Drexel University AmeriCorps Program Celebrates a Year of Growth and Service

So far, the program has gone from supporting two to 18 Drexel students on co-op at nonprofits in an increasing number of fields and neighborhoods across Philadelphia.
A group of students sitting on green couches and chairs in a room.

This summer’s cohort of AmeriCorps co-op students. Photo credit: Kate Doe.

In its first year of creating and supporting cooperative education positions for students, the Drexel AmeriCorps Program has grown both in size and available opportunities. It’s a first-of-its-kind partnership for the University and the AmeriCorps hub of national service programs, which created paid, six-month co-op opportunities for Drexel students to work at non-profit organizations as AmeriCorps members with all of the organization’s benefits and resources.

The first cohort of two Drexel students completed co-ops in digital literacy and workforce development for adult learners at the
Beachell Family Learning Center in the University’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships in West Philadelphia. The most recent cohort includes 18 students who recently completed co-ops still related to digital literacy and workforce development for adult learners — but at an additional eight off-campus nonprofits to serve a wider and more diverse range of communities.

“We are very new, but students have a lot of opportunities to collaborate, and we’re hoping that continues to improve each co-op cycle so that they’re able to gain new skills and connect their academic experiences with their civic engagement,” said Kate Doe, program manager for the Drexel University AmeriCorps Program, which is run by the Lindy Center for Civic Engagement in partnership with the Steinbright Career Development Center.

Doe is a two-time AmeriCorps alumna who served in West Chester after her undergraduate graduation and again as a graduate student at Northeastern University (where she wrote her dissertation on the national service experience).

“What has really stood out from that lens is how altruistic Drexel students are compared to some of the other student populations I’ve worked with,” said Doe. “Drexel students are really interested in finding those win-win situations for everyone and they’re putting into action what they’re hearing directly. For them, there’s always going to be a next step. And I’ve seen that being effective when meeting and working with community members and the communities being served.”

The Drexel University AmeriCorps Program is a way for the Lindy Center to connect with students who might not have worked with them before, besides taking the mandatory CIVIC 101 “Introduction to Civic Engagement” class during their first year at Drexel. The cohort so far has included students in majors ranging from psychology to public health to education to business to law, “so they’re all coming from completely different frameworks of how they are participating academically, so they’re also bringing to the table different resources and talents and perspectives when they’re considering what needs to be done,” Doe said.

Doe matched pairs of students to serve as AmeriCorps members at specific sites to work in either workforce development helping community members with job search requirements like résumé-building and writing cover letters, or in digital equity creating and presenting ways to make the internet and social media accessible to adults. She also facilitates biweekly check-ins (“Collab Lab”) for co-ops to meet up and share and ask for resources and training, and provides additional support and opportunities for students. Alicia Donahoe, co-op adviser from the Steinbright Career Development Center, supports both the students and Doe during the AmeriCorps experiences.

As AmeriCorps members, students also have other opportunities to serve beyond their co-op. Additionally, if they fulfill a 900-hour service requirement, they receive an education award for $3,245, which is taxable and can be used for loan repayment, federal grant repayment or tuition for their undergraduate education or a future graduate program. The co-op pays $12,000 before taxes, which is supported by the grant that created the program. The program is funded through a three-year, $1.298 million grant Drexel’s Office of University and Community Partnerships received from PennSERVE.

Here’s what some of the AmeriCorps co-op members had to say about what they did and learned during their experiences:

Gracey Alexandre

Third-year law major with a minor in political science

AmeriCorps co-op: Workforce Development Assistant at Goodwill Helms Academy Parkside in West Philadelphia and PA CareerLink in Northwest Philadelphia

Q: What was your co-op like? How was it being involved with community members during your experience?

A: At my initial host site, Goodwill Helms Academy Parkside, our day-to-day activities were very minimal. After onboarding, there was one long-term project that was assigned to my partner and me. We were to provide direct support and participate in the outreach of preparing for and setting up Goodwill’s first ever Job and Resource Fair. In the beginning there wasn’t much to do involving this, so we had a lot of free time at our site, only occasionally joining HR at tabling events. Towards the end of June is when invitations started to go out, and by this point we had made contacts with some great organizations.

Before that, I talked to Kate [Doe] about how the lack of daily activities and responsibility made me feel as though I wasn’t getting the most out of my co-op experience. After my discussion with Kate, I was able to participate in a collaboration with one of the other host sites, PA CareerLink NW. I now split my time between the two and have more activities to attend to during the day. I join in on the workshops that had already been facilitated by the AmeriCorps members originally placed here, and I’ve had the opportunity to create a survey that will help me put on a workshop to provide information to the demographic of adults I am helping to serve.

It has been a very rewarding process between both sites. Whenever I get to speak to both the clients and my fellow coworkers, I feel that I am gaining valuable information and learning how to create connections in the working world. If I hadn’t spoken up, I think I might have ended co-op with a somewhat bad taste in my mouth about the experience. But instead, I can confidently say that this has been an enjoyable time.

