IU SPEA Service Corps: An Inside Look

Service Corps is a collaboration among the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), the Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA), local nonprofit organizations and public agencies. Through this innovative program and the leverage of Federal Work Study monies, SPEA students are named Service Corps Fellows and contribute to the public management, economic development, environmental policy, and human service needs of the local and surrounding community.

SPEA’s curriculum is centered around applied learning in civic engagement programs. Service Corps appointments strengthen the articulation between theory and practice while filling critical gaps in service delivery in the surrounding community. The goal is for students to assume responsibilities in support of strategic objectives of the department, agency, or organization to which they are assigned. SPEA’s Service Corps reinforces a Fellow’s advanced academic training through its application to real-world work settings via placements in the community. The practical experience offered is enhanced further by offering professional development seminars and professional contacts that may serve as mentors and supplement professional networks integral to Fellows’ career pursuits. In the past, Service Corps projects have ranged from conducting research and writing reports on greenhouse gas emissions to writing grant proposals to providing volunteer coordination and management. Ultimately, it is expected that students will enhance individual management techniques and leadership skills while putting into practice their classroom learning.

See what one our new Fellows has to say about her experience with Service Corps:

Dana Schroeder, MPA ‘15

The Service Corps program sets SPEA apart from other schools offering degrees in public affairs, pairing incoming masters candidates with local public sector employers for two-year fellowship experiences. The collaboration is mutually beneficial, as students seek hands-on experience and employers seek help from qualified young professionals. This incredibly unique collaboration is between SPEA and more than thirty-one local organizations and institutions. Fellows work with a variety of organizations including Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, US Fish and Wildlife, Boys and Girls Club, the Mayor’s Office, Bloomington Parks and Recreation and more.

As a SPEA masters student, the faculty and staff drive home this undeniable fact: experience matters. If you are a prospective SPEA graduate student, learning more about the Service Corps Program could be your key to gaining invaluable experience in your field or beyond. Rigorous classes at SPEA create a daunting baseline workload, but having the chance to apply the theories and practices learned in class is an important aspect to fully understanding their relevance. Luckily, there are a myriad of non-profit organizations, government agencies and departments, public-private partnerships, and university affiliates, looking for enthusiastic and dedicated students from SPEA.

The Service Corps program offers some more specific benefits. The program is peer-directed, meaning that all the fellows report to two student coordinators who were in community positions the previous year. These coordinators facilitate professional development planning, extend career-building resources, and are happy to advise on the everyday challenges of learning by experience. The two year timeline is another huge advantage that Service Corps delivers. Many Fellows begin to learn about their placement by helping with general operational tasks but are then challenged by their mentors to develop a variety of new skills. As Fellows navigate new professional experiences, each mentor can carve out a place for that Fellow within the framework of the operation. Oftentimes, students end up contributing to a specific program or goal to which those newly developed skills are suited. You can imagine how this specialization might not always be possible with shorter-term internship positions.

A mere two months into my Service Corps placement, I’m already getting a feel for the skills I will develop. After the interview and matching process, hosted during Orientation, I was placed with IU’s Office of Sustainability (IUOS) which works in every imaginable corner of campus inspiring and coordinating campus leaders and students alike to catalyze a thriving culture of sustainability at Indiana University. My assignment is to help the office develop, implement, and evaluate a Sustainability Peer Educator Program. We are using a community-based social marketing approach to foster environmentally responsible attitudes and behaviors with students living in the residence halls.

This particular placement allows for a great deal of independence, which in itself has motivated me more than I ever could have expected! I have been reading up on the progress IU has already made in decreasing campus impacts on the environment, and  I learned about strategies employed by other universities at the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). I have also been initiating contact with program stakeholders and getting input on logistics. I am searching for the most effective means of communicating information on energy conservation, water conservation, and waste reduction so that we can develop curriculum in these areas. Much of this will change as the semesters go on and we move into coordinating undergraduate “peer educators (PEs)” and evaluating their progress. My role is varied, to say the least, and I feel like a real part of the IUOS team.

My Service Corps placement challenges, connects, and encourages me every day. I’ve asked more questions than I care to admit, feeling under qualified and overwhelmed occasionally. However, I wouldn’t pass up this opportunity to serve the IU and Bloomington communities. I feel confident claiming that many Service Corps Fellows have great things to say about their placements as well, so next time you talk to someone who is participating in the program, ask them what projects and programs they are involved. Service Corps Fellows are making some very tangible impacts in our community, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in just a few short years!


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