City Year Gears Up for Opening Day

Friday, Sept. 26, Ciy Year groups throughout the country will swear-in new corps members during Opening Day ceremonies. The new corps members will take both the City Year pledge (see below) and the AmeriCorps pledge. The ceremony is the culmination of a month of intense pre-service training, as well as the launch of ten months of full-time service.

In some cities Corps members will follow Opening Day with service projects, such as preparing care packages for hospitalized children as part of Worldfest in Little Rock, AR, or working on the grounds of a public elementary school in Louisiana.

City Year was founded 20 years ago, graduating more than 10,000 participants. City Year corps members serve in one of 17 U.S. cities and in Johannesburg, South Africa in schools and neighborhoods as tutors and leaders for a year of full-time service. Read more about City Year’s projects and initiatives.

Here is the City Year pledge:

I pledge to serve as a City Year corps member
to the very best of my ability,
to honor the rules and expectations of City Year,
to respect my colleagues and the people and
communities we serve,
to provide excellent service,
to lead by example and be a role model to children,
to celebrate the diversity of people, ideas and
cultures
around me,
to serve with an open heart and an open mind,
to be quick to help and slow to judge,
to do my best to make a difference in the lives of
others
, and
to build a stronger community, nation and world,
for all of us.

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The Grad School Campus Visit

Top things to know when you are shopping for schools

I don’t travel to as many of our Idealist.org graduate admissions fairs as I used to, but when I do I love to hear from admissions staff who table at the events about their day-to-day activities back at school. Over time I have had quite a few conversations about the Campus Visit and wanted to share some nuggets of wisdom here.

Visiting the admissions office:

One recent discussion was with Emmett Griffin of Georgetown Public Policy Institute about prospective students’s visits to his office. These are his tips:

As with any professional encounter, it’s wise to make an appointment with an admissions officer, a week ahead of time if possible. Admissions staff are busy. You’ll make a much better first impression if you set up a time to meet, and they are expecting you.

Read before you go. Of course you want to ask a lot of questions. But before asking anything of a school’s faculty or staff, read the web site and/or any available print material. Those will likely answer a lot of your questions, and you’ll make a better first impression if you have done your homework (this is, er, school, after all). (Imagine if you had a job where you were constantly asked questions — wouldn’t you answer all the most common questions on your web site and in your brochures?)

What if you happen to be visiting a city for other reasons and decide to drop by campus for an unannounced visit? Still call ahead, even if it’s just an hour ahead — and read as much as you can, even if it’s skimming all you can get your hands on in the admissions office itself, before chatting with an admissions officer.

Visiting classes:

The tips below are from conversations with Idealist’s Graduate Admissions Advisory Board (of which Emmett Griffin is a member):

Consider visiting a class or two while you are on campus.  But do not show up to a class unannounced. Schools love for prospective students to sit in on a class or two and will have different policies about how to set up the class visit.

Contact your target school’s admissions office, or the department. Sometimes you can sign up for a class visit right on the web site, other times the admissions office will direct you to the registrar or individual professor.

Also, professors might want you to have read some course materials ahead of time and expect you to participate in class discussions. Find out about these expectations ahead of time, if possible.

Other activities while you are on campus:

• Talk with someone in the career center about internship and career transitions support (grad schools often have their own career office)
• Meet with a current student to ask what it’s like to be a student there (see this article about informational interviews)
• Participate in a campus tour; many schools offer these a few times per day. The admissions office can let you know the details

Before you go, write a list of questions and/or considerations you’d like to keep in mind on the day of your visit. It might also be a good idea to jot down your top priorities in a school so you can objectively evaluate your experience later on. For example, if you intend to use the athletic facilities, you’d want to make sure you get to see them and find out how much (if anything) it costs to use them. You might be looking for an academically rigorous environment, or a lot of support setting up excellent internships.

Reflection:

When you get home, reflect on your list of questions:

√ What did I learn?
√ How interested am I in exploring this academic program further?
√ What values, skills, and interests of mine fit – or don’t fit – with the degree, department, or student culture?
√ What are my next steps from here?

