Career Exploration through AmeriCorps Service
Today’s guest post comes from Alicia Johnston, a two term AmeriCorps alum who served with the Schuler Scholar Program from 2011-2013.
After spending three summers working with children and teenagers, I thought I had the answer. I would work at a nonprofit for a couple years, then go on to graduate school and become a teacher, social worker, or school counselor. As it turns out, career paths are rarely this clear cut.
My Story: From AmeriCorps Member to Nonprofit Professional
As a college senior, my job search was broad: I wanted to work with teenagers, I was interested in education, and I would move almost anywhere in the country. I chose to pursue AmeriCorps service with the Schuler Scholar Program, a college access program in the northern suburbs of Chicago. The AmeriCorps Scholar Coach position offered a wide range of responsibilities: I would teach after school programs to small groups, manage a one-on-one tutoring caseload, plan exposures, visit colleges and help with the application process, and have the opportunity to develop new programs.
Over the course of my two years of AmeriCorps service, I learned about the different roles in a nonprofit organization and while pursuing my own interests. The experience taught me that my passion for nonprofit work, combined with my love of storytelling, made nonprofit communications an even better fit than the direct services positions I had planned to pursue. I still work for the Schuler Scholar Program (SSP), but I am now a full-time Marketing Associate. It was during my time as an AmeriCorps volunteer that I gained a unique understanding of the SSP and of my own strengths—an understanding that in this new role allows me to work across all departments.
Making the Most of Your Service—for Your Organization and Your Career
Whether you are just starting your career or joining AmeriCorps after years in the workforce, approaching each day of service with a growth mindset will help you make the most of your experience. Some ideas for getting the most out of your experience include:
- Learn on the job. Serving with a nonprofit requires flexibility, time management, and skills from event planning to data analysis. In the AmeriCorps Scholar Coach position, I helped leadership team members restructure the SSP reading program, created a five-day exposure to Washington, D.C., and assisted with events planned for over 100 Scholars. Each new experience taught me something different and gave me a clearer idea of my own interests.
- Clearly communicate your interests. Tell your supervisor and others at your organization that you are interested in attending conferences, participating in trainings, and joining meetings to learn about different aspects of your organization. When I heard that the SSP was starting to develop a social media presence, I reached out to the staff person managing this work. The next thing I knew, I was writing HTML for the SSP blog and posting on our Facebook page.
- Network within your organization. Get to know staff members at your nonprofit, even if they work in another department or at another site. Ask them about their professional background, how they got started with your organization, and what skills helped them succeed.
- Network outside of your organization and explore the city. Don’t forget about your other networks—community organizations, your college or university, professional associations, friends, family. Get involved in the community—you might even consider volunteering on the side.
From Service to the Future
One of the unique benefits of AmeriCorps is the chance to be part of a huge national network. AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Alums can be as valuable as you make them—and since you have already practiced networking as a volunteer, it’s time to network as an alum! Seek out local organizations like a chapter of AmeriCorps Alums or the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. Such organizations often host trainings, networking happy hours, and special events that are free or low cost. Long after you complete your term of service, you can continue to make new AmeriCorps connections for a successful career and stronger service community.