In This Issue:
Big news crossed the wires during the last week of June: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, a law enacted in 2010 to improve the health of Americans—through benefits like more coverage for uninsured families—and to control health care costs. While the act has been controversial and inspired much debate, it is without question an example of public policy at work.
Public policy is a collection of actions and rules set forth by the government to promote social goals, such as reducing poverty or making education and health care affordable. Professional jobs in the public sector include everything from roles in government, non-profit organizations, NGOs (nongovernmental organizations that address social objectives but are not set up or run by the government) and education. You also can think of these jobs as public service— serving the public in some way, which can range from any role in state or local government to fighting against hunger or homelessness in your community, country or world. As you’ll soon read, you also can take on different roles to advocate for the rights of others.
According to Keya Dannenbaum, the 20-something entrepreneur who founded ElectNext, a website that matches voters with the most compatible candidates, young voters are especially focused on education policy these days. When it comes to higher education, they are asking the following questions: Is this the right structure? What’s going on with tuition? Is it worth it to have student debt? These and other social issues are top of mind for young people, who hope to inspire change through their votes and their socially motivated career choices.
What’s more, Nancy Lubin, CEO of DoSomething.org, a nonprofit that helps young people to engage in philanthropy, recently told Crain’s New York Business, “Kids today just saw their parents go through a recession, get laid off and struggle. They look around and say: 'What's the point? I don't just want a second car in my driveway. I want a life of purpose.'” They are defining success not only by what they can achieve for themselves, but also what they do for others.
What’s your life of purpose? It will no doubt lead you down many paths. Read the following profiles to learn how a few people are starting out.
Neha Ghosh is passionate about science. Her road to the biology lab began even before she graduated from Bridgewater-Raritan High School in 2009, where she racked up 26 AP college credits, largely due to her success in eight-credit science courses. She entered Rutgers University prepared to don her lab coat for a career in her beloved bio.
And then life happened. Neha discovered at college that chemistry wasn’t her thing—and more importantly, that she craved the human contact of a career outside the lab where she could talk with people and flex her strong communication skills. “Family friends geared me toward public health,” notes Neha, 21. “Public health was very interesting because it was all about preventative medicine. I am a work-outaholic and the president of the martial arts club; health is very important to me. Because of public health, I realized I liked economics and business and because of economics, I started looking into government.”
Neha, a rising Rutgers senior, changed her college major to public health and economics, and this summer accepted an internship with the New Jersey State Employment & Training Commission (SETC) in Trenton, a state agency charged with improving the skills of New Jersey’s workforce. While Neha has worked before in a few sales-focused internships, she says that her position with the SETC is helping to directly shape her employment future through experiences and insights. “I would really like to do health advocacy work or lobbying,” says Neha, who helped her SETC colleagues organize the Women in STEM conference, held on June 15, as well as other tasks. “[My mentor here], Judy Formalarie, introduced me to Matt McDermott, chief of staff for lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno. He was a lobbyist and gave me instructions about how to go about pursuing that type of career.”
Neha sees herself eventually working in a legislative office or in the private sector for a health care company like Johnson & Johnson, advocating for issues like healthier workplaces and well-balanced school lunches. “I’ve learned that you have to be willing to sacrifice a little and volunteer your time to get where you want to be,” says Neha. “And make those connections, because they can help you later in life.”
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Real People column’s “View All” feature and selecting “Neha Ghosh.”
When Jessie Tolbert, 22, started her job search in January, she knew it would be a challenge. She had graduated from the University of Massachusetts in December during one of the most depressed job markets in U.S. history. In fact, unemployment was the all-too-prevalent reality: what was a new job-searching grad with a degree in political science and a penchant for public service to do?
“I did a lot of community service and organizing in college, and I knew I was going into a really bad economy,” says Jessie, a 2008 graduate of Hopewell Valley High School in Pennington. “I thought that if I couldn’t get a job, then AmeriCorps would be something that I could get into.”
AmeriCorps is a program run by the federal government that hires people to work in underprivileged communities and with nonprofits around the U.S. It has become an increasingly competitive option, especially for young people who are having trouble finding work elsewhere. Jessie, an academically successful student with many community-based activities on her résumé, was a likely AmeriCorps candidate. She now works for AmeriCorps VISTA, a poverty-alleviation program, stationed in the city of Holyoke, Mass.
“I am working at a ministry that has a dress for success program that we do with the local community college,” says Jessie. “We service people that have a scheduled interview with a job, co-op or internship and can’t afford proper interview clothes. We collect clothes donations and help find them an appropriate outfit and then refer them to career services to do interview prep and résumé reviews.”
Does Jessie, committed to the AmeriCorps team for the next year, consider it a good use of her skills? “I’ve been really disappointed thus far,” she admits. “I actually don’t like it at all because it’s not challenging. This is all work that I had already done in college. It’s easy and unengaging.”
Jessie’s lackluster AmeriCorps experience, only a few weeks old, has been valuable for other reasons—mainly in helping her figure out her best course of action. “It’s made me realize that I need to go back to school,” she notes. “Nobody is going to give me a chance to show them what I can do without my Master’s degree. I’m thinking about getting my Master’s in public policy and maybe working for the government; something related to poverty alleviation and policies in this country. I would consider working for a nonprofit. We’re not allowed to be political in this job, and everything that I’ve done before has been for some sort of progressive political cause. Part of the reason I might not feel fulfilled is because I’m not allowed to do anything political. It is giving me time to think.”
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Advice 101 column’s “View All” feature and selecting “On the Front Lines of Poverty.”
In an article on monster.com, contributing writer Susan Bryant talked with Russ Finkelstein, associate director of idealist.org, a site providing nonprofit and volunteer information on more than 29,000 organizations in 153 countries, about what it’s really like to work in the nonprofit sector. Here are a few nuggets of Finkelstein’s advice:
• You can change the world: If you want to make a difference, you can do so while working at a nonprofit. These organizations accomplish extraordinary things that literally change lives. And you can be a part of that.
• Your passion could become your career: If you've found something you're passionate about, you can act on that passion if you get a job with the right nonprofit. Having your personal interests and values in sync with your professional life is priceless.
• Mentoring opportunities can be limited: “If you were hired as the PR manager, you are probably the only one there who knows how to do it,” says Finkelstein. With the limited time and resources nonprofits often operate under, there may be no one to take you under their wing and groom you for future positions.
• You won’t get rich: The salary you make at a nonprofit is unlikely to ever be as high as what you might earn in a similar role in the private sector. But if salary is not your top priority, then this is easier to accept.
• Success may be hard to measure: In the for-profit world, the bottom line is easier to see. The difference you make in a nonprofit career may be less tangible.
If you’re thinking of going to work for a nonprofit—and a lot of young people are feeling socially responsible these days—then you should explore what this very important force in the state and national economy is all about.