Serve America Act Creates New Opportunities for Students

Posted April 22nd, 2009 at 3:55 pm.

americorps_logoBryn Mawr students and graduating seniors interested in working for nonprofits dedicated to community service got some great news from the federal government yesterday with the passage of the Senator Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

The most sweeping expansion of the nation’s service programs since the early 1960s, the act will expand the ranks of AmeriCorps to bring federal volunteer programs under a single umbrella and increase the number of volunteer positions from 75,000 to 250,000. The act will also raise the education stipend paid to volunteers to $5,350, the same amount as a Pell Grant college scholarship.

For graduating seniors interested in AmeriCorps, the best place to start is the agency’s Website, says Nell Anderson co-director of the Civic Engagement Office (CEO).

“The site is pretty easy to navigate,” adds Anderson. “And if students want to discuss their decision or the various opportunities they find on the site they can always come talk to us or the Career Development Office.”

AmeriCorps-supported organizations have now completed their visits to campuses for the most part, so going directly to the website is probably a good move for most students, agrees Liza Jane Bernard, director of Bryn Mawr’s Career Development Office (CDO).

However, she adds that graduating seniors are also encouraged to work with a career counselor to help them develop a search strategy and to get help identifying potential alumnae and other contacts in agencies supported by AmeriCorps.

“The federal government and AmeriCorps-supported agencies will most likely receive an overwhelming number of applicants for this new set of opportunities. It is critical that candidates do networking and aggressive outreach in addition to completing online applications,” says Bernard.

Melissa Pottash ’09, who has been employing such networking has just informed the CDO of her success at landing an opportunity with the AmeriCorps-supported Jewish Federation of Los Angeles.

“Melissa has been networking and applying to this and other agencies since last fall. She made her search more personal than an online application. Her outreach and follow up has paid off,” says Bernard.

The CEO also offers on-campus opportunities for current students to participate in AmeriCorps through the Scholars in Service to Pennsylvania program, which allows current students to enroll as part-time AmeriCorps members. Anyone interested in this program should contact Ellie Esmond at the CEO.

One well known local AmeriCorps program is Philly Fellows, which was started by two Haverford alumni and has become a very competitive program for recent grads who are interested in staying in Philadelphia and connecting to the nonprofit sector.

This year, Aly Honsa ’09 has been accepted to the program.

Rebecca Woodruf ’08 is currently doing a year of service through Philly Fellows.

Woodruff first learned about Philly Fellows when she was a junior at Bryn Mawr.

“I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school for public health, but one of my top choice schools required a minimum of two years of work, so I wanted to find meaningful work in the field of public health,” says Woodruff.

Woodruff’s placement agency as a Philly Fellow is with the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter. At the Red Cross, she works in the financial development department doing grant writing, individual major gifts work, direct marketing, and special events.

“I’ve loved my experience both as a Philly Fellow and with my placement agency and I would recommend both to anyone who is interested in the nonprofit sector, service or connecting with interesting people in Philadelphia,” says Woodruff.

Megan Bailey ’08 has also participated in the Philly Fellows program, working with ACHIEVEability, which provides housing and social services to single-parent, formerly homeless families.

“I would definitely recommend this program to someone who wants to take a year off to figure out what to do next, or who, like me, wants to take a break from school for a little bit before beginning grad/law/med school,” says Bailey

While at Bryn Mawr, Bailey was a member of Scholars in Service to Pennsylvania and was deeply engaged in a variety of civic engagement activities throughout her college career.

“I found a volunteer position at an archaeology lab in Philadelphia, which was great because I intend to have a career in archaeology. In fact, I’m beginning a Ph.D. program in anthropology/archaeology this fall. I was able to fulfill the service requirement while getting valuable experience in my chosen field and connecting with other archaeologists,” says Bailey.

In addition to serving as a resource for students looking to take advantage of AmeriCorps and other service opportunities, the CEO has hosted five different AmeriCorps VISTA program participants in the past six years.

“Their hard work and energy helped us to build the Bryn Mawr-Norristown Community Partnership in Action and the America Reads/American Counts tutoring programs. In the process, they learned new skills and gained real world experience that informed their career planning and actually made them better candidates for future employment and in many cases, graduate school,” says Anderson.

Bryn Mawr College and its students have a strong tradition of community service and a high percentage of its students go on to careers in public service fields.

In 2006, Bryn Mawr topped the Washington Monthly’s ranking of colleges; a ranking that factored heavily a school’s efforts at encouraging an ethic of service.

“Other guides ask what colleges can do for you. We ask, ‘what are colleges doing for the country,’” wrote the editors.

The Corporation for National and Community Service honored Bryn Mawr recently with a place on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for exemplary service efforts and contributions to America’s communities.

Bryn Mawr is one of only three Pennsylvania schools and 83 schools nationwide that were named to the Honor Roll with Distinction.

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