Question 8

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Samples of Effective and Ineffective Responses to Question 8


8. DESCRIBE YOUR MOST SATISFYING PUBLIC SERVICE ACTIVITY.

SATISFACTORY RESPONSES:

Working with disabled children during the first two summers after graduation was probably one of the best decisions I made because of what it taught me about myself. Prior to working at the Jewish Community Center, I was convinced that I had no capacity for people with disabilities. I never volunteered through my school for any activity involving disabled persons. Little did I know what would happen to me in those two summers. The first summer, I worked with an autistic girl, Claire. I pushed Claire beyond her previous limits, and helped her improve her verbal ability dramatically. My inexperience generated persistence and creativity on my part; I did not accept Claire's self-imposed limits. Claire, in turn, persisted to reach inside me and help me discover the parts of myself that loved working with her. The next summer, I worked in the Special Needs division of the camp. Working in this camp was especially challenging because the range of disabilities forced me to be ever alert. One moment I would have to understand the dynamics of feeding Adam, a 19 year old with a neurological degenerative disease. At the same time, I would answer the questions of Elisabeth, a 12 year old who had slight mental retardation and was legally blind. The philosophy of this camp was to help the teens help themselves. Activities ranged from learning how to take the bus to art therapy and occupational therapy. People often ask me if working with these teens is depressing. Honestly, I have yet to experience such loving, open relationships as the ones I developed with these children. Camp, for them, is a source of happiness, and for me, a source of strength.

[Well written. Personal. Helps reveal why the candidate wants to go into this field.]

 

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Last spring, I tutored high school drop-outs at the Youth Resource Development Center twice a week. Coming from a small town, I was originally intimidated by the city's reputation for crime and concerned about my abilities to work with a group of teens I saw as very different from myself. But it was something I wanted to do, so I made the commitment and boarded the bus. The program was billed as promoting job skills and preparing students to take a high school equivalency exam. I helped with everything from cleaning up the back yard of the center, to math review, to reading and writing skills and resume preparation. The more time I spent with the students, the more I looked forward to seeing them. I began to think of my experience in quite a different way from when I had begun. These teens were no longer the "city drop-outs" so different from myself, but were instead people from whom I was continuously learning. They were smart and funny and kind, and I was grateful to have them in my life. Going to the center became an important complement to my academics. In my view of an 'academic citizen,' people involved in academia should use their research and theorising to create knowledge for the public good. I introduced students at the YRDC to my studies in environmental racism through a prepared discussion. I was able to share my analytical skills in a way that fostered independent and confident thinking. Working at the center was rewarding because the students appreciated my help so much, and insightful because of all they taught me. The experience was significant because it solidified for me one of my goals in life: to become an academic citizen.

[Carefully presented. Shows sustained effort and personal growth.]

 

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The South Side of Chicago is well known for its dangerous housing projects, street violence, and economic devastation. First-year students are warned by more experienced colleagues not to venture past the campus let alone explore Hyde Park's neighboring communities. Although I heeded this advice, I was crushed - I thought of college as a homecoming. My grandparents' 1950s apartment is still there on 53rd St. across from Mr. G's supermarket (of course they knew the original Mr. G) and so is the 59th St. train platform where my father proposed to my mother. I was only five years old when we moved. I came back to Hyde Park to stake my claim in the area that so vividly colors four generations of family history. Luckily, within my first year I found a group of students who also felt a genuine desire to be a part of the neighborhood. Together we labored for two years to restore a campus chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity. Through service projects with community organizations we have built new connections between the University and the neighborhood. Projects are diverse, from serving meals to participating in neighborhood cleanups to group tutoring, but each active member puts in a minimum of twenty-five hours of service each quarter. We have grown from a petitioning group of twenty students to a full chapter with over fifty members and a new pledge class activated each quarter. Our initiatives have even inspired the university to bolster its own community service center. It is through working with students and other residents of the neighborhood that I have come to feel true solidarity with the community and the singular knowledge that I am home.

[Nice setting of the situation. Makes the reader want to meet the writer.]

 

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UNSATISFACTORY RESPONSES:

 

"[The] Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society" (PEAS) is a facet of the Garden City Harvest Project, which is a collaborative effort on the part of the University, local non-profit groups, and health and social services agencies to promote self-sufficiency and sustainable agriculture through organic community gardens. The program is designed to produce food for needy families. PEAS is the portion of Garden City Harvest that is directly linked with the university. Logistically, PEAS involved weekly lectures on the social, political, and economic factors of our food system. In addition, we made a six-hour commitment to physical labor on the farm, constructing tables, building fence, mixing soils, and planting, transplanting, and managing crops. In addition to the personal satisfaction I experienced from my participation, the Garden City Harvest Project has provided a paradigmatic framework for solutions to problems that concern me. First, it has been a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort from the project's beginning.  Second, Garden City Harvest demonstrates the success of focusing a multitude of perspectives within the context of a local community. The program organizers were concerned with the dependence created by importing ninety percent of the city's food supply and with forecasted social policy reform. As a result, they organized a program calling for the community to come together, practice sustainable, agriculture, and help forty needy families, thereby creating a concrete spirit of goodwill and charity.

[Too much on PEAS, not enough on the candidate's involvement and why it was "most satisfying."]

 

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About a year ago, I boarded a plane for Northern California. I was headed there to work in two nursery schools as part of my community service requirement for graduation. At the nursery schools, I assisted the teachers anyway I could. This included, but is not limited to such things as playground supervision, help with crafts, storytelling, and snack preparing. The whole experience lasted only a few weeks, so in the beginning I did not expect to get close to the children. I was sure wrong! I became close to them and they opened up to me...sitting in my lap for storytelling, wanting me to see their art projects, and even drawing things from me. The innocence and sweet nature of the children made me realize that not only was I helping them, but that they were helping me....helping me see the world as a place not just filled with crime and violence.

[First sentence has no impact and second sentence suggests this was not voluntary. Poor start. Generally, good ending.]

 

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I was asked to attend a meeting to discuss the possibility of putting "Bills For Ordinance" on computer diskettes when filing them with City Council each Thursday morning and presenting same to Council. Having the bills on diskette would allow the City Council staff to set up the City Council agenda for Monday nights more quickly and also place this information on the Internet. Representatives from five offices deliberated for nearly three hours. Their main concern was "loss of control". They felt having their ordinance on computer diskettes would give other agencies the opportunity to change them. Under a cloud of frustration, I sat through the entire meeting without saying a word. The meeting ended in a stalemate. It was up to the director to make the final decision. He said he would let everyone know his decision in a couple of days. As the meeting ended, the director of the meeting asked me to stay after. He asked why I hadn't said anything during the meeting. I said, "MY continuing concern is the inability of these agencies to cooperate with one another. We just wasted three hours discussing a matter of distrust. Putting the ordinances on diskette would take about an extra 30 seconds of time, but would literally save hours of work." The director sat for a moment, rocking back and forth in his chair and then chuckled as he retorted "You have just settled this debate without uttering a word. That's a first! Thank you."

[Too much narrative, not enough reflection on why this was "most satisfying." Writer comes across as being more satisfied at being "right" than serving.]