli helped develop service-learning programs at the College of Eastern Utah back home in Price and at Johnson State College in Vermont. Her work involved helping students see the practical uses of their education. “Service-learning is taking a skill like essay writing from English class and seeing how that skill could be used to meet community needs.”
In addition to teaching service-learning Piacitelli helped organize alternate service-focused spring breaks in Vermont through the nonprofit Breakaway. “College students were pushing back against the idea that they just use spring breaks to party,” says Piacitelli. “I led trips with the students, and we used that week for an immersive service project based on various social issues.”
Working on the alternate spring-break project led her to become a leader in Breakaway. Piacitelli, a board member at the time, was approached by organization leaders to fill the executive director position. She accepted and moved to Florida to head up the organization. “I don't even think I knew what nonprofits were or how they worked, and then I was running one,” says Piacitelli.
Despite her lack of experience in nonprofit management, under Piacitelli’s direction Breakaway grew from less than twenty participating colleges to over three hundred. Piacitelli led as executive director for twelve years before returning to BYU to earn her MBA from BYU Marriott. At first, the transition from the professional field back to academia was difficult. Piacitelli felt unsure if returning to school was the right choice for her. After a challenging first semester, she found her confidence in the program through a project called the Virtuous Organization.
The Virtuous Organization focused on visualizing how a company focused on ethical practices would function, and Piacitelli, with her new business management education, helped lead the project’s development. “The Virtuous Organization was a class focused on defining what a company would look like if it was ethical at its core, not just doing good for public relations reasons,” says Piacitelli.
After working on the Virtuous Organization and completing her MBA in 2019, Piacitelli decided to stay close to her small-town roots by remaining in Utah to teach at the Ballard Center. As a professor, she aims to instill her love for social impact in the hearts of the students she teaches. Piacitelli teaches the social impact internship class at the Ballard Center and views the class as an ideal development path for future leaders.
“BYU and BYU Marriott are providing leadership to the world,” Piacitelli says. “We can change the emphasis of education to create students who use their knowledge to serve their communities, their families, and the larger world.”
Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Erin Kratzer