Shaping my path as an A&S student: service-learning co-op at the University of Cincinnati

How one student gained experience and landed a full-time job through service-learning co-op

When Grace Shields, a fourth year Arts and Sciences student, told her father she wanted to major in public relations and political science, he was not thrilled. He worried that she wouldn’t be able to find a job after graduation. Shields decided the best way to prepare herself for the workforce was to get as much experience as possible in public relations while still a student.

A&S student Grace Shields

Grace Shields/photo provided.

Towards the end of her first year, Shields started religiously searching for jobs on Handshake and applying for internships, spending hours every week editing her resume and cover letters. She had countless interviews with several organizations, and she was applying to anything—tirelessly trying to get some sort of experience in communications or public relations.  

For two years, Shields received the same feedback from almost every organization she interviewed with: you don’t have enough experience. She found herself trapped in a paradox; she didn’t have experience, but she couldn’t get experience because she lacked the required experience to be considered for the job.

Shields had everything else that would make her a great hire. She had a 3.98 GPA, experience as a resident advisor for a year, and was active in five different on-campus clubs. Shields had stellar letters of recommendation and a portfolio filled with writing and project samples. She also knew Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft 365. The one thing she lacked was experience.

Frustrated, Shields reached out to one of her public relations professors about the difficulties of finding an internship. Her professor recommended trying to find smaller projects to boost her resume, and then she asked Shields if she knew about UC’s service-learning co-op program.

The service-learning co-op program provides a paid opportunity for UC students to work at a local nonprofit, and any major can participate so long they are not enrolled in UC’s formal co-op program. Students work full or part-time for up to 80 hours per term in a variety of roles where they may develop skills in marketing, fundraising, social media, event planning, communications, IT, operations management, and more.

Shields applied for a service-learning co-op job and was offered the position within a week. She started her co-op in March 2023 at the Alpaugh Family Economics Center, a University of Cincinnati nonprofit that works to provide financial education to elementary through high school aged students. They hired her for an 80-hour project at first, and then asked her to stay on as their part-time marketing intern for the summer.  

One thing all of Shields’s public relations professors tell their classes is that to make it in PR, you need to be a jack of all trades. Service-learning is a PR major's dream, because of the immense needs of nonprofits. In her role, Shields was able to get experience in virtually anything she wanted in terms of communication. She learned Google Ads, Google Analytics, social media marketing, flyer creation, content creation and much more. She was able to build not only her resume, but also her soft and hard skills—adding to her personal marketability.

Whereas just a couple of months earlier, Shields struggled to even get an interview because of her lack of experience, she found herself having two part-time co-ops lined up the fall semester of her senior year. One was with a local health justice foundation called Interact for Health, and the second co-op was working to promote the service-learning co-op program itself as an on-campus co-op.

Shields had the opportunity to attend career fairs, give classroom presentations, create flyers and social media content and more—all for a program that helped her get her start in the field she wants to go into. Her favorite part of being an on-campus co-op was helping other students who were struggling to gain experience, find meaningful, experiential opportunities through the program.

In a field like public relations, where practical skills are vital to success, service-learning allowed Shields to learn what she’s passionate about while also learning where her professional strengths lie. “I would not be where I am today without the service-learning co-op program,” said Shields.  “This program renewed my self-confidence and steered me toward a career in nonprofit work. In a world where having a college degree is oftentimes not enough to get a job, I’m immensely grateful to the service-learning co-op program for providing opportunities so that students like me, can gain relevant experience while supporting nonprofits in our communities.”

Shields will graduate this spring and has already secured a full-time position upon graduation with Interact for Health, a local health foundation that works closely with nonprofits. 

Featured top image of Grace Shields in UC's Tangeman University Center. Photo provided.

Find service learning co-ops using UC’s career platform Handshake. After logging in, select "Jobs", then "All filters" and at the end of the menu, look for the filter “Labeled by your school." In that field, enter “Service-Learning Co-op”, then click "Show results."

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