February 1, 2024

As you navigate through your career you will soon learn how to make professional connections. Those connections will allow you to collaborate with colleagues, mentor and be mentored, and assist as you navigate through your career.  As a rule of thumb, you never want to burn bridges.  You will learn that your industry, especially within your city and state can be a very close-knit community and you never know if you will cross paths with someone later down the line.   

As you progress as a professional, you will need to apply for internships, scholarships, membership into organizations, applying for graduate school, and seeking professional positions.  One of the things that you may need is a letter of recommendation.  Letters of recommendations will help you distinguish you from other applicants.  The letter will allow readers to paint a picture of who you are and what you have done or accomplished. 

One of the very first professional connections you will establish will be the person(s) you seek for a letter of recommendation.  If you have already identified a mentor, you may already have someone that you are comfortable with and can easily approach to assist you. If you do not have mentor and are unsure who to approach you may have to put more thought into your request.

If you are nervous or unsure who to approach, here are a few things to consider. 

1.       Update or create your resume.  Highlight your accomplishments, what you have done, and you are at a glance. Provide your resume when making the request so the person can refer to your accomplishments in the recommendation. 

2.       Identify a potential list of people to ask.  You may need 3 or more letters of recommendation and they may be required for different reasons.  One to speak on your work experience, one referencing your community service, and one that can speak to your educational aptitude. Consider coaches, professors, counselors and advisors, colleagues, classmates, and former supervisors.

3.       Ensure your recommender can speak to your skills and will have positive things to say.  You do not want to enlist the help of someone that has negative things to say about you, your work ethic, and your ability to succeed in the new capacity you are applying for.  

4.       Provide enough time for the recommendation to be completed. Provide ample time for the recommendation to be completed. 

5.       Know the requirements for the letter.  Make sure you know the required length, if there are specific questions or information that should be included. 

6.       Know the deadline and how recommendation should be submitted.  Some applications will require online submission while others will need to be physically mailed.   

7.       Be prepared to write your own letter.  Some people may need your guidance and for you to jumpstart the letter and they will adjust and add to suite their needs.

8.       Be prepared to hear “no”.  You may select someone that does not feel comfortable completing the recommendation.  The person may not have time or be able to meet your deadline.  The person may not know you well enough.

ira service

Summertime is the best time to complete service in the community.  There are a number of things that you can do to gain volunteer hours and help your community at the same time.  Below are 10 possible ides for ways you can give back this summer.

  1. Assist with a community garden. Gardening is a big trend and a lot of people and organizations are making the choice to grow their own and provide more organic options.
  2. Help at a local homeless shelter. There are a variety of options for families, just children, just women, and just men. Find a shelter that speaks to your desire to assist.
  3. Support a good cause.  Many organizations will host summer events such a races, carnivals, awards banquets, and more outreach events. Find a cause that is near to you and see what they have on the calendar.
  4. Donate time and supplies to a local camp.  Summer camps run throughout the entire summer and can be found everywhere from local churches to YMCAs.
  5. Clean a park/playground.  Find a park or playground that needs some attention.  Now find the organization responsible for the upkeep and find out how you can help. Even picking up trash could make the difference for the animals and children.
  6. Go abroad. Find a mission trip to be a part of and assist those in other countries.
  7. Build a house.  Habitat for Humanity and similar organizations will work to build or repair existing houses for those in need.
  8. Play with puppies.  Animal shelters need your special skills to play with animals awaiting adoption.
  9. Support a Food Bank. Lend a hand at a local bank to help organize and package items accordingly.
  10. Create your own project. Examine your passions, community, and issues affecting you or your family.

This list will hopefully jumpstart ideas within you that will stir some excitement in giving back. Once you have identified how you would like to give back, now you have to determine how to get involved.

There are a number of ways to research ways to get involved.  You can scour the internet using a variety of search terms based on your topic of choice. Get creative and don’t just search for volunteer opportunities in my city.  You may have to do some cold calling to organizations in your area of interest and let them know who you are, what you want to do, and how you could be of service to them.

You may have to step away from the computer and conduct your search in person. Smaller and start-up nonprofit organizations may not have big robust websites.  However, they usually have an office and you showing up in person could provide you with a better opportunity to landing the volunteer opportunity.

Lastly, get out into your community.  Look at local newspapers, go to local community centers, visit town hall meetings, reach out to local fraternity and sororities to find out how to get involved.  You can often see posters or ask local librarians or community center directors about upcoming opportunities, projects that organizations are working on, and ways you can get involved.

If you cannot find the project you are looking for, consider starting your own.  Develop a name, come up with a mission, and fundraise to help achieve your goals. Start off simple and small and allow the project to grow organically.

