Ryan Chartrand

Just as the Peace Corps claims, “life is calling” to recent graduates. But that doesn’t mean they have to respond by finding an 8-to-5 job or attending graduate school.

Two programs in particular -Teach for America and Peace Corps – offer recent graduates the opportunity to enter the workforce, albeit in a slightly less conventional way.

Teach for America

According to Teach for America’s Web site, of the 13 million children growing up in poverty, only half will graduate from high school. Those who do will perform, on average, at an eighth-grade level.

The program enlists recent graduates nationwide who are committed to combating what the program claims is the nation’s most pressing problem through two years of teaching in urban and rural public schools.

“I joined Teach for America because I wanted to take some time while young to give back to society. I feel that public service is important, and I think that closing the achievement gap in education is a meaningful goal,” said Elisabeth Katlyn LaMotte-Mitchell, a political science senior who will begin teaching with the program in Washington, D.C. this fall.

“I considered the Peace Corps but was not ready to leave the country. I think that we privileged Americans sometimes forget there are problems here that we need to address as well,” she said.

After graduation, LaMotte-Mitchell will fly to Washington, D.C., and then attend intensive summer training in Philadelphia. She said that she is looking forward to learning the necessary skills to start the school year off strong.

For LaMotte-Mitchell and others, the thought of finding the so-called normal job is simply not as appealing as potentially changing 30 lives.

Chris Albeck, a political science senior who will begin teaching in Oakland, next fall, decided to join Teach for America because he wanted to “do something that actually meant something.”

“I have a lot of friends who are going off to law schools and becoming accountants and engineers and there is nothing wrong with that. But I feel that there is a certain civic virtue aspect that everyone should try to acquire and those types of jobs don’t provide that,” he said.

“I did consider doing something else, but that was with the Peace Corps or overseas non-governmental work, so that sort of fell under the same category. I just can’t imagine sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day. That would just be horrible.”

Teach for America isn’t just an option that graduating seniors should consider, though. LaMotte-Mitchell pointed out that since the application process is extensive, taking a couple of months and numerous interviews to complete, juniors (or underclassmen) should look into the program now.

Today, over 4,400 corps members are working in 25 regions across the country. For more information regarding Teach for America, including applications and deadline listings, go to www.teachforamerica.org.

Peace Corps

On a global scale, Peace Corps offers recent graduates the opportunity to travel, learn about another culture and language, and help make a developing community better.

Last year, Cal Poly was one of the top 25 schools in the nation to send Peace Corps volunteers overseas. Since Sept. 30, 2005, about 878 Californians have volunteered through the program; 46 of those have been Cal Poly students.

Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment. After three months of training (which focuses on helping volunteers learn the cultural and technical aspects, and the language of the country where they will be going), volunteers serve in their overseas community for two years.

“Some people think it’s a long time, but having done it, I wouldn’t want to commit to any less. There are good times and bad times, but the memories you have and friends you make last a lifetime,” said Marta Block, Cal Poly’s Peace Corps representative.

Block served as a volunteer in Ghana, working with four nursery operators who produced citrus seedlings; she also participated in some health-related programs that helped those with HIV/AIDS and Guinea worm.

“There’s really too much to say about the experience other than I loved it – I loved the people I met, the language I learned (Twi), and the experiences I gained through work,” she said. “But I mostly just enjoyed living a totally different way of life for two years.”

For those who have had a history of volunteer experience, the Peace Corps offers a sort of continuation of this as a career.

“At the start of my (second) senior year, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I’d been volunteering time with one organization or another for most of my life since junior high, so it was probably because of that that I was initially attracted to Peace Corps,” said Lyle Kozloff, a 2005 Cal Poly graduate and volunteer in Benin in western Africa.

Kozloff will be finishing up his two years of service in the following weeks.

“In truth, the experience has been great. It’s been both at the same time wonderful, frustrating and rewarding. Sort of hard to sum up, but I think Peace Corps recruiting slogan of The toughest job you’ll ever love is pretty damn accurate,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Though the experience has been great, Kozloff said, it does have its drawbacks. As part of their commitment, volunteers receive a stipend that allows them to live at more or less the same as the average local. But this isn’t necessarily the case, Kozloff said.

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