April 4, 2002

Seniors Search for Employment Alternatives

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With graduation less than two months away, Cornell seniors have started to explore and secure career options for the future in spite of the current national economic recession. While the job market has not offered seniors the abundance of job opportunities available in recent years, especially during the dot.com frenzy, seniors are looking to other careers.

The recession and perhaps a renewed sense of social and political awareness since Sept. 11 has caused new legions of students to pursue careers with not-for-profit organizations (NFPs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — including the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Green Corps, Teach for America and State PIRG organizations — that have supplied college graduates with professions for years. Many not-for-profit organizations also attract graduating seniors because they offer loan deferment and in some cases, partial loan forgiveness.

The prospect of working for an NFP or an NGO is not new to Cornellians. According to statistics compiled by Cornell Career Services (CCS) in The Class of 2001 Postgraduate Report, roughly 14 percent of last year’s graduating class entered nonprofit or volunteer professions.

Current students have expressed their interest in pursuing such professions in a number of ways. Cornell is one of 16 universities and colleges hosting a Not-for-Profit/Non-Governmental Organization career fair at Columbia University April 12. According to Bill Alberta MS ’77, the associate director of CCS, the CCS-sponsored bus to the career fair filled quickly to the maximum of 41 students and several others have expressed a desire to attend on their own.

While statistics for Cornell’s class of 2002 will not become available until next year, applications to volunteer organizations as well as NFPs and NGOs are on the rise nationally. AmeriCorps, a federally funded program often referred to as “the domestic Peace Corps,” has seen a 50 percent increase in online applications in the month after President Bush called on Americans to devote two years to volunteer service in his State of the Union address, according to Tracy Paden, an AmeriCorps representative. The president also called for a 50 percent increase in the number of volunteers at AmeriCorps so that the organization should hire 75,000 people for the next ten-month-long period of service beginning in September.

“Historically, when the economy was bad, the Peace Corps’ numbers go up. Bush talked about 15,000 volunteers in the next five years. Right now we have roughly 7500,” said Jim Carmody, the New York regional representative for the Peace Corps.

In the past five months, the number of nominations to go overseas has exceeded last year’s figures for the New York regional office of the Peace Corps, which oversees New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The large majority of Peace Corps volunteers are recent college graduates with a liberal arts degree, although the Peace Corps has no age limit, according to Carmody.

Despite the possible increase in applicants due to the recession, Carmody said he has not noticed a decrease in the quality of applicants or in the motivational factors which are usually as mixed as they are this year.

“The first question on the application is about motivational factors. Sometimes it’s the true desire to help others, the feeling of being privileged and wanting to share it, a wish to travel the world and learn about other cultures, to learn new skills and languages. For most applicants it’s a blend,” he added. “I would recommend the Peace Corps to anyone thinking about it. If you’re open to it, it can be a life-altering experience. You’re living outside the box.”

Alicia Irwin ’02, a communications major, plans to enter the Peace Corps after graduation.

“I want to learn another language, and Peace Corps orientation does that. I also decided that I can’t sell my soul to corporate America and do P.R. for some greedy company. I also need to see the US from the outside right now to try to understand the rest of the world.”

Irwin will be working in Central Asia making health materials there.

“I emphasized several times that I am most interested in Central Asia. They took that into account. I am told that during the 12-week orientation — mine will be in Central Asia — Peace Corps reps interview you further to determine your exact post.”

In regards to the benefits, personal and financial, of the Peace Corps, Irwin said, “I will get a small stipend to live on. The major benefits I see are the experience and inspiration for my creative interests: drawing, painting, photography and folk dance.”

Colin Murchie ’02, a natural resources major, specializing in policy, management and human dimensions, seriously considered law school, even taking the LSAT, before choosing to apply to the Green Corps and the Fund for Public Interest Research (FFPIR), partially because he, “just couldn’t face the prospect of yet more school after four years here.”

But in the middle of the interviewing process with both organizations, a Cornell alum who interviewed Murchie offered him a job with an NGO, a job that he has decided to pursue. He plans to work for Solar Energy Industries Association.

“My first priority was to take a job which was relevant to my coursework and which I thought would make me a part of the solution, so to speak. SEIA offered me a very attractive way to do that, in an area in which I was particularly interested, and in a position which involved a lot of responsibility right out of the gate. … SEIA was also offering quite a bit more money. I had begun to worry about supporting myself on a starting NGO salary in a major city.”

“I was lucky enough to find a position that combines the financial rewards of selling out to the Man with the karmic compensation of doing something I really care about.”

Archived article by Laura Rowntree