Posts by Joanna Eng

Graduate Degree Fairs Hit the Northeast

The Idealist Graduate Degree Fairs are off to a tremendous start! We’re beginning the season with a tour of the Northeast.

Last week’s fair in New York City was barely fazed by the intense thunderstorm and tornado warnings. A line formed down the block as we welcomed almost 2,000 individuals to connect with representatives from 200 graduate schools.

On Monday we set up shop in Providence, one of the smallest cities on our tour. Dedicated volunteers from the Urban Education Policy graduate program at Brown University helped us run the event smoothly. About 250 prospective students chatted with 76 grad schools.

The next day we headed 40 miles north to Boston University, where they served better-than-average chowder in the student union while the Red Sox played right down the street. Over 1,200 grad school seekers got the chance to meet with 180 grad degree programs – this student-filled city always makes for a busy fair (below).

Next, we’re coming to Pittsburgh (tonight, September 23) and Philadelphia (September 27). Hope to see you there!


Staff photo from the Boston fair

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]


Follow What We're Working On

As you may have heard, we’re working on a new version of the site! If you’re curious, we’re showing off some of the changes and documenting the process on the Development Blog.

Here are a few recent posts:

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the upcoming features and design, so don’t be shy!
[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

What Does Foursquare Have to Do with Nonprofits?

From Flickr user Walter Elly (Creative Commons)

Foursquare is a web and mobile application that allows its users to share where they are—down to the specific building, park, business, etc.—with their friends. Users earn points and badges for locations that they frequent, and can even become the Foursquare Mayor if they have “checked in” to that spot the most. For many users, it’s like a game (or scavenger hunt?) that helps them explore their city.

So what does all this have to do with nonprofits? At first, I was skeptical, too. But then I read a post on the Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog and began to see the connection. Heather Mansfield recommends that organizations that are visited frequently by the public (like museums, theaters, libraries, parks, and zoos) should be sure to have a presence on Foursquare. Makes sense.

But Mansfield also lists some types of organizations I wouldn’t have thought of: food banks, homeless shelters, health clinics, hospitals, gyms, schools, and religious institutions. Think how valuable it could be to have Foursquare users effortlessly sharing information about how they’re dropping off donated goods, showing up for their volunteer shift, or making use of your organization’s services.

For tips on how your nonprofit can make the best of Foursquare, see these blog posts by Big Duck, Kyle Lacy, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Seeing Foursquare’s catch phrase, “unlock your city,” I couldn’t help but think of the project going on in New York City right now called Key to the City. Thousands of New Yorkers received actual keys that they can use to unlock 25 rooms, boxes, and spaces that have been set up throughout the city. The hosts of the locked surprises include museums, parks, community gardens, religious institutions, a library, a school, and a community development organization. It’s like an on-the-ground version of the online game, and offers a fun and creative way for organizations to interact with and educate the public.

Has your organization been a part of any location-based activities like these? Please share your experiences!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Great News! Increase in Job Postings

By Flickr user Nic McPhee (Creative Commons)

News reports have been pointing to signs that we are finally coming out of this recession, and the numbers on Idealist seem to agree.

In the beginning of 2008, before the economic crisis hit, an average of about 5,000 jobs were posted to Idealist every month. The number of job listings on our site started to drop off in the fall of 2008, and hit a low point in February 2009, when only 2,811 jobs were posted.

But the numbers have been increasing again lately, and in June 2010, our site had 4,659 job listings — almost back to our pre-recession rate. We’re not qualified to draw any broad conclusions about the economy or the nonprofit sector, but this news is definitely encouraging.

Click here to search for nonprofit and government job listings, and check out our other free resources for job seekers. Good luck!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Book Review: Learn to Love Your Lack of Direction

Are you the type of person who joins a volunteer literacy program in March, starts learning Sanskrit in April, and begins building your own bamboo bicycle in May — only to feel ashamed when you’ve lost interest in all three projects by June? Or perhaps you have so many ideas for your future career that you’re afraid to go ahead with any of them?

