When a recently released study showed that Citizen Schools’ volunteers not only make an impact on students, but also gain real workplace skills in the process, we were thrilled. The study by Professor David A. Jones found that one third to half of volunteers reported improvements in 10 specific skills, such as time management, public speaking, teamwork, and mentoring. In essence, it’s a win-win for everyone. We took the time to ask one of our all-star volunteers from PIMCO in New York about her experience to learn more about this phenomenon while teaching the Tools for Tomorrow "apprenticeship" class. Here’s what Melody Rollins, had to say...
Growing up, I saw the disparity in education and I’ve always been interested in trying to help that. I saw that financial awareness is a real need in the community, so I thought the partnership with Citizen Schools was an ideal way to use something I do at work to help give people in the community access to education.
As a manager of a 17 people, I made this a project for my whole team to work on together. It became part of our work life and not just something we were trying to squeeze in. It was amazing to see people who had all different levels of knowledge and experience in the company working together in a way they normally wouldn’t.
We had a wide range of experience on our volunteering team. Some had been in investment management for 20 years, and others were right out of business school. But on this project we were a team of equals. The junior people felt more comfortable in the company and the senior people were all surprised and inspired by the energy and passion of the more junior people. It leveled the playing field and it was great getting to see the team shine like that. Now all of those relationships are stronger and there are deeper levels of comfort and camaraderie across the team.
Even more importantly, we built strong connections with the students in our class. There were so many great moments, but seeing them set financial goals, understand the steps to get there, and believe they can achieve them was truly incredible. I remember when we did a lesson on setting budgets; we asked what they would do if they had 1,000 dollars right now. Almost every student said they would save it for college. They really understood these complex topics at such a young age and were able to connect them to their own lives.
Real-world learning opportunities like this make education relevant for students. It can be difficult for kids that age to engage with a topic that doesn’t seem important to their lives. We helped them make those connections and saw them become more confident in the classroom.
There is so much that the students and the volunteers can share and learn from each other. Kids don’t always have the chance to interact with adults in this way. We help them see the long term benefit of what they are learning in school and hopefully inspire them to achieve successful careers in the future. They help us make important connections as well. We are able to gain an understanding of the issues in our communities and put a real stake in helping to support our students.
At the end of the semester “WOW” event where the students got to present their work, the whole experience came full circle. Our team of volunteers hosted the students at the PIMCO office and we invited our colleagues to see the students present. The students acted as financial consultants and we had people acting as their clients. Our colleagues were amazed at the students using the vocabulary and being confident about these complex concepts. Our team was so proud of the students and how far we had all come together. Most importantly, the students had a chance to shine and be successful.
This experience was truly incredible for the entire team. We grew as people and as professionals. I was almost worried that some of them would quit and become teachers!