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AmeriCorps program sees significant growth at ASU


July 22, 2010

AmeriCorps scholarships provide a critical bridge for Arizona State University students during intense academic periods when they’re gaining experience in their chosen career fields.

Jenefer Torres is student teaching at Madison Park Middle School in Phoenix. She’s grateful for the UCAN Serve AmeriCorps program that she wasn’t aware of previously.

“I didn’t know that the program even existed,” Torres said.

After she signed up, Torres took heart in the fact that she would earn a financial reward while student teaching that could be applied toward tuition.

“I thought it was great that the government would be willing to give you money while you were student teaching,” she said. 

Future teachers who have to quit their jobs while student teaching sometimes have a tough time making ends meet.

“Some people have families,” Torres said. “This gives you a stepping stone and a (financial) cushion.”

AmeriCorps is a national service program that was created in 1993 by President Bill Clinton that includes Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), AmeriCorps State and National and the National Civilian Community Corps. ASU’s UCAN Serve AmeriCorps Program is projected to be the largest in the region during the next academic year among participating schools in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Montana. UCAN Serve AmeriCorps encompasses 37 participating sites on campuses throughout the west and is open to students who volunteer at least 300 hours in defined sectors that can be a part of their university coursework.

ASU’s UCAN Serve AmeriCorps program is undergoing substantial growth with total dollars awarded to approximately 435 students during the 2010-11 academic year projected to be $526,250. More than $1 million dollars in scholarship dollars are projected for the 2011-12 year. From 2004-11, there were 1,065 scholarships approved for ASU, an increase of 11,733 percent throughout the time period.

“UCAN promotes college students going out into the community and serving,” said Noreen Balos, executive director of the Vice President of Education Partnerships office that administers the program at ASU.

The scholarship program is a natural fit for ASU students working toward education degrees who are required to student teach, usually during the last semester of their senior year. Students who file 600 hours of work at a Title One school can receive $2,000 in scholarship dollars that go toward paying off federal student loans or tuition.

“This service scholarship helps compensate financially,” Balos said. “Most of the service hours are between 300 and 1,000 hours.”  

After signing up for the program and starting their time in a classroom, each student teacher logs monthly hours and provides reflections on what they have learned.

“Sometimes one kid really inspires them. If they get through to one student and that student learns something new, it’s a really intense moment for them,” said Kelly Stranathan, program coordinator senior in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College who oversees professional development off-site program advisement for the program.

The UCAN Serve AmeriCorps program at ASU is expanding to other programs where students volunteer more than 300 hours during the course of their studies. College of Public Programs students will soon be able to take advantage of the program as they work toward social work or nonprofit leadership degrees in the community.

“We are open to any academic unit that wants to integrate this,” Balos said.

Balos sees concrete positive results from students who have benefited from the program.

“They are basically getting rewarded for the time they serve in the community. Most of these students have a tendency to want to give back to the community,” Balos said. “Economically, many of them would probably not continue their academic program without the program because they would not be able to support themselves. Many return to graduate school with the tuition money.”

Students are especially grateful for extra help with school during these tough economic times.

“They’re all really grateful for the money, especially now when maybe in the past their parents could have helped them and now they can’t,” Stranathan said.

For additional information about ASU’s UCAN Serve AmeriCorps, go to http://educationpartnerships.asu.edu/content/americorps.