Barbara Sher would call you a Scanner. In Refuse to Choose! Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams (or you might find the alternate subtitle, A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love), she argues that this type of person is not a failure for not being able to find and hold onto their goals. Instead, she portrays Scanners as curious, versatile, creative geniuses who should be proud of the fact that they might never settle down in the conventional sense.

Of course, it’s easy to like a book that lays such heavy praise on its readers. But Sher, a life coach and career workshop leader, has worked with enough Scanners throughout her lifetime to allow her to develop practical advice for adding structure to your life, getting past barriers to success, and choosing a catch-all career. The exercises she suggests aren’t going to solve everything or work for everyone, but they can give you a starting point for buckling down — while giving you permission to continue jumping from field to field.

Sher devotes a chapter each to seven categories of Scanners, including “serial specialists” and “Jacks of all trades.” You don’t have to choose just one identity: the author acknowledges that most people fit into multiple types. As with most classification systems, it does feel a little forced, but it’s just a way to organize all of the ideas that Sher is bursting with. Each specialized chapter offers possible models for living your life, whether you’ll be pursuing your multiple passions as part of your job or in your free time.

So if you (or your family) are bothered by your lack of direction, pick up this book and stop worrying so much. If you can’t commit long enough to read the whole book or go through all of the exercises, it’s worth just paging through to find bits of inspiration. (If you buy it here on Amazon, part of the proceeds will go towards Idealist.)

More book reviews:

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]


Book Review: Librarians as Modern Superheroes

In This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, Marilyn Johnson guides us through a world that few library patrons have probably thought about: the progressive, activist, cutting-edge, modern, hip, and exciting side of libraries and librarians.

Johnson easily convinces us that librarians do much more than shelve books, and provide more than just a place for the public to access information for free (as if that weren’t a noble enough cause!). She shows the range of other roles that librarians play in society. Some library professionals double as “street librarians” who volunteer to supply information to activists during protests. Others have staunchly defended civil liberties, keeping their community members’ confidential information private, even in the face of government mandates. And there’s even a whole chapter about reference librarian avatars in Second Life, and how the virtual world became a safe space to connect people with information on sensitive topics such as transgender identity.

This Book Is Overdue! demonstrates that librarians not only have to keep up with technology and other trends, but are often active agents of change as well. Johnson introduces us to a fellowship program in which leaders from all around the world gather in Rome to learn techniques from librarians on how to access, organize, and share information—skills that they’ll bring home to empower the underserved communities that they work with. In another chapter, she highlights archivists as benevolent preservationists of things that might otherwise get lost forever, from ever-changing online material, to obscure zines, to finicky electronic documents, to artifacts that get tossed to the curb.

The book provides a fun overview of the unexpected roles librarians play, as well as the quirky culture that arises out of their profession. But it doesn’t quite serve as a cohesive or critical piece. Readers may be left wondering about the actual impact of all of this noble work, because Johnson stops short of examining it.

Johnson’s book comes at a crucial time. It’s a good reminder of the services we’re losing as libraries face dramatic budget cuts; maybe it will give readers that extra push they need to decide to donate to their local library system. It also demonstrates that library services are not becoming unnecessary with the rise of the web; in fact, they’re becoming even more useful and accessible.

If you want more juicy details, borrow the book from your local library, or buy it from Amazon using this link (a royalty will be paid that helps support As you read through the fascinating anecdotes, don’t be surprised if you find yourself daydreaming about getting a graduate degree in information sciences. If you’re serious about it, you can even talk to admissions representatives from these programs at some of our Graduate Degree Fairs.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Lasagna with a Side of Organizing

By Flickr user natashalcd (Creative Commons)

Community organizers may not have much free time, but they do need to eat.

That’s the idea behind Dining Organizers, a program of the New Organizing Institute that encourages community organizers to get together once a month. From the website:

“The hope is that organizers from different schools of thought, issue campaigns, and walks of life get together to share their unique perspective on organizing. All of this is done, of course, while enjoying a glass of wine, some homemade lasagna, and making new friends.”

