Why Getting Involved in your Community is Important

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This week we will feature guest blogger Sawyer Baker, a graduate student at The George Washington University and intern for Pathways to Housing D.C. Sawyer began her education at Iowa State University, earning degrees in Political Science and Sociology.

Whether you are drawn to being a part of a grassroots effort to make direct changes in your community, altruism from public service or  getting to know the “movers and shakers” in a community for a potential run for office, I have heard it all when it comes to public service.  I have served in local government, worked for multiple non-profits and the government, volunteered for the American Red Cross, helped coordinate multiple community activism events, and used my current networks to connect groups to resources.  While that seems a little all over the place, I have observed constants through my public service experience. No matter what shape my community involvement morphs into, there are threads of commonality. It is these transferable skills that illustrate the importance of getting involved in your community.

Awareness: I take comfort in being informed. But, it is more than that. Being aware of the needs and goals of your community really allows you to know the values of your neighbors and surrounding community. For example, when I initially moved to DC I noticed homeless individuals sleeping under the nearby overpass. It wasn’t until I started volunteering my time at a homeless non-profit that became aware of how prevalent homelessness is and the resources and organizations dedicated to ending it. Now, I have had my eyes opened to another dimension of life in my community.

Utilization of skills you are not utilizing in current job: Whether it is a day-to-day job you currently hold or your day-to-day schedule as a student, you probably are not using all the skills or even hobbies you enjoy. Everyone brings something to the table—whether it is volunteering your graphic design skills to draft flyers or helping an organization with their social media awareness, there are always ways to use and develop your skills.

Time management skills: There is a potential for events to be here, there and everywhere! Investing you time at community events or schedule set times for volunteering, speaks volumes of your character. Are you going to spend your time binge-watching Netflix, or helping out at an under-staffed and under-budgeted event for a local community organization while getting to know your neighbors and making a difference?

Creative thinking: Every community organization vies for attention—everyone wants “good turnouts” and adequate volunteers. In order to attract attention, creative thinking is involved. Being a founding member of an organization’s new annual event or being a part of a strategic planning initiative exercises your ability to think creatively. This skill is invaluable to your future careers.

Sense of belonging: I moved to my new neighborhood in Washington, DC five months ago. Having ties to your community and community members really makes a new home and culture a lot more welcoming and provides a sense of belonging. Moreover, being involved allows you to meet people and network. People and networks are also invaluable. The saying, “it’s all about who you know” has so far proven to be true for me and I can attribute the bulk of it to my community involvement.

Communication skills: When volunteering or being involved in your community, you learn  how to effectively communicate with all types of people. These are individuals who are not your peers or superiors like students are normally used to. But, it is group work, with mutual responsibilities. A lot of students tend to stray away from group work or feel that they end up ‘doing all the work’ or are ‘out of the loop.’ But I can personally attest that learning to work effectively in a group relies heavily on adequate communication.

My parting words of wisdom are to not get involved in your community and volunteer because it looks good on your resume. Do it because you want to make a difference and build skills. Every little bit does help and never be afraid to ask around and figure out where you can be most helpful in your community.


Proteus assists students with education-related expenses

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jasson11Jasson Villarreal is a graduate from the Professional Cosmetology Institute (PCI). Through Proteus Inc. Jasson discovered a passion for cosmetology and was able to finance his education at the Professional Cosmetology Institute (PCI). Proteus offers many programs, including the National Farmworker Jobs Program which assisted Jasson with educational expenses including classes, books, training materials and as well as a stipend for time spent in class.


I discovered Proteus after they helped a friend in Ames, so I called and inquired if they could help me as well.  It was the end of 2011 and I had been working in maintenance at McDonald’s in Ames. Things were going alright, but I was not where I wanted to be. I needed a career change.

When I contacted Proteus they connected me with Sonia-Reyes Synder. She went to work right away; and set up a time to meet with me the following week to fill out paperwork. Sonia met me during my lunch break, and we started to get things going. I was looking at attending a local community college. In a short amount of time, I applied for admission, did required testing and ultimately was accepted.

My business management class was about to start and I felt prepared, or so I thought. But then, I had second thoughts about the program I had chosen. I felt I had just jumped in and tried to beat a deadline of when a class was going to start. I wasn’t sure this was the best choice for me.

I spoke with Sonia and told her I wasn’t sure if I was following the right path. So I checked out some other options, one of which was the Professional Cosmetology Institute (PCI). I called PCI and asked if I could apply. I informed Sonia of my decision and she was very supportive. She asked me for a school supply list. It was quite lengthily, consisting of folders, pen, note cards, all black clothing: pants, shirts and shoes. Sonia got the list approved and we shopped locally in Ames.

