Giving Back After Graduation

After graduation, many students face the dreaded question: now what do I do? For Shaina Affatato, the decision was simple; she wanted to give back and do something different.

Shaina graduated from JMU in May 2010 with a BBA in Economics from the College of Business. As a graduate from COB, Shaina said there were a decent amount of job opportunities but before heading into the workforce, she wanted to give back in a different way. While at JMU, Shaina was very active in community service as a member of Gamma Sigma Sigma, a national service sorority, which ultimately led her to getting involved with AmeriCorps.

“As a first generation college student, I knew the struggles I went through during college, like working full-time while trying to maintain high academic standards, and I wanted to do something after college that allowed me to help students who were in a similar position,” Shaina said.

Because of her drive to give back and make a difference, Shaina became involved with AmeriCorp’s College Forward Program. College Forward provides college access and persistence services to economically disadvantaged and first generation college students. To participate in this program, Shaina had to make the move to Austin, Texas!

Making the Big Move to Texas!
For Shaina, moving to Texas was easy and she transitioned very smoothly.

“I am originally from New York, and moved to Virginia to go to JMU, so I had already moved once, but the move from Virginia to Austin, Texas for AmeriCorps was a HUGE move!” said Shaina. “Texas was great though and AmeriCorps was a very supportive program. I was lucky in that my program was a large AmeriCorps program so there were about 40 other AmeriCorps members and we had all just re-located to Austin at the same time, similar to being a freshman at JMU.”
Working for AmeriCorps
There were no typical work days at College Forward. As a College Persistence Coordinator, Shaina oversaw about 95 college students.
“Most days entailed some type of financial aid emergency or organizing a student group meeting. I was on a team of 8 coordinators and we always worked together, kicking off the week to discuss our responsibilities,” describes Shaina.
Since this is a first job for most members, she said that AmeriCorps was great because they offered a lot of support and guidance though they were also given a lot of responsibility and their ideas were considered in ever situation.
AmeriCorps has several programs for people to get involved with; they vary greatly and are all unique said Shaina.
“It is important for a person trying to choose a program to ask that program what their office environment is like because each program seems to try to create a different culture, even though the groups of AmeriCorps members change from year to year,” Shaina said.
Through her program, she was able to see how different people reacted to different situations in a structured yet open environment.
A Rewarding Experience
For Shaina, working with AmeriCorps was a rewarding experience.
“Having been in the same position as most of my students I worked with, I felt I was really making a difference in most of their lives because I know how much it would have meant to me had someone stopped to ask me if I needed help or if someone could have explained financial aid a little bit more to me!” she said.
The difference she made in her students’ lives is what made this a worthwhile experience.

“I think seeing the reaction we receive from the students and how appreciative they can be to each member for taking the time to help them, made the experience so worth while,” Shaina said.

Though her toughest challenge was working with the population she was trying to serve, it was the overall cause that kept her going and helped to encourage her throughout her time there. Even when it felt like she was making a sacrifice, it was important to her to fulfill her commitment to the best of her ability.

“I think it is incredibly important to maintain perspective throughout the process and constantly be reflecting to maintain a high level of awareness during your time of service. It is important to really be present and regardless of the reaction we received from the people we served, know that one way or another, we did make a difference,” said Shaina.

Shaina’s work at AmeriCorps helped to clarify her career goals. She decided that though she enjoyed working with the education services, she wanted to work more on the policy side and indirect services instead of working directly with students. She is working for her family’s business in New York but is still considering becoming a lawyer or going to graduate school.

By Desirae Vivian Stevens
contact: desiraevivian@gmail.com

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