Thanks:

After you visit, send thank-you notes to the professors, students and staff you met with. You can have the thank-you notes stamped, addressed and ready to go (save for writing the note itself) when you arrive on campus. As your last stop on campus, take a few minutes over coffee or lunch to write the notes, and pop them in the nearest mail box. The important thing is to make  the note meaningful, and to state something specific you learned. If possible, enclose your business card in the envelope.

Read more about grad school choices, admissions, and financial aid.

Find an Idealist.org Graduate Degree Fair for the Public Good in a city near you. (We are only going to 18 cities this year — we are genuinely sorry if we miss yours.) We’re coming to Philadelphia Monday 9/22, then off to the West Coast!

Blog for us (deadline extended).

21 things

That's actually the cover of last year's national service issue of Time. I like it much better than the one on newstands this week.
That’s actually the cover of last year’s national service issue of Time. I like it much better than the one on newstands this week.

Time magazine is once again placing the country’s enthusiasm for national service and placing it front and center in the mainstream media. The cover story this week includes a list of Twenty-one ways to serve America. From my own perspective, I am not sure I learned much from reading Miley Cyrus’ opinions on service, but if the idea is to make service mainstream, I am for it.

Building strong ties to local college career centers

Your service corps program and your Corps members can benefit from a good relationship with local college and university career services offices.

This afternoon I have the honor of working with directors of Oregon’s AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA programs around the topic of career transitions for Corps members. One message I want to drive home is that developing ties to local career centers can help both with recruitment of new Corps members, and also helping current members with their next steps. Here are some ideas:

Getting Started: Invite career center staff from local colleges and universities for a brown bag lunch in your office to share resources and compare complementary needs. Some schools are part of a consortium that hold regular meetings; you could ask about presenting at one of these meetings. Some career centers have a counselor who focuses on public service; when you make your first call, you might ask for that person.

Be a presence (not just a flyer) on campus when it’s time to recruit: Staff tables at the school’s career fair, and let the career counselors know that you are available to speak at panel and round table discussions. Ask if there is a way to post your general and recruitment information on the career center’s website or resource library, or to staff a general information table on campus. (Idealist.org also organizes nonprofit career fairs hosted by career centers on college campuses throughout the United States.)

Be a resource on national service: Work with the career counselors to put together a panel on national service opportunities for college students. Help find current or former AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps*VISTA, and NCCC members, Jesuit Volunteers, Jewish Coalition for Service program participants, Peace Corps Volunteers, Teach For America, Public Allies, or City Year Corps members (seek people from a variety of service programs) to speak on a panel discussion, to help clarify college students’ options and understanding of the differences among the programs. Students may not understand how to apply to a program, or may be confused about the de-centralized application process for some programs. Be ready to offer guidance at least for your program!

Educate counselors about the benefits of national service: Let career counselors know that for some graduating or even gap-year students, doing a year of national service is a really good way to serve your community in a more concentrated, intense way than you may be able to through traditional, episodic volunteering. It’s also proven to be a  launching point for a public service career. Students looking for a year of work experience before going to graduate school will benefit from serving – often with a high level of autonomy, challenge, and responsibility – for an organization that doesn’t expect a long-term commitment. If they can think of the term-of-service as a fifth and/or sixth college year – during which the students serve the community, learn tuition-free, and may not have to pay student loans – the investment makes more sense. Not to mention the networking and the educational benefits!

Exchange career transitions support: As you develop relationships with career centers in your area, you might:
•    Ask if Corps members can attend resume and other workshops at the career center.
•    Arrange for college students to shadow Corps members for a day; establish a list of members who would be open to informational interviews and share it with career office contacts; invite college students on community service projects.
•    Offer for you and your Corps members to play the “employers” for mock interviews with college students – it is a great exercise for your members to be on the hiring side of an interview process.

Find more career resources for national service members on Encorps‘s Beyond the Service Year and What’s Next, and on Idealist.org through the career center, career guides, and Term-of-Service page.

This blog post has been adapted from a section of the forthcoming Service Corps Companion to the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers, due out this coming spring from Idealist.org.