Sonia told me that Proteus provides travel expenses, health and legal aid. I asked about the health aid, as I was having tooth pain and needed new prescription for my glasses. Sonia took care of making all my appointments, allowing me to get the medical attention I needed. Having Proteus take care of everything enabled me to better myself and focus on my future.

I enrolled in PCI and made awesome progress once classes started. Sonia was so happy for me; I could see how proud she was of my accomplishments. I was a full-time student and Proteus even paid me for a portion of the time I spent in class. This allowed me to stay and give school 100% the attention it needed for me to succeed.

By the time I graduated, I was one of the top three students and already had a job lined up in Des Moines at a Premier Salon. I stop in at the Proteus Des Moines Merle Hay location when I’m in the neighborhood, as I enjoy seeing and talking to the staff. When I see Sonia, I see her as a friend and give her a giant hug. Thanks, in big part to, Proteus, I was able to achieve my career goals with minimal student loan debt.

5 Tips for Those Preparing to Study Abroad

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This week’s blogger is Jesa Pace, who studied Journalism and service-learning program called Camp Adventure. This week, Jesa will provide some tips for those considering going abroad.

While study abroad programs offer great opportunities for students, there is much more to consider aside from where you would like to study or travel. Things like obtaining a passport, receiving appropriate immunizations and completing program paperwork must all be taken care of before students hop on the plane. So, if you are considering a study abroad program, here are some things to consider before taking off.

Passport: When studying abroad, a passport is required to entire any country you may decide to study in. Passports can take weeks to arrive, so it is important to apply for your passport long before your departure date. Along with a passport, you may need to look into obtaining a VISA of some sort. Because my stay in South Korea amounted to more than three months, I was required to obtain a VISA in order to stay in the country for that length of time.

In addition to obtaining a passport and a VISA if needed, it is INCREDIBLY important to keep both with you while traveling. On my way to South Korea for the summer, I was scheduled to have a two-hour layover in Japan. When I got off the plane in Japan, I immediately went through security.

Immunizations: Prior to leaving, I spent an afternoon at the Student Health Center on campus where I was tested for TB and was given specific vaccinations. I had to communicate closely with the coordinators of my programs during this stage to make sure I was not missing anything. While the visit did not take long, there was a significant amount of paperwork involved, and I was glad I got it out of the way ahead of time. Had I waited until the last minute the appointment would have been incredibly stressful.

Communication: Prior to leaving, my parents and I looked into a variety of different mobile options for me to use while abroad. Many of the options through our service provider were pricey, and in the end, I opted not to get an international cell phone plan. Instead, I purchased three months of unlimited Skype Mobile Minutes. Although this did not allow me to speak with my friends and family from a mobile device, it did allow me to call their phones at any time from my laptop.

While I thought the Skype Mobile Minutes worked great, my parents were not sold. I was never able to speak with them over the weekends when my friends and I were traveling the country as we rarely had internet service. Though this caused many sleepless nights for my parents, it was quite liberating to be so free of technology.

Homesickness: I knew that it was inevitable that I would get homesick at points during the trip, and I tried to prepare myself. I formed close friendships with other students in the program, which gave me others to talk to when a bout of homesickness would strike. I also reminded myself that I was only there for a short time and tried to Skype with them as often as I could, which made it easier.

Fear of going: For many students that study abroad, there is some fear that goes along with actually making the decision to study abroad in the first place. As the deadline to make the decision to stay or go approaches, it is easy to think more about commitments, family, friends and significant others that you will miss while away. For me, it was particularly difficult to leave my boyfriend for that length of time. However, I would have to say that everything turned out, seeing as we are now happily married!

While it may be difficult to get over the fear of actually going through with it, it helps to talk with others who have done similar programs in the past. Listening to all of their stories and experience was all I needed to overcome my fear.

IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge Launched

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In November, Iowa College Aid and Everfi launched the 3rd Annual IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge. The challenge invites Iowa high school students to create short videos to educate their peers about financial literacy concepts.

Teams of students have the option to create a video or a series of vine-like clips demonstrating knowledge gained through the Iowa Financial Literacy Program. The challenge, which opened in November and runs through March 23, 2014, asks students to submit videos, up to three minutes in length, to inform and entertain others on a financial literacy topic of their choice. Entries will be judged on overall impact, creativity and accuracy of content. The team with the winning video will receive prize money for team members to share and a technology grant for their high school.

For more information about the challenge and to view an example video, visit our website.

Photo of IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge Flyer

Make a Resolution to Complete Your FAFSA Early

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For many college-bound students, obtaining financial aid is essential for affording education costs. You have likely heard that it is important to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after January 1 as possible. However many do not understand why this is so important.

Filing the FAFSA will determine your eligibility for federal, state and in some cases, institutional aid. Financial Aid refers to grants and scholarships, student loans and work-study. It is important to file your FAFSA early as some forms financial aid are limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Here are some tips to help you complete your FAFSA quickly and stress free.

