Most students want to stand out and be seen as appealing candidates, whether applying for scholarships, graduate schools, internships or jobs. But the reality is that in order to stand out, students have to take the extra initiative to do things that they can put on their resumes. This can be accomplished through jobs, internships and student clubs, but there is another asset students can partake in — volunteering.
According to a 2010 survey completed by LinkedIn, a business connection social media website, 41 percent of employers said they considered volunteer work just as important as paid work, and 20 percent said they had made a hiring decision based on volunteer work.
Danica Bryant, UAA’s workforce and career development coordinator, said volunteering can help students not only improve their resumes, but also their selves.
“Volunteer experience is a good way to improve on those soft skills that are important at any workplace, such as arriving on time, working with others, communication skills, et cetera,” Bryant said.
Biological sciences major Brittany Jermalovic has volunteered with various organizations such as the Food Bank and Covenant House. She knows that for those who are just starting out, finding where one wants to volunteer can be difficult.
“If you are not sure about what event or place you want to volunteer at, look into the non-profit,” Jermalovic said. “Each organization has information about their mission and future events.”
Caitlin Cheely, a Russian major who volunteered at both the Anchorage Museum and Alaska Association of Asian Cultural Learning, advises students research before jumping into volunteer opportunity to ensure it is a good fit.
“The most important tip I have is to volunteer with some organization that is focusing on a mission that you personally believe in, agree with or are invested in,” Cheely said. “Also try to volunteer doing something that you already know you love. If you adhere to those two suggestions, then the volunteer ‘work’ will not really feel like work at all!”
However, some students can feel like they do not have adequate time to put into volunteering between classes, studying, family and jobs. Natural sciences major Ann Jennings, who volunteered first at the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department and then Hospice of Anchorage, had this feeling but wanted to help out anyway.
“As a college student you likely won’t have hours and hours to give, but that’s not the point,” Jennings said. “I would say if you’re interested in volunteering, go for it. Don’t be scared away by orientation requirements.”
She found that many organizations are willing to accommodate and work with their volunteers’ schedules.
A student can select volunteer opportunities specifically related to his or her major to get a better idea of what work environment he or she may go into after graduation. Sociology major Marina Kreuzenstein said learning through experience is an important part of a student’s education. She volunteered over 60 hours of time between both Bean’s Cafe and the Eagle River library.
“I didn’t feel like being a sociology major limited where I could volunteer to make in meaningful for my educational career,” Kreuzenstein said. “I almost always chose to volunteer when it was presented as an option because the alternative was usually a research paper.”
Students should also think ahead, especially if they are going to major in something different in graduate school. Ellen Dore is a natural sciences major but knew she wanted to go to medical school, so she volunteered in the Adult Critical Care Unit at Providence Medical Center.
“Just find an environment you enjoy, or think you may want to work in someday, then find a way to volunteer,” Dore said. “For me I knew I wanted to have medical volunteering. There’s something for everyone with volunteering. You just need to find it, then provide the time.”
But students should not feel obligated to only pursuing opportunities directly related to their majors or anticipated areas of study. There are other students, like English major Silas Romig, who try something they are passionate about, even if it doesn’t quite match what they are studying. English major Romig volunteered at the Salvation Army Clitheroe Center, an inpatient facility that provides substance abuse treatment services.
When asked if his volunteer choice had any connection to his major, Silas responded, “No, it did not. Although, I feel that many of us have been affected by a loved one’s substance abuse, and in that I am no exception. I guess you could say it is a cause that is close to my heart.”
Many students, like economics major Kalyssa Maile, believed they would just volunteer short-term to get some experience, but found it so enjoyable they continued to volunteer. For Maile, it turned out to be something that landed her a job.
“I completed my hours doing work for the Eva Foundation, including selling tickets over several weekends for their Holiday Gala and helping set up and staff the gala itself,” Maile said. “After that experience, I did get more involved in volunteerism by helping out in a state legislative office, which eventually translated into an internship and now a job.”
Maile was first encouraged to get out and volunteer because as an Honors College student she was required to take the course “Community Service: Theory and Practice.” The 300-level class teaches students about the ideas behind volunteering while also having them go into the field and actively participate in volunteering.
“Volunteering has a very specific connotation, one that elicits admiration and respect towards the individual when spoken about. I don’t respect people who merely talk about doing stuff for others, or even for themselves. Get off your ass and do it,” said anthropology major Blake Romero, who volunteered at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
The professor in charge of the course, Dennis McMillian, is also the president and CEO of the Foraker group, a business-designed to help non-profits throughout Alaska grow and succeed. McMillian brings his first-hand experience and years of knowledge to the course, encouraging students to become active in their community.
“Overall the benefit of all volunteerism is to engage in, strengthen and build community. Humans thrive in communities where all citizens share time and resource — think of subsistence activities in rural Alaska,” McMillian said.
Taylor Mitchell, a global logistics and supply chain management major, said all students should try to volunteer, and once they pick something they should go “full steam ahead with it.” Mitchell went full steam by dedicating herself to volunteering throughout her entire college career, working with Providence Extended Care center, Catholic Social Services and New Day Christian Center.
“All of my experiences have helped me to solidify the career that I want to have, as well as help me to see the importance of helping those in need,” Mitchell said. “The world could be a much better place if people would pitch in and help when and where they can for people who need extra help.”