Giving Thanks and Giving Back: A Family Spends Thanksgiving Volunteering…at a Country Line Dancing Bar

Local church youth group volunteers making some plates to go

This guest post is contributed by Jung Fitzpatrick, a former AmeriCorps VISTA member, and staffer here at

When I called my mom about going home for the Thanksgiving holiday, she told me she was going to volunteer at the Brandin’ Iron. (You may know the BI from a quick mechanical bull riding scene in Borat.)

BI was going to serve a Thanksgiving meal to the hungry.  What else was I supposed to do but say, “Hey, count me in!” I loved the idea of volunteering with my mom.

On the day, my mom and I along with my brother, Sean, and his friend, Will, all headed to BI.  My mom country line dances every week at the BI and heard about the volunteer opportunity from there.  As it turns out, Continue reading

Prospective Grad School Students Meet Schools Face-to-Face at the Idealist Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good

From a recent grad fair (via Julia Smith)

Originally posted on the Idealist homepage blog by Jung Fitzpatrick, who manages Idealist’s Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center.

Tomorrow we’ll kick off the 2009 fall season of our Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good, but instead of doing the normal spiel about where (see the full list of cities) and when (Sept. 10th through Nov. 3rd), I thought I’d step back and answer the question: What are “graduate degrees for the public good”?

It’s a question I get often. Basically it’s any graduate degree that will help you make the difference you want to see in the world.

Want to provide better services for the homeless community? Depending on the approach you’re interested in, a degree in social work or public health could prepare you to provide direct service, or one in nonprofit management could help you run a homeless shelter more efficiently.

If you’re passionate about finding solutions to global climate change, maybe a degree in public policy and a certificate in environmental studies? Or the reverse? If you’re working with both nonprofit and governmental organizations having a degree in public administration might also be useful. If you want to work internationally on the issue, you may also consider a degree in international affairs.

There is no one way to go about making a difference – and those are just some examples of the many graduate education options that a prospective graduate student might consider in each case! At our grad fairs you can meet representatives from a wide variety of international social impact graduate programs and learn more about how their degree offerings can help you serve the public good.

To register (for free!) please click here and then click on the city where you’d like to attend a fair. If you register, you’ll get reminders, tips, and any last minute updates for the event.

Thanks for helping us help you make the world a better place. We’ll see you at the grad fairs!

For more about graduate degrees, follow along on Facebook or Twitter @gradresources. Also check out graduate education-related podcasts.

Idealist Graduate Admissions Fairs – Next Week in Washington DC and New York

Social impact professionals at all stages in their careers get a chance to meet representatives from a school 2 and seekerrange of public-service focused grad schools next week in DC and New York. The events are free, after work, and include information sessions.

Idealist’s 2009 season of Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good launches next week in Washington, DC, and New York.

These events are unique among graduate admissions fairs in that they are completely geared toward degree areas that our Idealist network is looking for—ranging from nonprofit and business management to public policy and social work. Education, divinity, public health, and Continue reading

New Podcast: Grad School Financial Aid for Professionals

Photo via the East SA blog

Photo via the East SA blog

The newest Idealist podcast features Regina Garner, Director of Student Financial Services for the Monterey Institute of International Studies.’s Jung Fitzpatrick talks with Regina who dispels some common myths that working professionals have about qualifying for financial aid and to learn more about the ins and outs of financial aid for graduate education. Listen now!

Whether you’re thinking about graduate school–or are already on your way–this podcast helps answer many questions about the financial aid process. Topics include the basics of how financial aid is determined, the role of The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 in debt forgiveness and loan repayment as well as other issues for professionals transitioning to graduate school.

If you have more questions about grad school, check out our free Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center, which in addition to articles on financing your graduate education, includes information on preparing for, applying to and alternatives to graduate school. You can also post questions to our Graduate Education Forum! Follow Idealist’s GradResources on Twitter.

Also be sure to check out the upcoming Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good this summer in Washington D.C. and New York City and this fall in 16 cities in the United States and Canada.

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College Cost Reduction Act – Basic Facts and New Resources to Help You

Campus building

Update, July 1, 2009! Check out this post about applying for Income-based repayment from your lender!

This July 1st, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) of 2007 will take effect and includes provisions to make undergraduate and graduate education more affordable for aspiring social-impact professionals.

The CCRAA is a complicated piece of legislation that, if you take advantage of it, can help you retire college and grad school debt early.

The main programs that the CCRAA has created include:

Income-Based Repayment (IBR) — Caps monthly direct and guaranteed (FFEL) student loan payments based on the borrower’s income and family size. According to IBRinfo, “For most eligible borrowers, IBR loan payments will be less than 10 percent of their income – and even smaller for borrowers with low earnings. IBR will also forgive remaining Continue reading

ProInspire Helps Business Professionals Transition to Nonprofit Careers

ProInspireNew fellowship program places business sector emigres in critical roles in nonprofits in the Washington, DC, area.

Launched during the worst economic climate in generations, ProInspire eases the path of business professionals to find careers that are more meaningful to them — while helping nonprofits recruit people with the hard financial and other skills crucial for their long-term sustainability.

With the application deadline just days away (April 8th) for its first group of Fellows, ProInspire hopes to infuse the nonprofit sector with people who are trained with financial and project-management skills common in the for-profit sector. And any influx of staff may help in the long run. The nonprofit sector is projected to need to recruit 640,000 executives in the coming years as the baby boomer generation begins to retire. Continue reading

Peace Corps China – Teaching future teachers

Volunteers teach college-level English in China’s interior for two years, including a summer of intense training. Livable monthly stipend, top-notch health benefits, Mandarin language education, network of other volunteers throughout the Southwest.