Come prepared. FAFSA completion will go much quicker if you have the following items.

  • Social Security Number
  • Parent’s Social Security Number
  • Driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • Alien Registration Number (if you are not a citizen)
  • 2013 federal tax returns, including W-2 information for you and your parents (or the most recent taxes if you haven’t filed yet)
  • Records of untaxed income received in 2013 for you and your parents
  • Current bank statements and investments records for you and your parents
  • 2013 business and farm records
  • A list of schools you are interested in attending
  • A PIN for you and a PIN for you parent in order to sign you FAFSA electronically

File the FAFSA no matter your financial situation. Even if you do not think you will qualify for need-based financial aid, you should still file the FAFSA. Many colleges require that you file the FAFSA to be considered for institutional aid. In addition, you are required to complete a FAFSA to be eligible for federal Stafford loans and completing the FAFSA does not obligate you to accept any of the aid offered.

Never pay to file the FAFSA. You can file the FAFSA for free at www.fafsa.gov.  Reputable resources, including Iowa College Aid, are available to help you for free. In addition, more than 50 College Goal Sunday events will be held throughout Iowa to provide one-on-one assistance with FAFSA filing. Dates and locations of the events can be found here.

Meet state and college deadlines. In Iowa, several state financial aid programs have priority FAFSA filing deadline as early as March 1. Keep in mind, most colleges and universities have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. Students should check with their college of choice to determine its priority deadline for financial aid and if additional documentation is required.

Double check information to avoid delays. Review your FAFSA information before you submit it for processing. Make sure the student’s Social Security number and the parent’s Social Security number are typed in the correct spaces. Mix-ups like these will cause processing delays.

It’s easier than ever. One of the newest enhancements, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, allows applicants to automatically transfer the required tax information to the FAFSA, which saves time and reduces applicant error. Students and families can file the FAFSA prior to completing their 2013 taxes by using estimated income information. The tax data should be available within 1-2 weeks of electronically filing taxes and then the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can be used to make a FASFA correction, streamlining the completion of the FAFSA.

Check your email. If you provide an email address when you complete the FAFSA, a link to view your results will be sent to that email within 3-5 days. Make sure to check your email regularly for your results.

Electronically sign your FAFSA. The electronic application is not complete until both the student and parent electronically sign the FAFSA using their Federal Student Aid Personal Identification Numbers (PIN). Filers can apply for student and parent PINs while completing the FAFSA online, or they can go to the Federal Student Aid PIN website, www.pin.ed.gov, to obtain PINs prior to starting the FAFSA.

Following these tips will make filing the FAFSA a relatively quick and painless process! Once the student’s FAFSA has been processed, each school they applied to will send a financial aid award package. Each will include the amount of scholarships, grants and loans the student qualifies for at the respective institution for the term indicated. Compare these award letters to make an informed decision on continuing your education!

Gain Valuable Experience Abroad

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This week’s blogger is Jesa Pace, who studied Journalism and Mass Jesa PaceCommunications at Iowa State University. While in college, Jesa participated in a unique study abroad and service-learning program called Camp Adventure.

During my first year of college, I was introduced to many different academic clubs and programs. The study abroad programs sparked my interest and I soon developed an immense desire to participate in a semester abroad, however I did not know much about the different options available.

It was October of my freshman year when a friend told me about a program she had participated in the summer before called Camp Adventure. She explained that Camp Adventure Youth Services was a service-learning program offered through the University of Northern Iowa. The program trains students over the course of a semester to serve as interns on American military bases, embassies and other installations around the world. While in the program, interns may do a variety of jobs, from running day camps to providing swimming lessons for children on the base. Camp Adventure interns also receive 12 college credit hours.

Once interns are given their placement, the program covers the cost of interns’ transportation, room and board. With all of this considered, Camp Adventure seemed like the perfect program to earn college credit, travel internationally, experience a new culture and work with children, all in a very fiscally responsible way. It was an opportunity I could not pass up and just a few weeks later, I found myself at an interview.

In January, I was accepted into the program and began the training process. Each week I attended four hours of training, quickly learning the ropes of being a camp counselor. In the spring, I was told that I would be stationed at Camp Walker in Daegu, South Korea for the summer and would be working with four college students from the University of Northern Iowa and The University of California Davis. I was incredibly excited!

In June, I left for Daegu with an open mind and very little knowledge about where I would be living. I would be spending my summer in. I never imagined then that I was about to embark on a truly life changing experience.

I spent my days during the week teaching swimming lessons in the morning and running a summer camp in the afternoon. One day each week, we would take the kids on a field trip, which was great because it also allowed the other counselor and me to experience more of the country. Working with these kids was an incredibly eye-opening experience as many of them had spent most of their lives moving from one base to another with their families, while one or even both of their parents served our country in a variety of ways.