Be prepared that you may have to go through an interview process or you may just get thrown into the project.  Expect and be prepared for both. You should ace the interview by knowing a little bit about the organization, their mission, and how your skills, passion, and education can benefit the mission.  You should treat this experience like a real job; interview seriously, work hard, and be professional.  At the end of the experience, be sure to ask for a letter of recommendation or a document indicating how many hours you completed and your responsibilities.  Keep this information handy as it could be useful when you want to apply for scholarships, jobs, and future volunteer experiences.  It is important to get the information on paper right after the experience versus two years later, when people that were around when you volunteered are no longer able to assist.

Find some time this summer to give back in at least one way.  Use your social media to track the event and to hopefully inspire others to get involved.

Midterms are finishing up and it is time sit back and do nothing right? Wrong! Spring Break is a great time to recharge, but it also a great time to explore, serve, and learn.  Thoughtfully plan out your Spring Break, be intentional about how you choose to spend your time. You can accomplish so much of your to-do list or squander away time if not executed with a plan in mind.

Spring Break can be spent several different ways and you do not have to spend a lot of money to make Spring Break worthwhile. The most obvious Spring Break idea is to go on vacation to some exotic, sand-clad resort. This could result in a number of ways.  Spring Break for you will also include Spring Break for THOUSANDS of other college students, which means massive crowds, loud and obnoxious encounters with others, countless bad decisions, and money for travel. A better alternative is to go somewhere fairly local, within an hour or two that will take you out of your dorm room and allow you to see new sights.  You will still enjoy the “vacation like feel” and avoid the crowds. You may also want to consider staying local and acting like a tourist in your city or a neighboring city.  Again, you will enjoy being away while learning something new about your college town.  Research shows many graduates relocate to an area near their college after graduation.  Now is a good time for you to learn more about what could be your new home. You may want to also consider going on an Alternative Spring Break trip.  These trips are designed to give students a chance to travel during Spring Break, but also give back to deserving community by performing service projects.  Lastly, talk to your parents and organize a family vacation during your Spring Break.  This option, may be the most economical and cost you little to nothing.  Your family has missed not having you around the past 6-7 months and would love to spend time with you and see what you have been learning and doing since August (or at least Christmas, if you went home).

Regardless of how you spend your break, make a plan and make the time as useful as possible. A well planned and executed Spring Break can result in a lifetime of memories.  Below are a few more ideas to consider for your Spring Break planning:

  1. Change your room around.  A change in scenery would be nice for the remainder of the semester.
  2. Secure housing for next school year.  Moving off campus? Now is a good time to go explore your options, take tours, and sign a lease.  The good spaces are taken fast, so cease the moment while everyone is away.
  3. Read for fun. You probably do not do much of this anymore.  It has been all chapter this, article that. Get back to the novels, short stories, and series you love.
  4. Spring Clean!!!! Go through your clothes and shoes and donate anything you are not wearing and cannot fit. Also, CLEAN your entire place top to bottom, dusting, mopping, and giving the attention to areas you may have neglected. Do some laundry: clean bedding and linens, clean winter wardrobe and store away, and bring out your spring/summer wardrobe.
  5. Start working on your Final projects and papers.  The library and labs will be empty now is a great time to get a jump start.
  6. Start looking for a summer job. Now is a good time to go out into the community and see if anyone is looking for help.
  7. Volunteer.  Give back to your community or local church.
  8. Read chapters for school.  Another great way to get a head start in classes or a chance to catch up.
  9. Go to a concert.  Find your favorite band and travel to see their show.
  10. Start a Bucket-List.  There are several different versions: college list, a hometown list, or an overall adventure list.
  11. Work out.  Get into the fitness groove, while nothing else is competing for your attention.
  12. Work overtime. If you currently have a job, inquire about extra hours; pick up hours for others going on vacation.
  13. Visit your grandparents.  You probably have not called like you said you would, so now is the perfect time to go spend time with them.
  14. Go for a walk or a bike ride.  Just walk/ride, no destination in mind, learn something new about your community.
  15. Try something new.  It doesn’t matter what it is, just try it.  If you don’t like it great at least you tried it and know it wasn’t for you. It can be a food, musical, hairstyle, or new outfit.
  16. Go on an adventure. Try white water rafting, skydiving, or camping with friends.
  17. Plan a group activity.  Go bowling, skating, paintball shooting, or laser tag.
  18. Start a blog.  Whatever you like to do and enjoy, write about it.
  19.  Host a movie marathon.  Pick an actor/actress and watch all of their films.
  20. Netflix day.  Look through Netflix and find a new series to watch or catch up on a show you use to watch.
  21. Take a class for fun.  It can be yoga, art, dance, sewing, crafts, go to one drop-in class and see if you like it.
  22. Start packing.  The end of the semester will be here before you know it.  Pack items you know you will not need or use in the next month or so.
  23. Go on a special date.  Make it fun and well thought out. Give it a theme, make it a puzzle, or incorporate a scavenger hunt.
  24. Back-up your computer.  Now is a great time to save all of your work, pictures, and music.  For some reason computers tend to fail around Finals, when you need them most. If you ensure your computer is cleaned, delete unused data, and save your important information, you will be in a good place should your laptop crash later in the semester.
  25. Sleep.  You have probably not been getting a full 8 hours each night.  Use this time to sleep and enjoy not having to get up and go to class.

