“I had a lot of great opportunities throughout my life,” said RIT alumnus David Kraines over the phone. “I got to go to RIT, get a great education, and receive a lot of opportunities that not everyone gets. I grew to love Rochester and the people and I wanted to help and serve the community.”
Many RIT alumni, like Kraines, have chosen to give back to the community after graduation whether it was a community nearby or in another country. There are many organizations that help people find these short term or long term opportunities to give back including AmeriCorps, Teach for America and Peace Corps, each of which provides opportunities to help the community grow while growing, yourself.
According to the AmeriCorps website, the program is “a network of national service programs that engage Americans in intensive service to meet the nation’s critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment.” The program’s main goal is to promote community service projects, and according Kraines, it does so in a way that is very appealing to students who are exiting college.
After graduating from RIT with a degree in New Media Publishing in 2010, Kraines worked for AmeriCorps from August 2010 until 2011 in the Rochester Youth Year program, a mission run out of the University of Rochester. This program specifically looks at capacity building in organizations so that the group can expand its ability and sustain itself after the volunteers have gone. The program appealed to him because of his Christian faith and the other benefits that come along with participating in the program. For example, AmeriCorps will freeze student loans for a year, including the interest on the loans, and at the end of the year that you spend with them they will pay $5,000 toward the loans. The downside: AmeriCorps pays you $10,000 for the year that you spend with them. Kraines explained that this wasn’t a difficult monetary situation for him because he was allowed to apply for foodstamps and other government aid.
“When you really think about what you need to buy in a year, in comparison to what we spend money on, that amount is more than enough,” Kraines said. “They encourage it because it brings you closer to people you’re serving.”
Kraines explained that there are a multitude of opportunities within AmeriCorps, and that not all of them are a full year long, like the program he participated in. He said that there are summer programs as well and that some of the volunteer opportunities include cleaning National Parks. Another program he talked about, RiseGo, looks for individuals to teach kids about business and other important subjects so that they can better their communities. AmeriCorps programs are offered nationwide.
Because many of the programs are summer- or year-long, Kraines stated that AmeriCorps doesn’t require a career commitment. Basically, you can test it out for a few months and decide if it is something you want to continue to be a part of. He also said that the experience allows you to meet a plethora of people to add to your connections and network. And after living a year with such little funds, one really knows how to manage a budget.
“You don’t get many opportunities to take your life and invest it into something positive like this,” Kraines said.
Kraines encouraged other students to consider becoming involved in the program in some way, citing his own positive experiences as reason. Students that are interested can find more information on their website, http://americorps.gov.
TEACH FOR AMERICA
Christian Kowalski-Re is a third year Civil Engineering Technology student and the head of service for the fraternity Phi Sigma Pi, a position that has allowed him to become closely involved with the program Teach for America. This program is the national philanthropy of the fraternity, which helps with supply drives, tutoring and local webinars with information for other interested Greek Life.
“People who have participated in the program or are in charge of the program speak to other chapters to let them know what it’s all about and talk about their experiences,” said Kowalski-Re.
He became involved with the program at the beginning of this academic year when he became the head of service for Phi Sigma Pi. Although his involvement is currently limited to what he does through his fraternity, he hopes to continue his involvement with the Teach for America after he graduates by tutoring students from underprivileged communities in Rochester. He explained that these schools could suffer from a lack of funding or ineffective teachers who are there based on tenure.
“I’ve spoken with people who are directly in the program and it’s not like math based, English based or history based,” explained Kowalski-Re. “They take people such as engineering majors, like me, to teach technology classes and to help students get the perspective of hands on critical thinking skills. They have people with all types of majors participating in these programs.”
According to Kowalski-Re, Teach for America’s number one goal is educational equality. To achieve this goal the program provides school supplies for underprivileged families and attempts to get students excited about learning through tutoring and mentoring programs. Kowalski-Re stated that his fraternity has also written letters to students about higher education and its importance in an attempt to increase students’ desire to continue their education after high school.
“It’s really unfair, especially in these underprivileged schools, for the children as well as the communities,” said Kowalski-Re. “They try to target schools with really high dropout rates and schools that don’t have the highest grades; they’re not necessarily the best schools.”
