Volunteering after College: The Best Learning (or Work) Experience I Never Knew I Needed

Diana Dopheide is a recent graduate from Penn State University. She holds a degree in Communications, and she hopes to pursue a career in journalism and public relations. Diana volunteered the summer after graduating college, and that experience led her to launch one of the first steps in her career. Read all about Diana’s experience and the key advice that inspired her! While I was in college, I was working at Chick-fil-A part-time on the weekends. One day, my manager, Kennedy, asked me about college, and if I had done any internships or was involved on campus. As a senior, I shared that I had already done one internship the previous summer, and that I was set to complete another the following semester as part of my degree requirements—and that I was also the president of two clubs on campus. Kennedy replied, “I never really understood the purpose of so much school. You get the knowledge, but you learn so much more by actually working.” Kennedy’s advice on the value of work experience stuck with me, and from there on, when I decided on my next internships and volunteering opportunities, I heard his words replay again in my mind for each and every one. I first started thinking about volunteer work when I met Tom Gailey, a Penn State Alum, who is now the principal of his own marketing and communications agency, GaileyMurray Communications. Tom had come to one of my public relations classes as a guest speaker, to share with my class anecdotes about his work experiences and his advice for us as undergraduate students. Later in college, during a career coaching appointment with my counselor, she suggested I reconnect with Tom to discuss tips on landing my first job. Meeting with Tom was so helpful, and that one connection led to many resumé-building experiences, based on the advice he shared. He told me to keep networking, get first-hand experience with internships and part-time work, and to look into professional associations. Tom also told me to reach out to other organizations that interested me, and see how I could be of help to them, even if it was just for volunteer work, and to share what my strengths are: social media, writing, and marketing. This one piece of advice led to two amazing volunteer experiences. While I learned a lot from my internships, volunteering allowed me to have a more creative and personal touch on my work. The longer commitment to volunteering, versus a three- to four-month internship, allowed me to increase my capacity and take on even more responsibility and really progress in my role. I have been able to learn so many new things, and build upon my previous experiences, strengthening my skills in so many ways, and helping me to grow as a young professional. My passion for animals and nature led me to Newlin Grist Mill Park. I have always loved the waterfall and walking trails at Newlin Grist Mill Park in Glen Mills, PA, and I have always wanted to get involved in some way. Plus, it’s in walking distance from my house! I offered my social media marketing skills as a volunteer, and have been helping them develop a plan to be more strategic and effective with their digital communications. What’s been the most fun, and an excellent learning experience, has been writing out facts about corn snakes for Cornelius to tweet about. Then, I volunteered with the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA). While perusing AMA Philadelphia’s website to learn more about them, I came across their opportunities for volunteer work with various departments, such as communications, collegiate relations and events/programming. After reading a testimonial from a current volunteer, I remember feeling confident that this would be a great opportunity for me. I had hoped that I would have a similar experience to hers, and I did. I revamped AMA Philadelphia’s inactive Instagram account, strategically shared blogs tailored to each social platform, created a Linktree to make sharing content more streamlined, and enhanced their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Right now, I’m developing a plan for our chapter to utilize Canva, the graphic design platform, for our social media posts. When I began volunteering with the AMA, my role was social media event manager, and after three months, I became the social media director. If you’re interested in finding similar opportunities, take some time to consider what you can do with your degree, then narrow it down further to what you are interested in and what you are good at. Then, target specific roles and organizations that match your skills and interests, and start reaching out. Professional associations, like AMA Philadelphia, are great as both a student and young professional. I’d also suggest thinking about what is around you in your area—parks, museums, and pet shelters, for example—and reach out to let them know you are interested in getting involved in their volunteer program. Volunteering has had an amazing impact on my professional experience, and has helped me in so many ways with venturing out and being able to further apply my education.  


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