My Year in the CUNY Service Corps
Naomi Ducat QC’16 and Jim Stellar
Naomi just finished writing a short paper on a different topic for another section of this website, but I had to ask her to write this blog with me as she also just finished a two-semester project in the CUNY Service Corps where she worked about 12 hours a week at the non-profit Queens Library about 3 miles from the Queens College CUNY campus during the academic year. Over the summer, a special grant from a foundation allowed her to continue her work in the library full-time.
Naomi, first just tell us what was your starting job and then how it evolved into the next step.
I should first mention that my title as a CUNY Service Corps intern is deceiving in that it implies that members have one position and therefore one experience, but we actually have many.
I began my CUNY Service Corp term at Queens Library as a job readiness trainer. My responsibilities involved helping individuals apply for jobs by preparing for interviews, creating resumes, and learning basic computer skills. This position gave me insight into the large number of people who depend on library services. It also made me conscious of the extent to which technology resources are inaccessible, language barriers are pervasive, and education is limited in so many communities, consequently inhibiting people from developing skills necessary to receive employment. This new awareness inspired me to contemplate other ways to make a difference in my community through my placement at the library.
Fortunately, I heard a series of Pandora commercials promoting Queens Library, and saw a potential opportunity to combine my current work with my interest in public relations. When I mentioned this idea to my supervisor, she put me in contact with the director of communications, and I was relocated to the library’s Government Affairs Office to become a Public Relations assistant.
This new position offered me a glimpse into the media industry, journalism, and the non-profit sector, while allowing me to continue my partnership with the CUNY Service Corps. Subsequently, many doors began to open. First, an outreach librarian approached me and offered me a part time summer position at a library grassroots organization, which I accepted. Then, the director of communications at the library offered me a part-time position to begin after my Service Corps term ends. And most significantly, the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women provided a grant to create the JFEW-CUNY Summer Service Corps program, allowing students such as myself the opportunity to extend our service throughout the summer as full-time employees. This was my first full-time work experience, and my first time having three professional opportunities stem from one.
That was great. Thank you. Now tell us what you think was the biggest impact on you as a student.
I can easily say that the most valuable part of this experience was having the opportunity to be a full-time employee over the summer. This opportunity is often rare for students. I have had multiple part-time jobs, where supervisors provided me with specific instructions for tasks subordinate to the primary goals, such as recording data and making phone calls. It was after I began working at the library on a full-time basis that my supervisors began to assign me more important tasks and give me less instruction. I soon graduated from making scripted phone calls and tabulating data, to updating the organization’s website, monitoring press coverage, as well as writing news articles, press releases, and letters to government officials on behalf of library executives.
Prior to this transition, I always assumed tasks would be delegated to me with detailed instruction. After experiencing otherwise, I now know that having the autonomy to make creative decisions on a project can lead to far more productivity than dependence on close supervision. Moreover, this experience has taught me that I have the ability to make practical judgments to merit this freedom. Thus, I acknowledge this transition not only as a valuable path towards employment, but also as a lesson on skill development.
In this final section, we want to make two brief points from both of us.
First: The first is that the CUNY Service Corps program is very large with about 800 students serving at about than 95 sites throughout New York City. When JS co-presented a paper at a World Association of Cooperative Education conference in spring in Sweden on the Queens College participation demographics, he claimed that the overall program was the largest such operation in the world. With dozens of countries present, no one objected. We would be interested if in response to this blog post, anyone knew of a university system that has organized a bigger service-learning program where students get paid by the university or system.
Second: To the student, the program was both substantial and authentic, and thus it has a high impact. That is evident in the story ND told above and in particular when she switched to full-time at the library. We have seen this kind of impact before in other programs of paid internships such as the well-established full-time cooperative education program at Northeastern University from which JS came in 2009 when he moved to Queens College as an administrator. Substantial and authentic can be characteristic of other types of experiential learning outside internships and all of these programs can help students to figure out aspects of their career plans in the real-world that may have only been lightly tested in the academic college curriculum. We saw that effect too in the above story. With such a large base of student participants, it would be great now if CUNY would study this impact on students to serve as a model for other institutions, and we are sure that they will. Perhaps that will be the subject of our next blog.