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Mariah Furtek: UCLA undergrads can benefit from database of service-based positions

(Noelle Cho/Daily Bruin)

By Mariah Furtek

Sept. 21, 2017 7:51 p.m.

Fall quarter is fast approaching, and students will find themselves flooded with back-to-school sale emails from Bed, Bath & Beyond and the familiar sense of dread that they didn’t make the most of their summer breaks.

Many students approach summer with high hopes of returning to their hometowns and maintaining the level of community engagement they practiced on campus, only to find it nearly impossible to secure such opportunities. Unfortunately, this problem hits younger undergraduates the hardest, as they often boast less competitive resumes and have less experience job-hunting.

In order to help underclassmen find meaningful summer work experiences, the UCLA Career Center should collaborate with younger undergraduates and the UCLA Volunteer Center to develop an online database of service opportunities in areas where most Bruins spend their summers. This resource would enable students to become more involved in their communities and, in turn, help them find work experience that would make them more competitive in the job market.

During the school year, students are tripping over opportunities to get involved. But when they return home for the summer, they find they are either unable to find similar opportunities or are under-qualified for available job positions. As a result, some Bruins may find themselves bulking up their Netflix queues instead of beefing up their resumes because they don’t know how to get involved.

Service-based work, however, gives students the opportunity to build their resumes in a fulfilling way without wasting their time applying to positions they have less of a chance getting hired for. Freshmen and sophomores, in particular, should consider service-based work as an alternative to more competitive internships and research positions because such opportunities are usually snatched by juniors and seniors.

For instance, Erica Neighbors, a second-year history student, decided to take summer classes instead of looking for summertime work at home because she realized she would be unable to land the type of work she wanted as a student who just finished her first year of college.

Kaitlyn Deshondra, a second-year English and film studies student, was similarly unsuccessful applying for summer positions as a freshman. She, like many freshmen, hoped to find a summer position that challenged her and demanded the same kind of personal growth as UCLA did.

“I would start applying for things too late during the school year because no one really tells you the timeline – as a younger undergraduate you have to kind of figure it out on your own,” Deshondra said.

Deshondra and Neighbors both found that many of the career resources at UCLA, like the department listings for research and internship positions, targeted third- and fourth-year students and only focused on opportunities in Los Angeles. These resources, however, can’t be used by younger students looking to spend their summers working elsewhere.

To solve this problem, the career center, in collaboration with underclassmen and the volunteer center, could create a database of service opportunities available in areas where most UCLA students spend their summers.

Specifically, the volunteer center could choose the top-five areas where Bruins spend their summers and assign a few students to scope out potential service opportunities in those areas. These students would then compile a list of said organizations, including their contact information to create easy points of access for other students, and post that information onto the volunteer center’s website.

Organizing such a database by location would make it easier to navigate than the current database, which organizes service opportunities by theme.

The career center could also add a link for this database to their website, and develop a workshop to be held during the school year that teaches students how best to represent their service-based work on their resume. This would help students understand how to represent the work experience they gained doing service work to future employers.

“A program like this would’ve been helpful when I was a first-year (student),” said Shammir Khan, a fourth-year biology student and Events Assistant at the volunteer center.

Additionally, Christine Wilson, the executive director of Graduate and Career Programs at UCLA, said that the career center would be open to partnering with the volunteer center, and expressed interest in piloting a workshop, like the kind proposed in this piece, that explains how best to incorporate service-based work experience into a resume.

Such a workshop, Wilson said, falls in line with what she considers to be one of the career center’s biggest roles, which is to help students communicate the value of the skills they’ve learned from the various jobs they’ve had.

Some may question the worth of these programs, arguing that service-oriented work isn’t as valuable on a resume as research, paid jobs or internships. In reality, however, service-based work demands the same kind of initiative and leadership as other positions. Engaging in service also exposes students to a range of work experiences, which helps them understand what positions they should apply to next, especially if they have difficulty securing research positions or paid jobs and internships.

UCLA has an incredible opportunity to help students rid themselves of the summertime sadness that younger undergraduates currently experience.

And, if nothing else, this program will help students respond with something more substantive than a blank stare when asked the dreaded seasonal icebreaker, “What did you do over the summer?”

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Mariah Furtek | Opinion staff columnist
Furtek is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.
Furtek is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.
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