How to find grad schools

Even the savviest, most passionate grad school seeker may get a crush on one or two famous grad schools, and have a hard time generating a “long list.”

But most admissions professionals will tell you it’s a good idea to apply to several schools (including—eek, I hate to say it—”safety” schools) to be sure you get in somewhere. I am not sure that I agree—you may want to work for a few more years in your field and apply again to your top choice schools when you are more established.

However, in case it’s useful, here are the main ways of fleshing out your list of prospective schools:

1. Attend the Idealist.org Graduate Degree Fair for the Public Good or another graduate admissions fair in a city near you. No, this isn’t a commercial, it really is a good way to find schools. If you go to a fair, I challenge you to approach at least three schools that you haven’t heard of, or you wouldn’t think of applying to. Let the admissions professional know your plans for the future, and see if they surprise you.

This week: Toronto (9/18) and Washington, DC (9/19). Next week, Philadelphia (9/22). See the rest of the season schedule here.

2. Informational interviewing. Talk with professors and professionals in your field, and find out how they got where they are now, if they even went to grad school, and where they would suggest you go.

3. School associations! Many different types of schools, from international affairs to business, are affiliated with an association of similar schools. You can learn about many different programs and the degree itself through the association. We don’t have a list of school associations online that I can link to (I will work on that) but do take a look at our grad fair cosponsors, which include many types. Other school groupings include schools that offer to match the AmeriCorps Ed Award, and schools that partner with Teach For America or Peace Corps to extend benefits to participants.

4. Conversations with graduate admissions personnel, who are well-versed in the characteristics of peer schools. Some schools’s admissions staff even travel and attend recruiting events together regularly. Whenever you have a chance to speak with admissions officers, share with them what you are looking for in your ideal school or degree. They should be able to let you know what other schools to look into, and whether or not their school is a good fit for you. If their school is a good fit, be sure to ask for guidance in navigating the application and admissions process.

5. Research online through sites like Peterson’s, Gradschools.com, and Idealist.org (we hope to launch a directory of public interest grad schools in 2009, but for now, search for “organizations” using key words like “graduate school,” “social work,” “MPA,” etc.)

Best of luck, and read more about grad school on our Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center!

AmeriCorps Alums Asks You to Take Three Steps for National Service

As a member of the Service Nation organizing coalition, AmeriCorps Alums is asking its members to take three steps in the coming weeks:

1. Sign the Declaration of Service, and join with one million+ Americans to express your support for service
As we pause for reflection on this September 11th, AmeriCorps Alums asks that you spend a moment to reflect on the value of service, and its importance in your life and to America.  And if you find that it carries value for you, as it does for millions of Americans, AmeriCorps Alums asks that you take less than 60 seconds to join with over a million other Americans in renewing the call to service by signing the Declaration of Service.
2. Participate in the ServiceNation Day of Action on Saturday, September 27, 2008
Thousands of communities around the nation will mobilize on September 27, the Day of Action, to demonstrate the impact that service has – and could have – upon our country and the power of citizens to create large scale change.  Over 2,000 events are planned in all 50 states, and AmeriCorps Alums wants you to get involved in your community.  To register or learn more, click here now.
3. View the ServiceNation Presidential Forum on Service
The ServiceNation Summit (September 11-12) included a presidential candidates’ forum the evening of September 11, where Senators McCain and Obama spoke in depth about their views on the role of citizenship and service in post-9/11 America.  We encourage you to watch the recorded highlights of this event to learn more about the candidates’ plans for national service.  To view, click here now.

Peace Corps Suspends Bolivia Program

130 Peace Corps Volunteers have been safely removed from Bolivia and relocated to Peru amid political unrest in Bolivia.

Read the Peace Corps announcement.

Peace Corps’s top priority is the health and safety of it Volunteers who yearly practice safety drills in case evacuation becomes necessary.

See this update from the Andean Information Network, including an email message from an evacuated Volunteer.

And read this report from the Associated Press in October 2008 about 70 Volunteers who had been evacuated from Bolivia and subsequently terminated their Peace Corps assignments early, so they could return to Bolivia on their own terms. (Normally, Peace Corps would work to find new assignments for these Volunteers.)