What Does Project Runway Have to Do With Working at a Non-Profit?

Is working at a non-profit your style-
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Here at AfterCollege, we love helping people navigate the transition between college and career. But many students wouldn’t even have the opportunity to make it to college if not for the work and dedication of non-profits like First Graduate. This San Francisco-based organization supports first generation students from high school all the way through to the post-graduation job search.

We chatted with Cassy Huang, Career Success Manager at First Graduate, about how she’s using her BA in Psychology from UC Berkeley in her current role, what her job at First Graduate is like, and why working at a non-profit involves a whole lot of channelling your inner Tim Gunn.

Where do you work?

I work at a non-profit called First Graduate as the Career Success Manager. First Graduate is a San Francisco-based college success program that helps students finish high school and become the first in their families to graduate from college ready to pursue meaningful careers.

What is a typical day on the job like for you?

One of the first things to know about working in the field of education and youth development is that there is no such thing as a “typical day.” Every day is unpredictable and can be full of surprises, which is one of the things I love most about working with young people.

I am responsible for the development and implementation of the career program from middle school through college. I collaborate with the middle school, high school, and college program teams to create career readiness lesson plans and ensure that the career development curriculum is aligned, effective, and achieves its goals.

I also collaborate with First Graduate’s Volunteer Engagement Manager to develop event-based, volunteer-driven career development curriculum for college students. I also provide personalized career coaching for college students, which includes critiquing résumés, practicing interview skills, developing professional presence, and more. Essentially, I help first generation college graduates transition successfully from being college students to becoming young professionals.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? What are the things you would change if you could?

Favorite aspects:

  •  Working with students. In my role, I get to work with middle school, high school, and college students. It’s exciting and challenging to work with such a range of ages and developmental stages. My Developmental Psychology background comes in handy!
  • Working with colleagues who share the same passion. I appreciate that my colleagues are motivated and driven by the same goal, which is to help establish a college-going tradition for every family in San Francisco.
  • Creating innovative programming. The career program is the newest component at First Graduate, which allows me the opportunity to be creative with the design of the program.

Thing I’d change:

  • Consistent funding—I would love it if a generous donor(s) would donate a transformational sum to my non-profit!

What did you study in college? How does your major relate to your current position?

In college, I studied Psychology and minored in Education. Psychology is a very broad discipline with several concentrations. I focused on Developmental, Clinical, and Social Psychology. Developmental and Clinical Psychology helps me understand students’ social, emotional, and cognitive developments, so I can better relate to them and come from a place of non-judgment.

Social Psychology explains human behavior and patterns. This is especially helpful when I am collaborating with external partners to accomplish a project. My minor in Education provided a broad landscape of the current educational issues and “hot topics.”

I decided to pursue a Master in Education in 2011, so I could gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic in education, which was college access and college persistence for low-income, first-generation college bound students.

How would you describe working in a non-profit? If you have experience working in other types of companies, what are some differences you’ve observed?

One of the main differences between working for a non-profit versus a for-profit is the bottom line. In business, the ultimate goal is to generate profit for the company. However, non-profits are mission-driven and focused on making a positive impact in the community (one of the new terms being floated is describing them as “profit-for-purpose” organizations).

Consequently, you will most likely work with colleagues who share the same perspective and passion to improve society. Another common characteristic of a non-profit is limited resources, which can mean smaller office space, less training, limited equipment, and more. As Tim Gunn from Project Runway would say, staff members often have to be creative and seek out resources to “make it work!”

What advice would you give to college students who are interested in working in your field?

  • Get experience through volunteering and/or part-time positions. It’s important to get relevant experience on your résumé so that you can show future employers that you understand this work. Volunteering and/or working part-time will give you a sense if this is the right field for you.
  •  Connect with professionals in non-profits via informational interview. The beauty of non-profit professionals is that many of them are willing and more than happy to connect with college students since many work to improve the lives of youths and they understand the value of having new professionals enter the field.

Homework time! Check out some of these websites that Cassy recommends for finding volunteer opportunities and expanding your network:

  • Idealist: a great online resource to find volunteer opportunities, internships, and/or jobs in the non-profit sector (http://www.idealist.org/)
  • Young Nonprofit Professional Network: a great professional network, there are local chapters in major cities, and you can sign up for the email listserv to get job postings (http://ynpn.org/ or http://www.ynpnsfba.org/ – SF Bay Area chapter)
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