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After graduating in May, Bria Davis plans to #MakeBetterHappen.
That’s the official Twitter hashtag—and the mission—of the organization she plans to work for over the next year. The journalism major from Huntley, Ill., will be tutoring and mentoring students in Boston through City Year, a nonprofit organization that places 17- to 24-year-olds at high-need public schools to help students complete their education.
While a majority of seniors at the University of Iowa line up jobs or graduate study, some students pursue opportunities like Davis’. Community service projects through City Year, the Peace Corps, or other nonprofits may not offer large paychecks for recent college graduates, but they can pay out huge dividends in personal and professional development.
Iowa Now spoke with several students about their service-related post-commencement plans.
Bria Davis: “I don't want to take for granted the opportunities I’ve been given”
UI senior Bria Davis plans to spend a year serving at-risk students in Boston through City Year. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.
Davis says she feels compelled to give back after completing her college education this year.
“I’ve spent the past four years finding myself and using University of Iowa resources to improve myself,” she says, “I really wanted to do something that would be beneficial to other people.”
She heard about City Year through a flier posted at the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment. She also looked into Teach for America, but found City Year’s one-year commitment more palatable than the two years required by Teach for America. Both programs are selective and receive funding though AmeriCorps. After a two-month application and interview process, she learned in March that she had been accepted.
In an alternate life, Davis says, she might have been a teacher, so she is looking forward to working one-on-one with students. She also is eager to use her language skills—she minored in Spanish—while in Boston, which has a large Hispanic population.
Davis eventually plans to attend law school—UCLA, Northwestern, and Michigan are at the top of her list—but even then her motivation is to “make better happen”: her goal is to tackle gender and racial inequities in sports through policy change. A job working with the NCAA, she says, would be ideal.
“For example, the number of women in leadership or coaching positions has actually declined under Title IX,” says Davis, who was an athlete in high school and has worked for both the Big Ten Network and ESPN. “I want to make sure everyone’s getting a fair chance.”
Davis begins her commitment to City Year with a two-week training in August. She will receive ongoing training as well as a monthly living stipend. When the first school bell rings, she will have her parents in mind. Both grew up in inner-city Chicago and failed to advance to college.
“I’m well aware of the disparities in education,” she says. “I don't want to take for granted the opportunities I've been given. Instead, I’ll take a piece of my past and help others who are in the same situation as my parents were.”
Onalee Yousey: “I was looking for an experience that would shape me”
Recent UI graduate Onalee Yousey is working in St. Louis through AmeriCorps. Photo by Miranda Caulkins.
Onalee Yousey, a UI honors student who graduated in December 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in political science and a Bachelor of Arts in international studies, has been serving in AmeriCorps since February. She works as a grant writer for Grace Hill Settlement House, an organization that assists thousands of families in St. Louis by offering a Head Start Program, a food pantry, a women’s business center, and transitional housing, among other services.
As an undergraduate, Yousey completed two internships for a community development organization in St. Louis, teaching social studies to low-income children in a tutoring program.
“That experience left a big imprint on me,” says Yousey, who says she became fond of the city and its residents. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study in graduate school, so returning to St. Louis with AmeriCorps was a solution to fill the gap. Plus, I was looking for an experience that would shape me.”
Yousey, originally from North Branch, Minn., wishes more students would consider community service work. She understands that recent graduates worry about paying student loans, but notes that service in AmeriCorps may qualify for loan deferral. Not only does Yousey receive a modest living allowance, she also will earn a post-service education award that she can apply to student loans or graduate school tuition.
And on top of that, Yousey says, the work is rewarding and she is building her professional skill set.
“I may be not the hands and feet of the operation but I write grant proposals that, for example, may help someone get utility assistance,” she says. “And I enjoy connecting with the various program managers who love what they do. The challenge for me is to quantify that passion on paper and turn it into a winning proposal. I’m so grateful for all the time my professors spent teaching me how to write and write well.”
Corey Collins: “I want to change things”
UI senior Corey Collins plans to develop a nonprofit offshoot of the altruistic student organization he started as a sophomore. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.
When Corey Collins graduates in May, he’ll continue the service work he started his sophomore year.
That was when the marketing major from Schaumburg, Ill., joined forces with a friend to form a student organization called Young Altruistic Professionals of America (YAPA). The group, which has grown to include more than 50 members, raises money and awareness for a number of organizations, such as the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. Since its inception, the students have raised $10,000 for the cancer center through a campaign called “Beards for Boobies.” Two underclass students have taken the reins and will lead YAPA next year.
After commencement, Collins will shift his attention to another altruistic endeavor: building an offshoot of YAPA called Bands for Life, a nonprofit organization he founded that is dedicated to developing social awareness campaigns for philanthropic causes. Although Bands for Life will benefit a number of causes, a major focus will be cancer—the disease that claimed the life of his mother, Cynthia McAdam, when he was a sophomore.
“She was a single mom raising two boys on the south side of Chicago. She knew the stats. But she constantly made sure we were taken care of. She always pushed us to do better, and never let us get complacent,” he says. “Even when she got breast cancer, it was like she wasn’t sick. She worked full-time through her treatment and helped me pay for college. Her selflessness has inspired me to give back.”
The marketing and communication skills Collins honed in the Tippie College of Business—and the family of mentors he encountered there—will help provide a foundation for successful nonprofit management, he says. Band for Life will work with the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and also partner with other research centers.
“I want to change things—not just for my résumé but because I truly believe we all can be great. I want to inspire people and then see them succeed.”