March 4, 2010

Looking beyond graduate school

While many Knox seniors are anxiously awaiting responses from graduate schools or rushing to fill out job applications, others are instead hoping to dedicate the next few years of their lives to community or international service.

Programs such as AmeriCorps, the Peace Corp, and Teach for America (TFA) are designed not only to help people in need but also to teach their volunteers how to implement social change beyond their time within the program. Senior Emily Putnam said that this action-oriented philosophy was what drew her to Teach for America.

“I wanted to do Teach for America because I didn’t want to get stuck in a cycle where I come from middle class Oklahoma, go to a private college, immediately progress to graduate school, and then set out to try and solve problems that I never did more than read about anyway,” she said.

After a rigorous application process, Putnam was accepted by TFA in the fall to teach pre-kindergarten in Chicago.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” she said. “I’m […] right in the midst of a sizable amount of work that must be completed before the summer institute, which just makes me more eager to graduate and begin the program.”

Through Teach for America, recent college graduates commit to teach for two years in an urban or rural public school. By bringing together enthusiastic teachers and disadvantaged students, TFA hopes to decrease inequity in education.

“Not only does Teach for America train and support you through teaching, but they put you through the ringer on policy and practice and how to effect change,” Putnam said.

For people who may not be interested in teaching, more general programs exist through which they can serve. Through AmeriCorps, volunteers work with American nonprofit organizations, doing everything from building houses to directing after school programs to providing natural disaster relief. The Peace Corps provides similar programs in developing countries.

Senior Sara Belger wanted to apply to the Peace Corps because of her experience teaching English as a Second Language classes in Galesburg.

“I figured that since I have this knowledge, I should try to use it to the best advantage for others by volunteering with the Peace Corps,” she said.

The Peace Corps sends volunteers around the world to work in such areas as community development, food security, and healthcare. Within their areas of expertise, many volunteers also contribute to HIV/AIDS initiatives.

“It’s a great program that allows people to do some pretty awesome work,” said Belger.

For students dedicated to making a difference, programs like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and Teach for America can be excellent choices after graduation.

Anna Meier

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