As a recent grad, I reflect on my post-secondary and employment journey often. The truth is, I didn’t always know I would be working in the non-profit sector. That’s because I had no idea what it was, and the important role it plays in civil society.
My exposure to the non-profit sector through volunteering during my undergraduate degrees expanded my understanding of where to look for a career that would allow me to apply my skills and knowledge.
Praxis makes perfect
When I graduated in 2015 with a bachelor of arts degree, I was unsure of where and how to apply the important theories I learned. At that time, I was still volunteering with different organizations. This seemed to be the only thing that sparked my passion and encouraged me to think back to what I learned at school and apply it to my practice.
My first experience of Community Service Learning (CSL) during the last semester of my degree was particularly meaningful. I was enrolled in a course with a CSL component, which paired me with a non-profit organization for a 20-hour volunteer placement. During my placement, I had to reflect on my volunteer experiences, and draw connections with course materials and content. As a post-secondary student, this was exactly what I was looking for – a way to apply concepts and theories that appeared abstract and intangible to real life.
I also developed practical skills that expanded my interests in addition to my capabilities. The organization I was matched with was looking for someone to develop marketing materials, which I happily took on. The work I did ended up sparking an interest that I didn’t realize I had in graphic design and outreach.
Reflecting on this experience helped me recognize that praxis, or the bridge between theory and practice, was the ‘thing’ that was missing from my education. So, after trying out a string of odd jobs, I went back to school and finished another bachelor’s degree in 2018. This time, I went in with clearer goals: I wanted to commit more time to school work and get better grades so I could graduate with distinction, I wanted to pursue a certificate, and I wanted to continue engaging with my community.
I continued to pursue other experiential learning opportunities, and by the end of my second degree, I accumulated over 150 volunteer hours to complete a certificate in Community Engagement and Service-Learning in addition to my degree. It also encouraged me to pursue other volunteer opportunities in areas that were relevant to my degree.
Graduating a second time felt different; I was excited, and more importantly, I felt prepared. I read multiple job postings that piqued my interest and felt confident that I had the skills needed to apply. When I was invited for interviews, employers were curious and impressed about how I was able to get so much hands-on experience during a condensed two-year degree, on top of my academic achievements.
Three months after graduating, I found a job with Volunteer Alberta that directly related to my CSL placement. Looking back, I am amazed at the influence two years of meaningful and intentional community involvement had on my career path.
3 ways volunteering gives students an enriched experience
So, what can my story tell other students and jobseekers? By making the extra effort to give back to your communities through volunteerism, you’ll receive an enriching experience to learn new skills and more about yourself.
- A feedback loop of learning: Volunteering can have a tremendous impact on post-secondary students as well as non-profits. In my case, I had the chance to work on social issues I care about by getting involved with non-profits that address those issues. That is, volunteering allows students to help create the change they want to see in the world in a practical, hands-on way. Organizations also have a chance to be exposed to the newest forms of thinking that come out of post-secondary institutions.
- Exploring untapped potential: While the possibility to do work beyond the volunteer job description ranges from organization to organization, being immersed in a professional setting can give students a chance to practice skills that they already have or develop new ones. This crucial skill development can give graduates a leg up when searching for work.
- Creating mutually beneficial relationships: Creating meaningful relationships can have positive long-term impacts on everyone involved. Students often provide the skilled volunteerism that non-profits and other community organizations require. The organizations can also be exposed to new trends and theories related to their work. When students have positive experiences, students become powerful champions for the sector because of their insight into the importance of non-profit work in community services, engagement and empowerment.
How to get involved
Students can easily access volunteer opportunities on and off-campus. Campus Career centres and student groups focused on volunteer service make it easy to get exposed to various organizations in the local community. For recent grads, people experiencing a long career break or those looking for a career transition who also want to give back, online volunteer databases like Charity Village and Volunteer Connector share opportunities that can be filtered by interests, skills and time commitment.
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