Graduating during a pandemic, ASU student finds a fulfilling nonprofit career

Graduating during a pandemic, ASU student finds a fulfilling nonprofit career

Maricela Diaz

by Troy Hill, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

June 25, 2020

The months following graduation can be some of the most difficult for a recent college graduate. The stresses of finding a job, starting a career, and figuring out how to be an adult come all at once and can be overwhelming.

And then when a global pandemic is added to the stresses, starting “life” can seem like an impossibility.

Maricela Diaz is a recent graduate who has managed to overcome the difficult times. She graduated from Arizona State University in May with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology with minors in Family and Human Development and in Public Service and Public Policy.

She recently started a job at Southwest Human Development (SHD) as a child development specialist.

A few months ago, Diaz was approaching graduation and the difficulties new graduates usually face in starting their careers.

“Once COVID-19 hit, I was even more anxious about the job search process because many companies are not hiring during the pandemic and many nonprofits have been affected so much,” Diaz said.

Diaz said she didn’t know where to begin her job search at first. She said search results in Google and LinkedIn were overwhelming, too broad, and some were even outdated. She also said she had difficulty because of a lack of experience searching for jobs, a smaller network of contacts, and a lack of familiarity with the local nonprofits in Phoenix.

A few months before graduation, Diaz found the job board run by the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.

“I looked at the types of jobs posted months before I graduated and it was nice to have an idea of what was out there,” she said. “The job board made it easier to look through my options.”

Diaz found several job opportunities through the job board and was able to interview for a few positions in nonprofit organizations. When Southwest Human Development offered her a position working with children, she immediately accepted it. 

Diaz said her transition to her new position has gone very well, and her new organization is doing a good job of making sure its employees are safe. Face masks are required, everyone must stay 6 feet away from one another as much as possible, and she frequently sanitizes areas of the classroom.

This is extremely important because of her daily in-person contact with classes of around 8 children.

“I was anxious and nervous before starting, but after two weeks, it’s clear to me that this organization does prioritize its employees and the community that it works with. It’s a great reminder that we need to be able to adapt to change and be flexible,” she said.

SHD has given new employees the opportunity to complete state certifications, which is rare for an organization to do. She said she is happy that SHD is supporting its employees with their certifications.

Diaz was also expecting to feel “awkward and a bit out of place” as she started her new job, but her new job surprised her.

“Everyone has been very welcoming and I can already feel the sense of community,” she said. “Even though we are living through a pandemic, the environment remains positive and supportive.”

The organization has also prioritized self-care for its employees. Diaz said she has been consistently reminded to take breaks and go at a slower pace. She was also assigned a coach to help her with the self-care practices and to grow as a teacher.

“I was not expecting to have a massive support system within the organization. It’s a privilege to join such a caring organization during this time of crisis,” she said.

Now Diaz’s job is to teach preschool-aged children. She helps them to develop and to facilitate parent involvement in the classroom. 

She is also one of the first lines of defense for the children against the coronavirus, as she teaches kids the importance of anti-COVID measures such as washing hands, wearing masks, and not sharing food.


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