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. Service Corps assignments 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 Fellows has to say about his experience with Service Corps:

Kyle Clark-Sutton, MPA/MSES ‘15

When I heard I was selected to be one of SPEA’s new Service Corps Fellows for the 2014 cohort, I didn’t really know what to expect, but was excited to get started. There is a lot of diversity among the Service Corps partner organizations—each potential placement has a different mission and different shoes to fill. Each placement is substantive and challenging, which you lends the Fellowship a different professional depth than a typical internship.

After researching the partner programs, and going through a long interview process, I was matched with the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, where I serve as an Advocacy Associate within the Advocacy Team. The Chamber’s mission is to represent the interests and needs of Chamber members by being involved in everything that is happening at the local, state, and sometimes federal level.

The Chamber serves a wide variety of companies in Bloomington, from sole proprietors like Joan’s Caramels, all the way up to the largest businesses in the community like CFC Properties. One day at work, I visited a local scrapyard to talk about a new ordinance the City Council was considering, and the next day I attended an IU Health event about workplace wellness. The variety makes for an interesting work place and I’m quickly becoming familiar with all the moving and shaking going on in in the community.

Some days the pace is fast and unpredictable, and I’m learning as we go. Other days are calmer, which gives me a chance to dig deeper into a project. One of my first tasks was to help finalize the annual Business Climate and Legislative Agenda Survey. The survey helps the Chamber understand what issues are most important to local businesses, and we use it to chart the advocacy course for the next year in consultation with the Advocacy and Legislative Committees.

One issue that the survey addressed was how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affects local businesses. I’m currently working with the Healthcare Committee of the Chamber to keep track of the rollout and provide resources to our members who may be affected by (or able to take advantage of) the small business components of the legislation.

I’m also finding opportunities to practice researching and writing briefs on issues. Shortly after I started, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission released the 2013 Water Resources Report, which mentioned Lake Monroe as an underutilized resource. As a result, my supervisor asked me to review the report and do some research to understand more about Bloomington’s water supply and whether the Chamber should be involved in this issue. After all, a stable and steady flow of water is essential to thriving business.

I have experienced all of these great opportunities to learn and contribute, and many more. Additionally, I have interacted with many interesting people in the Bloomington community, while working with a really motivated and fun staff, and I have been challenged and well supported by my Chamber Advocacy Director and my SPEA supervisor. Service Corps is really a unique opportunity, and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

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