Graduates pursue public service

By Jane Howell

Many students enter college with the hopes of earning a degree and then finding a job or continuing on to graduate school. Recently however, more and more students are considering public service and volunteering as a viable post-graduate option.

An increasing number of students at the College have been applying to programs like Teach For America and the Peace Corps. These programs provide options for individuals hoping to broaden their horizons while helping communities that are less fortunate. Each program requires about two years of service, during which volunteers are completely immersed in their new communities.

Teach For America aims to close the education achievement gap that exists in America by sending accepted volunteers to low-income communities with low academic success.

For two years, Teach for America participants join the staff of local schools from grades K through 12, teaching a variety of subjects. During their time at the school, participants are paid a teacher’s salary and benefits.

“It’s by far the hardest job I’ve ever had, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said 2011 graduate Marisa González, who is
currently teaching kindergarten in Fort Worth, Texas.

Although there are a lot of challenges associated with the experience, González said, “It’s all worth it when you see students grow. I was teaching a little girl who came to kindergarten without going to pre-school and she didn’t know her colors, shapes or letters .”

González was not an education major here at the College, but she said the skills she learned in the business school are still applicable to the classroom: “It’s working with problem sets and data — what is working for the kids and what is not working.”

Senior political science majors Olaniyi Solebo and Corey Dwyer were recently accepted to the program as well. After reading up on the subject of education inequality and the education gap, both felt compelled to apply.

“Law school became the backup plan after I learned about the massive movement led by Teach For America. I want to be a part of closing the achievement gap,” Solebo said.

Teach for America is unique in that participants have a direct influence in children’s lives. “I’m most looking forward to the opportunity to make an impact in my kids’ lives and put them on the right track,” Dwyer said. “I want them to be excited about going to school.”

Teach For America can be a good fit for graduates hoping to make a difference in children’s lives as well as help the larger mission of closing the achievement gap within America. Interested students are encouraged to read the stories on teachforamerica.org.

The Peace Corps differs from Teach For America because the volunteers travel further than across the country; the Corps has volunteers in over 130 countries around the globe. Volunteers work on projects ranging from health awareness and education to agriculture development. The organization can be a great fit for graduates hoping to make a difference in a developing nation.

“Peace Corps wasn’t precisely something I always wanted to do, but living abroad was,” said Matthew Clemente, 2008 graduate. He volunteered building latrines for 32 households as well as promoting health topics like hand washing, malaria prevention and sexual education in Mali.

“When you start to know people on such a close level, the people really connect with you,” he said. “When I gave goodbyes, a 60-year-old man started to cry when I shook his left hand. In Malian culture, this is a way of saying you must see each other again to correct this and shake with your right hand.”

Shannon McCray-Darko, a 2006 graduate, volunteered in Mozambique. “My Peace Corps experience was a great advantage to finding a job. I worked in a drug treatment clinic and part of my job is to do HIV counseling and testing, so the extra HIV-related projects I did in Mozambique was a boost to my résumé,” she said.

Due to health reasons, McCray-Darko’s service was shortened to just over a year, but she still recommends the Corps any chance she gets. “For people who want to walk the road less traveled, stretch themselves mentally and emotionally, take time to explore their interest, and challenge their world views and help people improve their lives along the way, you can’t beat what the Peace Corps is offering.”

After their service, many volunteers find full-time careers. According to the Peace Corps’ website, “through serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you can gain fluency in a foreign language, international experience and cross-cultural understanding, attributes that are highly sought-after assets in today’s global economy.” The Corps offer many resources to help place volunteers in careers as well as resources that help volunteers readjust to American society.

Those hoping to learn more about the Peace Corps and its application process are encouraged to look at the website peacecorps.gov.

Although many students have pictured a post-graduate life in an office or graduate school, volunteer service can be a great alternative. Volunteers in both Teach for America and the Peace Corps have reported experiences that stay with them for the rest of their lives.