Drexel University AmeriCorps Program to Offer Nonprofit Co-ops to Civic-minded Students

The unique co-op opportunity will financially support a cohort of Drexel students gaining professional experience at nonprofits in Philadelphia.
Community members using the computers in Drexel's Beachell Family Learning Center. Photo courtesy Amy Wen.
Community members using computers at the Beachell Family Learning Center. Photo courtesy Amy Wen.

Two of Drexel University’s standout specialties — its co-op program and dedication to civic engagement — are merging in a new cooperative education model benefitting both undergraduate students and Philadelphia communities. 

The Drexel University AmeriCorps Program is a unique nonprofit co-op experience housed in the University’s Lindy Center for Civic Engagement and, as the name suggests, runs in partnership with AmeriCorps, a hub of national service programs. It was established through a three-year, $1.296 million grant awarded to Drexel’s Office of University and Community Partnerships from PennSERVE. The program will start this fall with an initial cohort of up to 10 students across two co-op positions and be run in partnership with Drexel’s Steinbright Career Development Center. 

“This new endeavor speaks to Drexel’s strong commitment to encourage students to grow in their own civic identities, and certainly the focus of AmeriCorps on service speaks to that,” said Senior Vice Provost for University and Community Partnerships Lucy Kerman, PhD. “A significant number of our students are going to choose careers in the nonprofit sector, which is a field that very often can’t compensate co-op students, and yet we know that those experiences will be invaluable for our students who are moving in that direction for their professional lives. Being able to offer paid co-op experiences in the nonprofit sector will help students have fruitful careers in that sector.”

The co-op positions supported through this grant will be in nonprofits working in digital literacy, adult education and workforce development. As AmeriCorps members, students will receive a $12,000 living stipend and are eligible for a $3,247.50 educational award, which could be applied to their tuition and loan forbearance during the time of their service. The program is open to students from any major who meet AmeriCorps criteria (for example, U.S. citizenship is required) and are interested in nonprofit careers, national service and civic engagement. 

The program will start this fall/winter co-op cycle with the first cohort of co-ops at nonprofit sites including the Beachell Family Learning Center in the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships. In the program assistant role, members will provide instruction and training in workforce development and adult education cohort programs, while members in the classroom assistant role will provide support in the public computing centers to help job seekers improve their digital skills. Housing Drexel co-ops at the Beachell Family Learning Center directly connects the members’ service to programs and resources offered for the University’s West Philadelphia neighbors. The Drexel University AmeriCorps Program will grow to support 40 students per year in digital literacy, adult education and workforce development. This funding sets the University up as a centralized unit of nonprofit co-op support including coordination with the Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships; the grant also funds a manager position to build that umbrella of nonprofits within the Lindy Center. 

“Through this exciting opportunity, Drexel can expand its network of nonprofit co-ops and deepen our partnerships with nonprofits across the city,” said Director of University and Community Partnerships Joanne Ferroni. “With Drexel’s built-in co-op system now linked to a national network of service, students will become AmeriCorps alumni even before graduation, which gives them access to various employers focused on giving preference to AmeriCorps as well as a direct connection to other service opportunities.”

Drexel has hosted AmeriCorps members in the AmeriCorps VISTA program (there are currently four in the Office of University and Community Partnerships) and AmeriCorps regularly places members in colleges and universities. However, this model is unique because it was exclusively created for Drexel students while they are still in school. In addition to Drexel’s career development and training, students will also be able to receive mentoring, attend professional workshops and engage in other résumé-building opportunities through AmeriCorps after serving in this program.