Kowalski-Re explained that his experience with Teach for America has been very positive and fulfilling thus far and that others he has spoken with agree: “Everyone who has been a participant of it has said that it has been a life changing experience. It feels amazing for them to make an impact and change children’s lives.”
The fraternity member said that Phi Sigma Pi will be hosting a school supply drive from April 30 to May 1 in the infinity quad, and the school items that are donated will go to Teach for America to be distributed in the schools that are a part of the program. Another program the fraternity takes part in is backpack drives, where back packs are stuffed with items that may help students in school and are given to students in need.
Students who are interested in becoming more involved with Teach for America, whether it be through tutoring, writing letters or donating supplies, are encouraged to go to the website at http://teachforamerica.org.
|“I was visiting another volunteer on island and I taught a brief photography class to the 6th graders at their school. I let the students use my NIKON D300s professional camera to practice taking pictures.”
During her final years at RIT, Alicia Stern, a long-time and enthusiastic participant in community service programs, was considering committing herself to the Peace Corps immediately after graduation. After extensive research and reaching out to the organization, she was able to sign up for a 27-month assignment that began immediately after her graduation in 2008. Stern’s choice is another example of alternative paths open to students after graduation.
Stern found herself drawn to the program not just for its value as a community service, but also for the opportunity it presented to her personally: “I knew what AmeriCorps was, and then I heard about Peace Corps and I was kind of fixated on joining the Peace Corps after college because I transferred I didn’t have the opportunity to travel abroad for study abroad.” It’s impossible to know which country you will go to before you apply since you cannot select which country you will be sent to. Once you are there, however, you can be assigned to any task from educational work to assisting with agricultural development and public health improvement.
Stern’s assignment led her to Jamaica, where she worked for nearly three years. Volunteers like Stern are assigned to multiple tasks while abroad, but each task is designed to ultimately support the three goals of the Peace Corps. These boil down to providing trained men and women to assist with development efforts, promote understanding of American culture, and promote the understanding of foreign cultures by the volunteers. This can be extremely difficult at times, especially in countries that hold Americans in low regard. Stern herself encountered some extremely negative views of Americans during her tour. In order to promote understanding, however, volunteers are expected to help provide insight into positive aspects of American culture that locals might not otherwise encounter. As Stern explained over the phone, “Peace Corps is, you know, a development organization, but it’s also … a cultural exchange.”
|“Me using a hoe to plant fruit trees in the mountains. This was a school field trip I arranged.”
At the time Stern applied for the Peace Corps, RIT did not associate with the organization very much and recruiters rarely visited the campus. But now it’s much easier to get involved with the Peace Corps through RIT, with information sessions occasionally hosted on campus for interested students. If you can’t make a session, you can also get in touch with your regional recruiting office directly or online and ask for more information. Stern cautions that the Peace Corps is a serious commitment that not everyone should take on. “I think people have high expectations and I think a lot of people, they join the Peace Corps to find who they are as a person, and you have to actually already know who you are as a person,” she explained. “You’ll grow as a person, as a volunteer, you’ll definitely grow. And you’ll face things you might never have faced before, like you might face death, disease, poverty.” She went on reveal that, in the face of these challenges, many people don’t manage to last the entire 27 months of their assignment.
After she returned from Jamaica, Stern continued working for the Peace Corps as a recruiter for some time. Since then, she has stepped back from the Peace Corps to focus on her career as a photographer. She still visits Jamaica regularly - roughly once every six months - to take photos of the people and to visit the friends she made there. Even now, five years after she first left on her assignment, she continues to recommend the service to graduates and everyday citizens alike: “It’s not for everybody, but if you’re a person who wants to experience something completely different, there’s no other organization that’s like the Peace Corps.”
According to an article published in University News in 2011, 78 RIT students have volunteered for the Peace Corps alone. With the growing presence of the organization on campus and the growing number of students attending RIT, that number will surely increase in the years to come.
Whether it is through AmeriCorps, Teach for America or the Peace Corps, there are many opportunities for students to give back to their local communities or the world community after graduation. While these programs may not be for everyone, they are options for students to consider if they have a passion for service and helping others. Information for any of these programs can be found on their websites. Students can also get more information by talking with their academic advisors, who can point them in the right direction, or by attending informational sessions held throughout the year.