Each month there’s a certain video or article that everyone agrees to watch or read. That way, not only is there something to discuss at dinner, but the activists can learn about and reflect on various organizing philosophies, strategies, and examples.

So far there are 38 groups who’ve met for dinner throughout the United States as well as Berlin, Dublin, and Sydney. Why not join a group or start your own?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

Standing in Line for the Bathroom, and Other Ways to Celebrate

From Flickr user woodleywonderworks (Creative Commons)

Next Monday, March 22, is World Water Day, an international day organized by the United Nations Water group to focus on issues related to freshwater. This year, the theme is “Clean Water for a Healthy World,” and is meant to draw attention to the links between water pollution, human health, and the environment.

One way advocates plan to make their cause known is by forming the World’s Longest Toilet Queue. At sites all over the world, volunteers will “stand in solidarity with 2.5 billion people who are still waiting for their right to a safe toilet, and standing up for 4,000 children who die every day as a result.”

If standing in line isn’t your thing, there are hundreds of other events—festivals, workshops, lectures, river clean-ups, art contests, benefit concerts—going on on every continent.

Besides joining a queue or attending an event, how else can you make World Water Day meaningful?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

If I Had a Hammer: Tool Lending Libraries

I love public libraries. They provide a fair system for sharing books, movies, and other media with other members of the community. It seems only natural that the library model could be expanded to include other useful, shareable items.

By Flickr user takomabibelot (Creative Commons)

So I was thrilled when I heard about tool lending libraries. Tools, like books, are infinitely useful and empowering, but sometimes only get used once. Tool lending libraries, which often work just like regular libraries, allow people to borrow things like drills, clamps, and wheelbarrows — making repairs and improvement projects more affordable and accessible.

Wikipedia lists more than 25 tool libraries around the United States, Canada, and Australia. Many are run out of existing public libraries (Berkeley Public Library was one of the first to offer the service) or other government agencies.

Some tool libraries are affiliated with volunteer programs. HandsOn Greater Portland lends out tools for volunteer projects, while HandsOn New Orleans offers the tools that aren’t currently being used for volunteer projects out to the public. In addition to a tool library, Rebuilding Together Central Ohio sends volunteers to help low-income, elderly, and disabled community members with house repairs.

Other libraries are limited to lending tools that serve a certain purpose. The Ottawa Public Library lends out pedometers to encourage citizens to walk more and improve their health. Silicon Valley Power offers tools (electric meters, caulking guns, etc.) that help Santa Clara residents and businesses monitor and increase their energy efficiency.

If you already have more tools than you know what to do with, consider donating some to a tool library near you.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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A Little Bit More: Eliminating Waste in Our Gardens and Yards

By Flickr user jenicra84 (Creative Commons)

If you have a vegetable garden, you know that some years you’ll end up with more tomatoes, cucumbers, or basil than you know what to do with. Gary Oppenheimer, director of a community garden in New Jersey, noticed that many plot holders were actually leaving large amounts of vegetables unharvested in the garden. So he came up with a project called Ample Harvest that helps gardeners connect with local food pantries in order to donate their unused produce.

Most of the food available at food pantries comes in cans or boxes — so adding fresh, local veggies to the mix is a welcome change for people who receive the donations. And to ensure freshness, food pantries can provide information on about which day of the week the vegetables should ideally be dropped off.

A similar initiative called Plant a Row for the Hungry encourages people who are already gardening to plant just one extra row of vegetables each year, and give the harvested goods to local food pantries and soup kitchens.

You may not have the time to start your own garden, but maybe you have space where someone else could plant vegetables? Or perhaps you have a green thumb, but don’t have access to a yard to dig up? Consider participating in Sharing Backyards, a model that matches up available yard space with people who want to use it to grow food.

Part of an ongoing series about little things you can do that, when added up, can make a big impact. Click the A Little Bit More category on the right to read more.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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