Monday, October 17, 2011

Spanish Community Service Learning and the Job Hunt

by Ann Abbott

I received an e-mail this morning from LinkedIn with links to two articles about career success that are, in my mind, indirectly linked to what we do with our students in Spanish community service learning (CSL).

1. "The Must-Have Leadership Skill" talks about the importance of emotional intelligence. I really feel like the the experience of doing community service learning plus creating activities that explicitly address seeing things from other people's perspectives contributes to students' emotional intelligence. In an interview and in job search materials, being able to demonstrate with examples that you were able to work successfully in a multilingual and multicultural environment and understand multiple perspectives should be positive indicators of future success. While students may examine multiple perspectives in other courses, our CSL courses ask them to put that into action.

2. "The Ten Worst Mistakes of First-Time Job Hunters" focuses on things that recent college graduates wish they would have done while in school. Learn Spanish should be top on the list! But CSL is an overlooked opportunity in the following items:

  • "I would have taken on a job or an internship in addition to my courseload." CSL work is a job! Our students have to work a minimum of 28 hours per semester, so it is an important part-time job for them. However, it's necessary that they think of it and treat it as such if they want to truly take advantage of its career-preparation opportunities
  • "I would have gotten more involved in career-relevant extracurricular activities." Again, CSL does this for them. Being involved in our community partners' day-to-day work and special events are career-relevant. Students can help community partners with event planning, internal and external communications, grant writing, building a social media presence and many other relevant career tasks.
  • "I would have kept better track of my achievements." Our students' reflective essays and exams are really a catalog of their achievements that they can later mine for relevant examples.
  • "I would have focused more on developing relevant skills." All our students work on customer service. And think of students who work with a particular student in an after school tutoring program: their "project" is to improve the student's academic achievement. With some smart "project management" thinking they can build a variety of tools to achieve and measure success as well as make recommendations for changes that can be implemented by next semester's tutor.

Darcy Lear and I co-wrote an article about how Business Spanish CSL students can be encouraged to "package" their Spanish CSL work in job search materials: "Marketing Business Languages: Teaching Students to Value and Promote Their Coursework." The article refers to several activities in Comunidades: Más allá del aula that explicitly walk students through the steps of transforming their academic CSL experiences into professional assets.

In short, academic CSL is much more than just job training. But it gives students a unique opportunity to prepare themselves for the competitive job market.

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