By Brigit Boler, Marketing and Recruitment Specialist, American Indian OIC
Many AmeriCorps members just graduated from school and hope to get a job after their year of service while others plan to attend graduate school after their year is complete; two separate stages in their career paths. A year of service with AmeriCorps is a great way to enhance professional skills and experience, getting hands on experience on anything from marketing to data management to grant writing. However, something many VISTAs realize is that there are important or valuable skillsets that we wish we had pursued while in college but returning to school can seem impossible to do when you work 40 hours a week in the VISTA Program.
Well, in recent years, many schools have been developing programs that allow for online learning or schedules that accommodate working professionals. I’m currently enrolled in Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s (MCAD)Interactive Design and Marketing Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate. I applied and was accepted to this program prior to joining AmeriCorps VISTA but I’ve found that I’ve ended up with a great combination that will greatly advance my skills and employability.
The courses are delivered entirely online which makes it easy to work around my AmeriCorps schedule. It’s also extremely relevant to my marketing position with AmeriCorps and I am able to combine the knowledge that I gain at either site. I was able to assist my site with plans on designing a new website with the knowledge I had gained about trends in web design. I also was able to use my desire to increase social media activity at my site as a class assignment that ended up giving me some great ideas on how to manage our social media. I was able to better understand our assignment SEO (search engine optimization) after I worked on the SEO on some of my site’s websites.
The combination of both experiences has already greatly expanded my resume and I’m only halfway done with AmeriCorps and a semester into MCAD’s program. I’ll be able to use my Education Award to directly pay for my education in the second year rather than having to pay back loans. The modest AmeriCorps stipend is definitely a challenge, but in this case it made me eligible for financial aid in my second year when I fill out the FAFSA this spring.
MCAD’s program is just one of the many programs that are offered online. North Hennepin Community College offers many online certificates in areas from programming, to finance, to business management. Coursera and Khan Academy offer classes on a wide variety of topics entirely for free or you can pay a small fee to receive an official certificate for your efforts. Code Academy is a website where you can learn all sorts of different coding languages, from HTML and CSS to Python and Ruby, entirely for free! Many state colleges and universities also offer online classes, such as the grantwriting certificate from San Diego State University.
Of course, it’s not possible for everyone. Many education programs are full-time commitments that require a student to be present in the classroom. But if you are looking at AmeriCorps as a springboard for a career change or need to take additional classes to gain more professional skills, I encourage you to hunt around to see if there are any online programs that you can take advantage of while you do a year of service. Especially when Phillips’ VISTA program also offers great support and training for VISTAs who want to use the year to focus on their professional development.