As you continue to grow professionally and personally, you will start to realize the importance of giving back to the community where you live and where you come from. Giving back does not have to
be a long labor intensive project, but every little bit helps and counts.  There are offices on campus dedicated to community service and leadership enrichment. In addition, clubs and organizations tend to do an annual community service event each year.  Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands and do what you can to give back. Below are 75 Ways to get involved and give back to the campus and surrounding community.

  1. Set up a Help-O-Meter to keep track of the number of hours you volunteer and try to beat your previous number each year.
  2. Organize or volunteer to help at a recognition program for students on campus who participated in community service projects throughout the year.
  3. Volunteer in an office on campus.
  4. Write letters to soldiers.
  5. Make birthday cards for the elderly.
  6. Run or walk in a charity race with friends.
  7. Practice random acts of kindness.
  8. Train for a marathon to raise money for a cause.
  9. Volunteer your talents at a charity auction.
  10. Recognize veterans on campus.
  11. Do something  nice for someone anonymously.
  12. On Thanksgiving, adopt a family for dinner.
  13. Trim Christmas tree with gift ideas for local kids and have people on campus pull from the tree and purchase gifts.
  14. Organize a coat drive.
  15. Organize a shoe drive for Soles to Souls.
  16. Organize safe trick-or-treating on campus for local kids.
  17. Conduct an Easter Egg Hunt for needy children.
  18. Make homemade cards for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Grandparents Day.
  19. Volunteer at the local YMCA, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or Boys and Girls Club.
  20. Surprise your parent(s), neighbors, or friends and offer to babysit.
  21. Start a program for students on campus that may need help with food or clothes.
  22. Sponsor a concert in the park; proceeds go to local music charity or program for young children.
  23. Help organize a drive to help meet the basic needs of those oversees. Water, feminine hygiene products, etc.
  24. Organize a volunteer-a-thon against each residence hall; see which hall can volunteer the most hours in a month.
  25. Create a “Give Back” day on campus.
  26. Find a new nonprofit organization and volunteer to help them as they grow and expand.
  27. Adopt an elderly person. Visit them, go for walks, help them with chores around the house.
  28. Read a book during story time at a local daycare.
  29. Cheer up a sick friend with soup.
  30. Call an old friend.
  31. Instead of birthday gifts ask family and friends to make donations to a charity.
  32. Make get well cards for people in hospitals.
  33. Become pen pals with younger students and tell them dos and don’ts for college.
  34. Collect old magazines and donate them to schools or daycare.
  35. Plant a tree.
  36. Start a community garden.
  37. Clean a highway.
  38. Collect unused make-up, perfume and toiletries for battered women in a shelter.
  39. Collect prom dresses for girls in need.
  40. Donate old eyeglasses to an organization.
  41. Collect costumes and donate them for a dress-up at an after school program.
  42. Make emergency kits for departments and students on campus.
  43. Have offices compete against each other to collect money for a good cause.
  44. If you’re good at fixing bikes, volunteer to teach others how to fix their bikes.
  45. Conduct bike safety checks for your neighborhood.
  46. Sponsor an alcohol free homecoming event.
  47. Organize an alcohol free “weekend” pledge campaign on campus. I.e. Homecoming, welcome week, etc.
  48. Recruit people to help paint a mural.
  49. Set up a buddy system for freshmen and seniors in the same major.
  50. Start an anti-smoking campaign to make your campus smoke free.
  51. Make new freshman survival kits for orientation.
  52. At the end of the school year, collect school supplies and start a back to school drive for local kids.
  53. Volunteer for hall council or student government.
  54. Have a party or dance and make a canned good the price for admission.
  55. Recognize outstanding professors and professional staff on campus.
  56. Go door to door in the residence halls and encourage students to register to vote.
  57. Volunteer at a local candidate’s campaign office.
  58. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter.
  59. Donate art supplies to kids at a summer camp.
  60. Make a care package for soldiers.
  61. Clip coupons, become an Extreme Couponer and donate the food to a local homeless shelter.
  62. Sponsor a food drive on campus during Thanksgiving.
  63. Prepare a home-cooked meal for the international students on campus.
  64. Bake cookies for your RA, the custodial staff and maintenance.
  65. Join the local Habitat for Humanity.
  66. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Walk dogs, play with kittens, and feed the animals.
  67. Organize an adopt-a-pet program.
  68. Rake leaves, shovel snow, clean gutters or wash windows for a senior citizen.
  69. Visit a nursing home and teach seniors how to use the internet.
  70. Set up a recycling system for your residence hall.
  71. Clean a local park.
  72. Pick up litter across campus.
  73. Volunteer to clean up the stadium/gymnasium after a home game.
  74. Work to make the campus more ecofriendly.
  75. Challenge each graduating class to donate something to the college to make it better for the next class.