Hello there, my name is Elena Knepprath, PSU class of 2011. I remember my time spent at PSU to be absolutely thrilling. Spending countless nights reading and getting worked up about inequality and the many social ills that plague our society, having inspiring discussions with classmates and friends about solutions to these problems, volunteering and seeing the impact one could have. And then I graduated and was faced with the demands of the “real world.”
But I didn’t want my “real world” to be separate from the issues that I was passionate about.
Issues of poverty, education and immigration were important to me, and I knew that I wanted to stay involved in addressing these issues through my work, regardless of how small. I explored a few wonderful non-profits in Portland that worked with immigrant communities, and finally landed at Northwest Housing Alternatives and their Resident Services department, where I work to help families and seniors maintain housing stability and build community.
This work is exciting and challenging. It can be overwhelming to see the theories learned from PSU come alive, but it is also rewarding to walk beside people as they overcome their challenges and obtain their goals. Some days I see people get evicted and lose what they’ve been building because they decided to stop taking medication that helped keep their behavior in line with social norms but made them feel physically ill. Other days I get to celebrate with someone who obtains their citizenship and gets a promotion at work because they improved their English. In any given day there are joys and sorrows, but the ride is worth it because I know what I am doing is meaningful.
As you guys embark on your journey to find a career that matches your personality and goals, I encourage you to think about what you are passionate about and how you will keep that flame alive when you aren’t surrounded by like-minded individuals and pre-arranged opportunities for discussion and volunteering.
What will your personal take be to address inequalities related to poverty, education or race? Would you prefer to address these issues directly through your work or would you rather use your finances to support the issues you care about? There are as many ways to engage as there are unique people.
Also, how will you remain informed about issues that you care about?
Personally, I encourage every graduate to commit to a year of service with AmeriCorps. You don’t get paid much, but you have the opportunity to get connected with an important issue, meet incredible people, and gain a tremendous amount of professional skills. This is especially helpful if you aren’t sure what field you want to go into post college or if you want to gain some more hands-on experience to be a more competitive candidate. Read more here: