June 13, 2010
Corps values: Service organizations give college grads a head start
Special to NWjobs
College graduate Rachel Miranto is gaining hands-on environmental experience and training during 10 months of service with Seattle-based EarthCorps. (Jean Parietti)
Rachel Miranto grins as she tugs out the offender — an invasive plant threatening Kirkland’s Juanita Creek.
Two years out of college, with a degree in environmental science and biology, Miranto relishes the hands-on experience and professional development she’s getting at Seattle-based EarthCorps. The nonprofit is affiliated with AmeriCorps, the national service network.
A national unemployment rate of 16.4 percent for people ages 20-24 is leading a growing number of recent college graduates such as Miranto to consider a year or two of service work. They see it as a way to gain skills, learn more about themselves and build relationships, while giving back to the community and earning enough money to get by.
“Doing a year of service and kind of living poor, I think it helps you realize: ‘Do I like the work?’ ” Miranto says. “If you strip away the money, you get to more of the core values.”
Service work can also provide an edge over the competition when returning to the traditional job market or applying for graduate school.
Service programs at a glance
Network of domestic organizations working with youth, environment, health, housing, public safety and more. July 1 deadline for jobs starting in September. Benefits for ages 17 and older include living allowance (about $1,000 a month), health insurance and $5,350 education award. AmeriCorps affiliate EarthCorps is at earthcorps.org, americorps.gov or ofm.wa.gov/servewa/americorps
Its work in 77 countries includes education, youth, health, business development, environment and agriculture. Apply anytime. Benefits for ages 18 and older include living allowance, health care, vacation and $7,400 readjustment allowance. peacecorps.gov
Teach for America
Trains graduates from all career interests to teach in high-need classrooms. Those with a bachelor’s degree can apply August through February. Benefits include salary ($30,000-$51,000 annually), health insurance, graduate studies, $10,700 in education awards and relocation assistance. teachforamerica.org
“Students are beginning to understand that to be really competitive in the market, they need the experiences of post-graduate service,” says Gayatri Eassey, associate director of Seattle University’s Career Services center. Entry-level jobs don’t usually involve a company’s critical operations, Eassey says, “but if you’re deployed to Morocco with the Peace Corps, you are the critical operation.”
That’s what Caitlin McKee experienced as a Peace Corps volunteer in a Guatemalan village for two years. The 2007 University of Washington graduate put her community, environment and planning degree to work by creating a municipal women’s office — from concept through funding and staffing. She also coached girls’ soccer and taught English and bread baking.
Now back in Seattle looking for the right job, McKee says she feels her experiences give her an advantage over other applicants. “So many of the skills you gain in the Peace Corps are applicable in so many different situations,” she says.
Service work options are varied, allowing grads to find something that fits their interests and goals. Pay can be minimal, but benefits include training, education grants and possible student-loan deferment. Applicants must commit to 27 months with the Peace Corps, two years with Teach for America and 10-12 months with AmeriCorps (a second year is optional).
The programs are selective, and competition is growing. For three consecutive years, for instance, Teach for America has seen an increase of more than 30 percent in applications.
Still, post-graduate service “is currently more accessible than employment,” Eassey says. That’s why many graduates are considering service work as their first choice, she says.
And the big service organizations are adding jobs. The Peace Corps has plans for 2,000 new positions next year. Teach for America is working to expand to the Seattle area in 2011-12.
In the coming year, AmeriCorps will provide from 1,500 to 1,700 jobs in Washington, including some new slots added through the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, says Bill Basl, executive director of the Washington Commission for National and Community Service.
Graduates and organizers say the perspectives and skills gained through service work are enduring. “These are experiences people can use through their lifetimes,” Basl says.
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