With the kick off of the Spring semester, many graduates are narrowing in on their post-graduation plans. Some are reaching out to potential employers, while others are applying to master programs to further their education.
These are not the only options for seniors however, as they begin to make arrangements after their time at Virginia Tech ends. Perhaps students are searching for a way to give back or to embark on a journey that offers opportunities unavailable in their current location.
Graduates who desire an alternative to the usual graduate college then get a job scenario might consider joining a service organization such as The Peace Corps or Teach For America. Each program offers one-of-a-kind opportunities for its volunteers.
“For me it was an ideal time to do it right after graduation,” said Chris Hickey, a Peace Corps recruiter and returned volunteer. “You’re a little more mobile; you’re more willing to take risks.”
The Peace Corps began as a challenge from President John F. Kennedy to University of Michigan students to serve the United States by working to promote peace in developing nations. More than 210,000 individuals have answered Kennedy’s challenge, working and living in over 139 host countries. Their service ranges from AIDS education to environmental protection, with a wealth of projects in between.
Hickey’s service with the Corps began shortly after he graduated from Tech. He worked in Honduras as a water and sanitation engineer from 2008 until 2010.
“It allows an American citizen to go out into the developing world and work on grassroots community-based projects,” Hickey said of the Peace Corps.
If a graduate wants to stay closer to home, Teach For America serves in communities in the U.S.
It began as an undergraduate thesis, proposed by Wendy Kopp at Princeton University in 1989. Since the 1990 charter corps, more than 33,000 participants have worked with Teach For America to end education inequality by providing an excellent education to K-12 grade students in low-income communities across the United States.
Teach For America Recruiter Nichole Prickett said its members have the opportunity to change the trajectory of kids’ lives. Prickett taught special education math in Atlanta for three years after graduating from Tech in 2008.
A common concern for students considering joining the Peace Corps or Teach For America is falling behind their counterparts in more traditional careers. Members of both organizations, however, gain skills that are highly applicable outside each organization.
“The skills that you gain through (Teach For America) are highly transferable, because it is very achievement oriented,” Prickett said.
Also, having either of these organizations on your resume can be beneficial once you begin looking for permanent employment.
Both programs also offer deferrals for student loans during service, so financial obligations will not hinder interested students. There are other benefits as well.
Prickett said TFA has employer and graduate partnerships across different fields, and members of both organizations return from service to large alumni networks represented in many career fields.
Additionally, TFA members receive a full salary and health benefits equal to that of beginning teachers in their school district.
Similarly, members of the Peace Corps are given a living allowance that covers housing, food and incidentals. Upon completion of service, volunteers are also given over $7,000 to assist with the transition back to the United States.
So what exactly are these organizations looking for in a candidate? Both Hickey and Prickett noted that as recruiters, they are looking for open-minded, caring, and compassionate individuals committed to making a difference. Both recruiters also noted the importance of leadership skills.
Another key character trait Hickey seeks in a potential Peace Corps candidate is for them to be adaptable.