On the weekends, we took trips all over South Korea. We spent most of our time hiking, visiting beaches, touring temples and learning more about the country’s history. Some of the highlights of the weekends were going kayaking, bungee jumping and visiting the largest statue of Buddha in South Korea.

My three-month placement in Daegu flew by and I enjoyed every minute of my time there, making it incredibly difficult to leave the kids and the other counselors. Looking back, I have realized that there was no better way for me to spend that first summer while in college. Not only was it an experience of a lifetime, I was able to get a semester ahead in my degree with the credits I earned, not to mention that my performance allowed me to be eligible for and participate in a four-week Camp Adventure Program in Italy the following winter break! On top of all of this, the program was a great resume builder and a material talking point for me during interviews for internships in my field of study that came to follow.

While Camp Adventure is a great program for students, it is not the only opportunity available that can provide work experience, college credit and the opportunity to travel. I would encourage all students to do their research and get involved on campus to learn more about the great opportunities out there. It is an excellent way to gain that initial internship experience you need while doing something incredibly meaningful for yourself and others at the same time.

11 Tips for GRE Preparation

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Sawyer HeadshotThis week we will feature guest blogger Sawyer Baker, a graduate student at The George Washington University and intern for Pathways to Housing D.C. Sawyer began her education at Iowa State University, earning degrees in Political Science and Sociology.

The strength of your application to a graduate program is multi-faceted: statement of interests, writing samples, GPAs, extra-curricular activities, past research projects, etc., and the list goes on. There is one component, however, that attempts to capture your writing skills, grammar, vocabulary, math and reading skills in a pesky number–the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). So, how do you get into the percentile required or suggested by your first-choice school? Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to accomplish this, but here are some tips and tricks that helped me:

1. Set the date. For me, there was no way I would have been motivated to study if I did not have this set in stone and paid for. I also tried to have something fun planned for the evening following my test. On test day you will not only be relieved to have the test complete, but you will have something to look forward to upon completion.

2. Take a practice GRE to assess your strengths and weaknesses. I found that I Have A Plan Iowa offers a free practice test through their online course curriculum open to the public. College campuses may also provide these to current students. If those are unavailable, GRE workbooks contain practice tests and/or prior administered GREs.

3. Block off time in your schedule to study. Treat it like a college course and create a study plan based on your practice GRE. Look at your current class schedule if you are an enrolled student and plan around other exams/papers. Avoid cramming the night before the exam.

4. Determine what materials will be needed to improve your score. Should you pay for a prep course? (I did not.) Should you get a tutor for math? (I did.) Should you purchase flashcards? (I did and didn’t use them.) I was told that the best way to prepare for the verbal reasoning section is to just read, read, read.) Find what is right for you and your budget!

5. Take a trial run to the testing location. You do not want to get lost on your way to the testing center the day of your GRE as it is already a stressful day! On the day of, make sure you arrive early and bring proper identification.

6. Make sure the GRE is not the first thing you read on test day. Read the morning paper, a chapter from a non-academic book, etc.

7. Accept the fact you may have to take the GRE twice. Yes, I was the student who initially planned on taking the exam once and ended up taking it twice. Make sure you allow enough time between your first GRE and admission deadlines to take it again if needed. (Note: you can only take the GRE once a month!)

8. Understand how the GRE is scored. The year I took the GRE, the scoring scale/percentiles had recently been altered. Knowing how you are assessed and how your test questions translate into a raw score is important to know. For example, if a vocabulary question has two blanks, you will need to get them both correct to receive credit for the question.

9. Find support from friends and family. There was a running joke that no one was allowed to read my tweets on Twitter unless it contained a GRE-level vocabulary word! Share your study schedule and ask others to help keep you on track.

10. Know where you need your scores sent. Immediately following your test, you will need to know where you want your scores sent. On test day, it’s free for up to four schools. Following the test day, there is a fee. I was told that I should send my scores even if I felt I could have done better. You not only paid for the exam and spent a whole day taking it, not to mention hours of studying, but you will be able to resend new scores to the same institutions if you re-take the test.

11. Eat a good breakfast. Bring a snack for your break time. Decide what to wear (for example, if you take off a jacket during your timed test, you may have to leave the room to put it in a locker, causing an undue break) – just be prepared and plan ahead. See http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/test_day/.

But, most of all, do not let the GRE send you into a panic. It is only ONE component of your admissions package. It is important to meet percentile requirements and compare yourself to what the recently admitted class’s mean score was. However, not applying for your first-pick school because you barely missed cut offs will leave you with the burden of ‘what ifs’. Own the GRE. Own your score. Good luck!