Two students sit behind a table with the words "Pennsylvania Career Link."
From left to right: Gracey Alexandre and Paige Montijo tabling during a community event representing PA CareerLink. Photo courtesy Paige Montijo

Paige Montijo

Third-year psychology major with a criminal justice minor

AmeriCorps co-op: Workforce Development Assistant at PA Careerlink in Northwest Philadelphia

Q: How has this co-op changed and/or strengthened your ideas about civic engagement and future career goals?

A: I had an understanding of civic engagement before this co-op, but being immersed in this experience gave it a much more meaningful definition. For this co-op, I needed to attain at least 900 hours of service. There are so many more ways that you can be civically engaged than I originally thought, and the 900-hour requirement allowed me to explore many different service opportunities. I participated in park clean-ups and fundraisers, tabled at resource fairs, made bookmarks for local recreation centers, wrote letters to individuals in nursing homes, prepared jobseekers for the Wonderlic Personnel Test and so much more! These are opportunities that I have never participated in or considered before, and this experience has encouraged me to seek future service opportunities in these areas.

Although I am still exploring my future career goals, one thing that this co-op made certain for me is that I want to help people. 

Miles Mosley-Jones

Fourth-year political science major

AmeriCorps co-op: Workforce Development Assistant at Goodwill Helms Academy in West Philadelphia

Q: How has this co-op changed and/or strengthened your ideas about civic engagement and future career goals?

A: I applied because of my experience of growing up in West Philly and wanting to make a difference. Doing this work has made me understand how important it is for everyone to serve their community or country in some way, shape or form, if they can. The experience makes me want to serve my country in more ways even more, whether I do it through policy or by working in the federal government. It really showed how necessary it is to help people who need it, and how that advances community. 

Kaitlyn Sonnenborn

Senior with a double major in psychology and criminology and justice studies

AmeriCorps co-op: Workforce Development Assistant at Uplift Solutions in North and Northwest Philadelphia

Q: What were some of your day-to-day activities on co-op?

A: Some day-to-day activities included supporting the head facilitator in teaching, which included leading ice breaker activities, assisting with participant résumé development and signing up for job applications, printing and handing out worksheets and helping out with technology issues. I also supported the chief program officer in curriculum development and strategic planning, which involved some big projects like working on an employer engagement pitch to hire returning citizens and drafting up a policy and a grant. I also assisted the case manager in data logging, which included gathering, organizing and graphing collected participant data from surveys and questionnaires given out by the program. 

Q: Why did you choose this co-op?

A: I wanted to apply for this position because I had previous experience in teaching and thought I would be able to apply my skills to help people in need and gain more community engagement. It was eye-opening to hear about the many lived experiences the participants in the organization had or are still going through. It also made me appreciate a lot of privileges that I had taken for granted.

A female student sits behind a table reading "Drexel University Beachell Learning Center."

Zaria Wilson at a tabling event during co-op. Photo courtesy Zaria Wilson.

Zaria Wilson

Third-year psychology major with a minor in business administration

AmeriCorps co-op: Digital Equity Assistant at the Beachell Family Learning Center at Drexel’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships in West Philadelphia.

Q: What did you do on co-op? What was it like working with community members during your co-op?

 I, alongside another cohort member, helped community members learn how to use computers by assisting them with the administration of a program called NorthStar Digital Literacy, which teaches them computer basics, email, internet and Windows. We also have a career service program where we would help community members write résumés, cover letters and occasionally help them search for jobs or programs of interest.

I liked working with community members because they were all nice and they showed me a lot of different outlooks on life. I felt truly like a part of the community. And if anyone would like to get involved with the community in an unofficial capacity and wants free food, the Dornsife Center does community dinners every second Tuesday of the month!

Mary Zukowski

Senior with a major in psychology and minor in Spanish

AmeriCorps co-op: Digital equity assistant at the Veteran’s Multi-Service Center (VMC) in Old City 

Q: What did you do on co-op?

A: I was placed in the VMC’s employment department for the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program. I worked with a Comcast representative to create a digital skills program to better prepare the veterans we work with for their future careers with résumé building and cover letter workshops as well as general digital literacy skills. The VMC offers many different types of assistance for veterans such as daily homeless services (meals, showers, laundry and a day room), a suicide prevention program, housing programs, substance abuse services, services to help veterans with their benefits and also the employment program that I am a part of. They do a lot of great work at the VMC, and I am happy to be a part of it. 

Q: What was it like working with veterans? Why did you choose this co-op?

A: I had never worked with veterans before, and I didn’t have any military connections or experience, so I had never considered working with this population. I have developed a new appreciation for what they do and everything they have been through. My previous co-ops at a school and at a Drexel psychology lab were remote because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I was also looking for a position where I could make more connections and gain experience in an in-person setting.