Pictured: Student Shwetha Jayaraj volunteered for National Voter Registration Day in September 2019.
College students typically look to internships related to their field of study to gain the experience they need to get a job post-graduation. However, many overlook volunteer opportunities that not only give them real-world experience but often overlap with their major.
New York Institute of Technology’s mission is to educate students for successful careers through its “doer, maker, innovator culture” and a reliably effective educational practice called experiential learning. Consultants for the Public Good, which connects students, employees, and alumni with non-profit and government partners to complete specific projects, is one of the university’s successful experiential learning initiatives.
While volunteers can choose from a range of consultancies, the most popular opportunities involve doing, making, and innovating. “When non-profit partners have needs that require our volunteers to find creative solutions to real-world problems,” says Assistant Director of Experiential Education Leila Dastgheib-Beheshti, “we see an increase in engagement.”
Dastgheib-Beheshti also observes that students are eager to share abilities that directly overlap with their academic majors, like developing an app or designing a functional space. Previous consultants—often in teams—have developed websites, written business plans, developed social media strategies, planned events, and created databases, among other challenging tasks. “Consulting offers students a unique chance to build a professional portfolio early on,” says Luzia Ogureck, associate director of Experiential Education. She adds, “It also allows international students to put their skills into action without any type of work authorization.”
One group of consultants pursuing meaningful professional engagement is tied to the American Institute of Architecture Students’ Freedom By Design community service program. Consultant Fatima Kanrani, an architecture technology major and NYIT School of Architecture and Design’s Freedom By Design director, is currently leading an effort to design a bridge in rural Long Island. The client is the North Shore Alliance, a not-for-profit land trust that aims to protect green spaces and historical sites on Long Island's North Shore. “This project’s purpose is in sync with Freedom By Design’s objective of being able to aid a community through practically applying architectural design skills,” Kanrani says.
Besides allowing students to practice technical skills in real-life settings, Consultants for the Public Good fosters people skills essential to the workplace, including everything from punctuality to cross-cultural competency and analytical thinking.
Although Consultants for the Public Good, as a program, has existed since 2011, International and Experiential Education started using a web-based platform, GivePulse, two years ago to enhance student learning and participation. Since 2017, 837 individual New York Tech consultants have donated nearly 5,500 hours of service worth more than $125,000. And participation rates have been increasing. Already, 107 unique consultants have donated their time this fall, with more than 20 repeat volunteers.
According to the GivePulse data, consultants come from academic programs spread all across the university, with a significant number of international students. The volunteers represent all U.S. campuses and include undergrads as well as master’s and professional students. Faculty, staff, and alumni, in smaller numbers, have also contributed.
These facts point to another benefit of lending service: the relationships and networks that emerge in the process. As Ogureck says, “These relationships weave into the strong sense of community we work to instill at New York Tech.” Amy Bravo, M.A., senior director of International and Experiential Education, adds, “This program recognizes the skills and talents each member of the New York Tech community already has and encourages us to use them for a purpose greater than ourselves.”