Peace Corps’s China program is one of my alma maters, and is a recruitment priority right now for Peace Corps. So I am sneaking it in as part of this week’s focus on teaching corps. Read about Peace Corps’s education programs more broadly.

Next week (Nov. 8th) my friend and China RPCV Kate Kuykendall, a public affairs specialist for the L.A. recruitment office, will host an Online Info Session about Peace Corps China that you can tune into for even more information.

A word about teaching English

The notion of teaching English doesn’t seem as glam as other overseas volunteer assignments like business or public health.

Chinese lecture hall, by Alison

Chinese lecture hall, by Alison

But English is a skill that people from the United States tend to have, and that other countries want for their youth. If you are looking to contribute to the development of other countries and build the capacity of young people there, English is a skill you can export and feel good about.

The other thing about teaching English is that right from the start of your term, before you can speak well in their language, your students can serve as insightful cultural informants to help you navigate your new life. Read about teaching English in China with Peace Corps.

Pre-service training

Trainees in the China program live in homestays during the two months of pre-service training, learn how to effectively teach English to large groups of students, study Chinese language in small groups with exceptional teachers, learn how to stay healthy (i.e., don’t drink unboiled water, what to do in case of unmentionable stomach ailments, etc.), receive scheduled immunization shots, and at the end of the summer, are sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers.


Volunteers serve in teachers colleges in the interior of China, and teach classes of 40-60 students at a time.

English library, photo by Alison

English library, photo by Alison

Subjects  include English literacy, conversation, and  British and U.S. literature and culture.  The work week includes several courses, office hours, and often a teacher-hazing ritual called “English Corner.” Students typically come from very poor, rural areas, with plans to return home to teach English at the middle-school level. Colleges in China are more likely to be in cities, so China placements tend to be urban, where Volunteers live rent-free in modestly furnished campus apartments. Read some basics about living in China.


A large Chinese kitchen, photo by Alison

A large Chinese kitchen, photo by Alison

Benefits of Peace Corps service — other than that your understanding of the world is enriched forever — include airfare to and from your country of service, health care (including prescription and over the counter medicines, yearly exams, evacuation home if the medical attention you need is not available in-country), a monthly stipend that is on par with that of locals, two vacation days per month (plus local holidays and weekends), reimbursement and per diem for all service-related travel, and just over $6,000 disbursed to you when your term of service ends.

If natural disaster, political unrest, plague, etc. make your stay in China untenable, Peace Corps will evacuate you and your group. Read more about the recent closing of the Bolivia program. In 2003, the Peace Corps China program was completely emptied out in response to the SARS epidemic.

In addition to pre-service language training, Peace Corps reimburses you the expense of on-going private language instruction once you are at your service placement. A few times a year you have the opportunity to head to trainings at Peace Corps country headquarters (in China, this is located in Chengdu, Sichuan, very near the May earthquake epicenter).

heping dui, photo by Alison

heping dui, photo by Alison

Educational benefits include deferring qualified student loans during your term of service (and partial cancellation of Perkins loans). Once you are back, you are eligible to apply for special fellowships at grad schools through the Fellows USA program, especially designed for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). (For people who have not yet joined Peace Corps, also consider Peace Corps Masters International, which allows you to do Peace Corps service as part of a master’s degree). Read more and listen to a podcast on Peace Corps and grad school.

Peace Corps China journalists

No discussion of Peace Corps’s China program would be complete without mentioning the journalists who have graduated from it. While most China RPCVs have gone on to do great things in many fields, the group has produced several noteworthy writers and journalists.

Pete and a Chinese man, photo by Mark Leong

Pete and a Chinese man, photo by Mark Leong

These men’s voices weigh in on our understanding of China. They are helping people in the U.S. create a new consciousness of China, about the complexities of its culture, its conflicting priorities as it develops. The value of their contribution lies in their knowledge of the language, people, and context of China with a depth the U.S. reader hasn’t seen since missionary-era writers like Pearl Buck.

The emphasis Peace Corps China has traditionally placed on friendship (the Chinese name for the group is the Sino-U.S. Friendship Volunteers), cross-cultural and cross-linguistic understanding, produces a wider lens through which to view the nation and its billion-plus people — a lens some other journalists in China simply haven’t had.

It’s not that these journalists are apologists for the unsavory things the Chinese government does. But we aren’t going to learn anything about China, or any country, if we look only at the actions of a government and never at the people themselves… If we only listen to press conferences and never to the voices of the farmer or factory worker.


The independent Peace Corps Wiki is an alternative source of information about Peace Corps. Here’s the China wiki.

Read the online journal entries of Michelle Ross who served in China from 2006-08, and listings of other Peace Corps China blogs.

Check out this Google presentation featuring China RPCV Pete Hessler speaking about his writing and experiences in Peace Corps.

Check out the official Peace Corps Video Vault, where Volunteers speak to some of the most frequently-asked questions Peace Corps applicants have.


And a repeat: Next week (11/8) my friend and China RPCV Kate Kuykendall, a public affairs specialist for the L.A. recruitment office, will host an Online Info Session about Peace Corps China that you can tune into for even more information.

For more resources on graduate education, check out the Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center, and if you live in the vicinity of Georgia, come to our final graduate admissions fair coming to Atlanta on Monday, 11/3.

This week The New Service blog is looking at education service corps. While many service corps programs have application due dates in the spring for a fall start date, most education service corps have deadlines throughout the winter and start in the summer. Check out this list of education-related opprotunities that don’t require an education degree.