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March 22, 2010
By Skyler Dillon
University of Nevada, Reno alumnus Christopher Moore has made volunteering a way of life. As an undergraduate student studying international affairs and Spanish, he first studied abroad in Spain and became hooked on traveling. His newfound passion led him to study in Mexico and China, where he volunteered with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and to travel to Guatemala on a Habitat for Humanity trip.
“I was addicted to being abroad,” he said. “Any way I could find to travel and get credit, or to do it inexpensively, I wanted to take advantage of, and if I could find a way to help out the community I visited, that made it even better.”
His volunteer work, which continued after his graduation in 2002 with a trip to a refugee camp in Ghana and a Habitat for Humanity trip to Ethiopia, earned him a full-ride rotary scholarship to graduate school in Queensland, Australia to study peace studies and conflict resolution.
“[Volunteering] has opened up opportunities for me as far as my career goes,” said Moore, who is currently applying for development jobs in Africa and hopes to eventually work with the United Nations. “It’s given me experience and contacts.”
Moore is part of a growing trend at the University. An increasing number of students are getting involved with community service both locally and abroad. Twenty Nevada alumni are currently volunteers with the Peace Corps, making Nevada one of the top-25 schools in the country for number of alumni in service for the first time. The University ranks just behind Yale University and is tied with Emory and Brown Universities.
Philippa Lockwood, a 2008 Nevada graduate, recently returned from a Peace Corps mission in Niger. She returned early because of unrest in the region, making her trip “bittersweet,” but is considering taking another trip after she finishes graduate school at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in May.
“It made me grow a lot, and grow up a lot,” she said. “It changed how I think about the world, and what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
As the number of student volunteers increases, so do the number of opportunities to serve. The University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), which sends students to study-abroad programs in 25 different countries, launched a service-learning project this spring through its Bangalore, India program and will expand the project to the Ghana program this summer. Students who participate attend a one-credit class on social issues including AIDS, poverty, community development and the caste system before doing service work within the Bangalore community. The majority of Nevada students signed up for the summer India program have decided to include the optional class in their coursework, and their work will include everything from HIV education to facilitating microloans to local businesspeople.
Students learned about service opportunities at the U.S. Army booth during the 2009 College of Business Career Fair. Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas.
“It takes a very flexible, adaptable person to want to take that on,” said Susie Askew, director of enrollment for USAC.
“You’re without creature comforts, without the amenities you’re used to,” he said. “It takes a lot of adjusting.”
During her Peace Corps service, Lockwood lived in a small, isolated village without running water or electricity. Her assignment was to work with the mayor’s office to improve the way the government worked with the people, but she soon discovered that the mayor, who lived miles away from the village, was rarely there.
“I ended up working with local teachers to start an acting club instead, and we wrote plays that illustrated moral values,” she said. “For example, one of ours talked about the importance of paying your taxes.”
Moore said that kind of flexibility is a must for anyone looking to volunteer abroad, but that the experience of working both around and with the local residents offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to witness and participate in another culture.
“When I was working to build a bridge in Ethiopia with the local people, I didn’t feel isolated or unconnected like a tourist,” he said.
Askew said that the chance to work closely with local residents is a big attraction for most students who plan to study abroad.
“We hear over and over that students want to get integrated in the community, to get to know people one-on-one and face-to-face,” said Askew. “This is a great way for them to do that.”
At the 2009 College of Business Career Fair, students networked with professionals and learned about ways to boost their careers through community service. Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas.
Boosting Your Career
Students looking for volunteer work can also find it at the College of Business’ upcoming career fair on March 31. Forty-five companies are currently registered to participate, and that number is expected to grow before the event. Many will be looking for students willing to volunteer.
AmeriCorps VISTA, a federal program that fights poverty in the United States by enriching education and providing vocational training, will attend the fair, as will the Northern Nevada International Center. The regional office of the Peace Corps will have a booth, as well as offer an informational session from 6 to 8 p.m. at REI in Reno. Jane Bessette, director of career services for the College of Business, also recommends talking to the U.S. Army and Navy booths about civilian service and attending the networking reception from 4 to 6 p.m. March 30 in the Joe Crowley Student Union Great Room.
“You have to always be ready to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself,” she said. “Know what you’re good at, and be able to communicate that. A first impression means a lot.”
Lockwood also advises students to talk to alumni of volunteer programs to get more information about what the experience will be like.
“It’s a huge commitment of yourself,” she said. “You want to know what you’re getting into.”
According to Bessette, the volunteer opportunities provide unique benefits to students who take advantage of them.
“Any work is a chance to gain skills and contacts,” she said. “These groups give you the chance to do something great, to feel good about yourself, and help your career at the same time.”