THE SOCIAL SIDE OF EDUCATION

Volunteer efforts spruce up students' resumes


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University of Pittsburgh students Raeesa Islam and Jacky Chen recently spent a morning visiting residents of the UPMC Heritage Place nursing and rehabilitation center in Squirrel Hill.

Although their primary goal was to spend the day donating their time to the community as part of Pitt student outreach, both Ms. Islam, 18,a freshman, and Mr. Chen, 19, a sophomore, know that an added bonus is the fact that volunteer work will look good on their resumes for employment or graduate school. Both are hoping to go to medical school.

"Community service is a highly valued component to student resumes," said Cheryl Finlay, director of Pitt's Office of Career Development & Placement Assistance.

How students spend time outside of the classroom can be almost as important as how they spend their time inside the classroom when it comes to job prospects.

While university placement officials make it clear that academic success should be the first priority for college students, having the right soft skills and activities to list on a resume is a close second.

"I think we are in a period where good grades are imperative, but not necessarily enough," said David Wasieleski, chair of the management department in the Palumbo-Donahue School of Business at Duquesne University.

Some clubs and activities are better than others in terms of helping students to learn the soft skills employers are seeking.

Those skills, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, are: the ability to work in a team; ability to make decisions and problem solve; ability to obtain and process information; ability to plan, organize and prioritize work; and ability to communicate verbally.

In addition, university officials said, leadership qualities are highly valued among prospective employers.

Topping the list of preferred clubs and organizations are student chapters of professional organizations associated with students' majors.

"These types of organizations connect students to real experiences that can benefit them and connect them to professionals who are working in their fields," said Shari Payne, dean of engaged learning at Robert Morris University.

Student government and other activities also appeal to employers. Debate teams, student newspapers or radio stations and campus tour guides are all ways for students to learn and hone communication skills, university officials said.

In addition, participation in varsity athletics can show employers characteristics such as discipline and teamwork.

Membership alone isn't enough. Students should seek out leadership positions that allow them to organize projects and events.

Recent Pitt graduate Gordon Louderback, 23, who will soon start work as a field engineer with Turner Construction in Denver, made a point of building a well-rounded, out-of-class resume.

A civil and environmental engineering major, he was president of the Student Government Board.

He was also a member of the Pitt Humanities, Engineering and Design Club, through which he and other engineering students helped to improve the water distribution system for the 1,500 villagers in Kuna Nega, Panama.

"I believe that the intangible skills I learned through my experiences at Pitt, such as properly working with others, building relationships and working hard are the qualities that have prepared me the most for life after college," Mr. Louderback said.

Zach Mueschke, 21, a senior marketing major at IUP, has found that his experience as an instructor of spinning classes at a local gym has started conversations during some job interviews.

"It's a big hit and a talking point," Mr. Mueschke said.

Some universities make it easy for students to find and keep track of volunteer activities.

Robert Morris University students are required to build a student engagement transcript to go along with their academic transcript, said Ms. Payne.

At Pitt, the Outside the Classroom Curriculum program is a voluntary way for students to keep track of their activities.

Scott Hoffman, OCC program coordinator, said, "It's helping them develop a sense of who they are and also teaching them those soft skills and character traits that employers and graduate schools are looking for."


Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.

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