Queens College Service Corps Flourishing Despite Constraints

7 mins read

Education is not something that is strictly confined to the four walls that enclose a classroom or lecture hall. An education encompasses far more. An education extends to lessons learned from ‘real-world’ work experience. An education includes the soft social skills gained from working in and as a community. An education is gaining new perspectives from being exposed to strange environments.

This is the type of education that the Queens College Service Corps (QCSC) strives to provide students with. Utilizing a multifaceted experiential education that personifies the values instilled in the Queen College motto, ‘Discimus ut serviamus: We learn so that we may serve,’ QCSC is one of the up-and-coming programs on campus.

QCSC is a program that provides students from a diverse cohort with paid internships opportunities with community-based organizations and nonprofits that are partnered with the program. As a cohort, students engage in mandatory ‘Professional Development sessions’ which — through a focused program curriculum — provides a framework for students to form a community and develop a transferable skill set that provides a strong foundation for future professional success.  

The seeds of QCSC came from their predecessor program in the CUNY Service Corps, a program which CUNY Central created in 2013 and administered until last year. This year’s 2023-2024 cohort is the first Service Corps cohort to be completely independently administered by the Queens College Office of Experiential Education. The 28 interns who are officially known as the 11th cohort receive a rate of 17 dollars an hour across the program’s 25 unique placement sites, all of which are non-profits. Some placement sites include BetaNYC, National Urban League, Queens Community House, and Tech Incubator.

Olivia Tcholakian, the Service Corps Director of Employer Relations, describes  the program as:

“One where college students can gain professional experience and get paid to do so, and where non-profit organizations get assistance from students that have proven their talent and interest in community-based organizations and work,”Tcholakian said. “All the while, our team can serve as an intermediary that both 1) supports students in their personal and professional growth and 2) sets the internship matches up for success and maintains that throughout the program.” 

All of the program placement sites are vetted in advance, ensuring that students receive direct supervision and mentorship to create a formative experience for students that is both productive and meaningful for both parties

The unique qualities of QCSC’s program model is that it makes it especially suited for addressing the needs of the Queens College student body and the wider Queens community. 

As Jeenia Zaki, the Service Corps Director  of Student Relations puts it, “Many of the students in our program are first-generation students and have no way to expose themselves to the ‘hidden curriculum’ of professionalism in their personal networks. Our Professional Development sessions allow students to familiarize themselves with skills that are not necessarily made explicit by employers and that may hold them back otherwise.”

Sulaiman Alam, a sophomore majoring in Computer Science joined the Service Corps in the Fall 2022 semester as a first-time college student. Alam had two goals in mind: to improve and develop his professional skills, and to work at an internship that would help serve the Queens College community.

Through the Service Corps Professional Development sessions, Alam has been able to expand his professional skill set and communion skills Amongst the many skills that Alam was able to develop through these sessions, Alam cites professional communication and, “…learning how to speak with my supervisors as well as those who work with me. Whether this be online via emails, such as learning what to include in an email as well as formatting, to in-person at workshops or interviews.”Alam was placed as an intern working for the QC Learning Commons, a Queens College Service Corps partner, where Alam helped to create and program applications that would aid the tutoring center while also tutoring students in CSCI 111.

“The impact that the Service Corps has had on me is one that cannot be understated. Through this program I’ve not only built upon my interpersonal skills with others, but I’ve made a lot of connections through the way,” Alam said. “These connections have allowed me to pursue many more opportunities at QC as well as open doors to opportunities outside the college as well. From building all of these connections with amazing people I’ve been able to improve myself professionally as well as become a more well rounded and successful student.”
Since becoming an independent program at Queens College, QCSC has been able to adapt to more closely address the needs of Queens College students and the program’s partners. However, due to resource limitations the program is unable to truly reach its full potential. Due to funding constraints, shifts in funding sources over the years, and the stipulations of tax levy funding — which has a more intense onboarding process and more specific requirements for work authorization staffing — student eligibility for the program has been significantly tightened. 

This year’s cohort was only able to support 28 students, compared to the 125 students, cutting the program sizes by over an astounding 97 students. With over 300 students applying to this year’s cohort, it is clear that there is an immense amount of student interest in the program. If given the proper support and funding the program could expand its eligibility providing more students with the opportunity to take advantage of the unique and modern approach to education that QCSC provides.

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