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Students look to service as postgraduate option

Melissa Flanagan | Thursday, September 29, 2011

Senior Katie Stucko’s current application process consists of two interviews — an online activity test and numerous essays.

Stucko is not applying for a high-paying financial or accounting position on Wall Street. Instead, she is applying to volunteer as a teacher through the Teach for America (TFA) program.

“I’m really into doing what I’m passionate about,” Stucko said. “And what I know right now is where I need to be and that is doing this.”

Each year, approximately 10 percent of Notre Dame graduates commit to at least one year of service either in the United States or abroad, according to the Center for Social Concerns website.

Stucko hopes to be one of those graduates.

“I’m applying for Teach For America (TFA) right now and Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) later on,” she said.

“Also a lot of other teaching programs, every one I can find.”

Senior Rocky Stroud is applying to ACE as well, in addition to the Peace Corps and Match, a Boston-based program that matches volunteers with six or seven people who they tutor for one year.

“I’ve been doing service for so long and I didn’t want to start in the corporate world right away,” Stroud said. “I wanted to take a few years to involve myself in an activity that I couldn’t do sitting behind a desk.”

The summer after his sophomore year, Stroud participated in a Summer Service Learning Program in Oregon where he worked at a free clinic. He is currently serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Robinson Community Learning Center in South Bend.

Last year, Stroud also traveled to Ammoklee, Fla. for a spring break service trip.

“We helped migrant workers down there, seeing how they actually pick tomatoes and put them in boxes,” he said. “It’s basically working slavery.”

Stucko said she has participated in a multitude of volunteer teaching programs over the years as well.

“I’m a Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) major, so for three years I’ve done junior great books,” she said. “On Fridays we go into South Bend classrooms and basically do PLS material with middle school kids.”

Stucko also taught a Sunday school class for Confirmation candidates.

However, Stucko said a defining experience came this past summer when she taught 9th grade English in Houston with a program called Breakthrough Collaborative, a TFA partner organization.

“It’s the same model but it’s for really intelligent low-income kids,” she said. “It gives them extra help over the summer to get into great high schools and ultimately go to college.

Stucko said her time in Houston helped her realize she wanted to participate in a program such as TFA after graduation.

“This experience and the others culminated into me thinking this is what I want to do,” she said. “I was just doing these things because I really loved it then I realized, oh, I can do this as a real job.”

Stucko said the TFA application process is a series of stepping stones, going from sending in a resume and initial application, to a phone interview, to an online exam covering both quantitative data analysis and essays and finally ending in a full-day interview.

“First there’s a group interview and at the end you have to teach a five-minute lesson in front of the entire group,” she said. “And then there’s an individual interview.”

Last year, Stucko said about 46,000 students applied and TFA accepted 5,500, which is about 11 percent.

The ACE application is not due until Jan. 25, Stucko said, and the two are very similar.

“There are less stops along the way for ACE,” she said. “You need recommendations too though, and you have to take the GRE since it’s a masters program.”

Stroud said the only application he has begun is for Peace Corps.

“I met with a recruiter at the Career Fair, and then I had a mock interview,” Stroud said. “It wasn’t an official interview, it was more of a meet and greet.”

Stroud said the Peace Corps only accepts about one-third of its applications, and he has heard a high amount of ACE applicants are waitlisted.

“I think a lot of times it goes to the people who start applying early in the fall semester,” he said. “The people who think, yes I want to do this and they get the job.”

Stroud said while many students consider post-graduate service to be a fallback option, those people should still apply for the programs at the same time as they would for a mainstream job.

Stucko hopes to transform this experience into her future mainstream job by continuing in the education world after her volunteer teaching experience, and possibly apply for doctoral programs in education management.

“I have dreams of doing school administration kind of things and being involved in larger school reform,” she said. “I’m looking at this as a stepping stone into whatever that is.”

Stroud said he would like to connect his service work to his future occupation in a different way.

“I want to go into public health,” he said. “I want to help write laws or work in hospital administration to continue helping the people I’ve been serving for so long.”