Janine Wetzel, a St. Olaf graduate from 2005, presented during the Teach for America (TFA) session. Wetzel, a political science major, taught eighth grade math for two years in rural Missouri as a TFA Corps member and now devotes her time to recruiting college leaders around the Midwest.
She spoke to a standing-room only crowd in Valhalla, sharing the vision of the Corps and how its alumni are working for change in political, medical and educational fields nationwide.
"We live in a country that is taught to believe in equal opportunities for all," Wetzel said. "I'm here to tell you that not every child is getting the same opportunities. And you can be a part of changing that."
Wetzel's presentation also featured the experiences of other volunteers. Jade, one such volunteer and a kindergarten teacher in Louisiana, worked to put disadvantaged kids to the top of their class. He spoke glowingly of the experience. "Your work in college consumes your heart and mind," he said, "but this consumes all of you."
St. Olaf has long been a top source of volunteers for the Peace Corps and the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, ranking 18th among small colleges and universities in the number of alumni it sent into the Peace Corps in 2007. But the trend of pursuing alternative opportunities is also alive and well.
The TFA informational event was only the beginning of the annual fall showcase of post-graduation service opportunities. It was followed on Tuesday by the ELCA Global Mission and the Green Corps and on Thursday by a visit from Peace Corps recruiters. Judging by the numbers, many graduates have done more than just stopping by information tables and attending meetings.
When Wetzel graduated and joined TFA in 2005, she was the only member of her class to do so. In 2006, nine St. Olaf graduates applied. This past summer, TFA welcomed 12 St. Olaf graduates of all majors into its ranks.
Volunteer programs such as Teach for America have seen significant growth in the past two decades. When Teach for America began as the brainchild of Princeton University senior Wendy Kopp in 1990, the program had only 500 participants who taught in low-income communities across the country. The program currently has over 5,000 participants and over 12,000 Teach for America alumni.
Peace Corps, a similarly burgeoning program, boasts approximately 7,800 volunteers and trainees anually. In contrast to Teach for America volunteers, those in the Peace Corps travel beyond national boundaries to many continents.
On Tuesday, LeeAnn Wolf, Peace Corps' regional recruiter from the Minneapolis area, showed Olaf students a promotional video and answered their questions. Through the Peace Corps, volunteers would have the opportunity to work in Asia, South and Central America, Africa and Eastern Europe.
At the CEL-sponsored Senior Countdown event in Buntrock last Thursday, Assistant Director for Civic Engagement Nathan Jacobi, was on hand to talk with students about upcoming informational sessions. New to St. Olaf this year, Jacobi has lots of ideas for connecting students' personal interests with experiential programs of all varieties - and the CEL has a full schedule of events, like the Political Action Fair: One Year Before the 2008 Elections (on Tuesday, Nov. 6 in Buntrock) and the Worldwide Service Fair (Feb. 22, 2008). During these events, representatives from a variety of organizations will present opportunities for post-graduate service and summer volunteer programs.