Friday, March 9, 2012

Networking in 4-D: A quest for jobs, volunteering, friends, and cultural experiences

The first Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC) meeting I attended, I was a new college graduate just starting my job-seeking networking. At my second MPC meeting, I shifted my focus from looking for potential employers or friends-of-potential-employers to listening for volunteer opportunities that would enable me to make a beneficial contribution to society while enhancing my communications credentials in the real world.

At this meeting, I added a third dimension to my networking experience and goals: making friends. Forming connections for the sake of connections, considering these people my friends, people I pray for, people whose own successes and struggles I appreciate hearing about. I also brought my two best friends with me to this meeting, so I cared not only about developing my own connections but about them making connections too.

Another aspect of my changed perspective was that I’ve chosen to focus my professional development on education. I tutor in two writing classes at Oakland Community College, and I also work with private students.

So, since I put that in the cosmos, that’s what the cosmos is sending back to me: The focus of the presentations at this MPC meeting was education.

This meeting introduced us to two organizations to add to the impressive assortment of community-building groups and initiatives represented in the MPC. These two don’t have an emphasis on interreligious bridge-building, but undoubtedly they encounter cross-cultural and interreligious teachable moments in their work with underprivileged children from various ethnic backgrounds.

The first group is the Education Trust-Midwest, an organization primarily focused on academic research, which is used to create and maintain academic initiatives and programs that help eliminate the achievement gap between higher-income and lower-income students. They “highlight and celebrate high-performing, high-poverty schools,” Executive Director Amber Arellano said at the meeting; this is a “very rare combination” since the current trend in elementary education is to put all the funding and best human resources into the highest-performing—which are incidentally also the highest-income—schools. In addition to research, EdTrust also advocates for specific improvements in schools, one example being negotiation with teacher unions about creating or increasing enticements (such as better pay) to recruit the best teachers.

The second group is Beyond Basics, a non-profit organization that aims to “eradicate illiteracy” by working directly in Detroit Public Schools to help children through reading groups, one-on-one tutoring, and publishing small books of each child’s writings for the child’s family.

As you’ve read in my previous posts, MPC meetings are always held at places of cultural and / or religious significance in Detroit. This one was held a few miles outside Detroit, at Bloomfield Hills’ Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This venue was chosen largely because of all the recent national attention the Mormon faith has been getting, particularly since there’s a Mormon running for president. (It was also pointed out the writer of the Twilight series is Mormon.)

During the guided tour and question-and-answer period that preceded the meeting, the bishop and other LDS representatives who spoke cleared up several common misconceptions about their faith—including about the roles of women, about polygamy (which hasn’t been practiced for over 100 years, except by a splinter group they don’t consider true Mormons), and about if Mormons are actually Christian. They are, but they aren’t Catholic or Protestant—they are their own third category. Some authentic Web sites listed in the information packet the church handed out can be found here, here, and here.

In addition to seeking job connections, volunteer connections, and friends, the MPC has also been a great cultural experience for me, given me—and now my best friends—the opportunity to learn about and see the insides of cultural centers and places of worship I would probably have no other opportunity to go to—primarily because (with the exception of the Detroit Institute of Arts) I never knew they existed. I look forward to finding out where the March meeting will be held, and I hope you look forward to hearing about it.

The Michigan Professional Communicators meeting is part of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and is held once every two months.


Illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2004; marker, colored pencil, watercolor, metallic gel pen, flower petal

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