Category Archives: Americorps Alums

From a year of service to a lifetime of service

Bill Clinton remembers Eli J. Segal at Brandeis University speech

On December 4th, as part of the kick-off speech for the new Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program lecture series at Brandeis, Bill Clinton reminisced about his friendship with the late Eli J. Segal, architect and original head of the Americorps program. The presentation included video footage of Segal speaking about his friendship with Clinton.

“I was just thinking all over again what an astonishing human being he was,” Clinton told the crowd.

“He had a quality that was relatively rare in public service, government service, at the time. He could take a vision and turn it into a reality.”

The new leadership program is divided into 3 parts:

The Eli J. Segal Citizen Service Fellowship will provide stipends to create 15 summer internships at Brandeis, in which students will serve with selected non-profits and other organizations dedicated to public service.

The Segal Fellows Network will serve to connect Segal Fellows and others who have been recognized in programs created in Segal’s honor, as well as Americorps Alums, in an effort to foster relationships that will boost community service efforts and effectiveness, and make the Segal Fellowship credential more valuable and useful.

The Eli J. Segal Memorial Lecture will provide lectures from prominent leaders – including policy makers, service leaders, social entrepreneurs, Segal Network members, etc. – speaking on the subjects of civic leadership and public service.


Keeping my hand in

The Americorps Alums chapter I belong to here in Asheville is sponsoring an essay contest for students in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The winner will get a ticket to the swanky MLK Day breakfast, and some other prizes like a gift certificate and whatnot (those haven’t been finalized yet).

Knowing that I’m a writer by trade, the chapter leader asked me to help out by writing up the flyer/handout that goes out to the students explaining the contest. It was fun, easy and felt good to be doing something to keep my hand in with my Americorps program. It’s that whole “Lifetime of Service” thing – it sounds cheesy sometimes when you say it, but it really is nice to be a part of something that continues after your year or two of service is up.

Anyway, just wanted to share what I’m up to. I can’t wait to see the essays when they come in (I think I remember volunteering to help judge, as well; I may live to regret that 😀 ).

Lenovo discount for Americorps Alums premium and lifetime members

Just in time for Christmas comes a discount offer from Americorps Alums that you can use to get yourself that ThinkPad you’ve been wanting (because you know Aunt Jane is just going to knit you another Cthulhu iPod cover).

If you’re a premium or lifetime member over at the Americorps Alums site, Lenovo (makers of IBM ThinkPad notebooks) is offering you a 15% discount off web pricing until Dec 15. Also, you can receive an additional 10% off specified ThinkPad notebooks. If you’re a premium member, check your messages at the Americorps Alums site for details. If you don’t see anything there, click over to the discount center for the full spiel.

Note: You have to have signed up as a member on the Working Advantage site to qualify for this discount. Working Advantage is a free discount site you receive a membership to as part of your Alums membership. I just signed up in the process of writing this post and checking out the details of the Lenovo offer, and it was painless. Your “employee” number to enter in the registration box is right there on your Americorps Alums discount center page in the Working Advantage box. Just copy that and head over to the site, click Register, then Employees, then you fill out your contact info, check off any newsletters you want and “hey, presto!” you’re in. Easy peasy.

Americorps Alums Site Tour – Profile Section

As with many membership sites, one of the first things to do on the Americorps Alums site once you create an account is to fill out your profile.

Basic Profile

There are several sections in your Americorps Alums profile that you can edit and add information to. Aside from the basic username/password stuff and a photo uploader, there are sections for Personal Information (gender, age, marital status, etc., including your Americorps service background), Additional Information (text boxes for “More About Me,” “Educational Experience” and “Social/Volunteer Organizations”), Contact Information (address, email, IM handles and the like), and Professional Information (basically, your current employment status).


You also get a personal blog on your profile that you can use, but I don’t recommend it. It’s clunky and the contents are only available to other site members, will not be indexed by the search engines and there are no RSS feeds. If you’re not the blogging type, it’s just one more thing to do. If you are the blogging type, chances are very good that you’ve already got at least one other, more functional and more visible blog out there, so why bother with another one that only a handful of people, at most, are ever going to know exists? I just put up a post on mine directing people to this blog and called it a day.

Bits and Pieces

There are a few other bits and pieces of potential interest that make up the Americorps Alums member profile, including a photo uploading app, a preferences section where you can tweak notifications and whatnot, a page to access your membership status information (paid, lifetime or free), a message inbox and a page that lists all the groups you can belong to (A.A. has “groups,” which let you connect to other people from, say, past Americorps programs or organizations. These operate more like announcement boards than interactive chat groups or anything. Useful for keeping up with what your old Americorps org is doing (if they update their group announcements) than anything else.


The Americorps Alums site also allows you to connect with other members. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way to upload your contacts to find members easily, so you have to manually track them down using the Member Search function (or discover connections in your Group memberships) and connect from there. Not sure what the point of connecting is at this point, as there don’t seem to be any additional features you have to be connected to use, but they may add functionality later so it won’t hurt to connect up with your peeps, if they’re on the site. If they’re not, drop them an invitation via the Tell a Friend function at the bottom of the My Profile sidebar.


It’s your all-around standard Profile section – nothing weird, nothing unrecognizable to anyone who’s ever been on any membership/connectivity site. As far as whether or not you should spend the time to really buff it out, I’d say that if you’re going to be using the Alums site to go job hunting through the Career Center or as part of your resume/CV, it’s probably a good idea to create a full profile with all the useful stuff a future employer might be interested in (including who you’re connected to). And if you’re going to be heavily networking among the Alums, a complete profile with interesting tidbits about yourself will probably enhance your connectibility. Otherwise, you can just set up a basic profile and leave it at that.

Americorps Alums responds to search issue

In my last post, I noted how crazy it was that such a resource intensive site as Americorps Alums didn’t have a search tool on their site. I also contacted the site admins to get their take on the issue, and here is their response:

Hi Soni,

Thanks for your constructive feedback. We are actually in the process of adding a site map, and the idea you present is another fantastic idea. In doing a little research, it seems that there are some reasonably priced “web site search” tools available, so stay tuned for its integration. Thanks again.


Greg Heinrich
Member Engagement Manager, AmeriCorps Alums

First off, I’d like to thank Greg for responding so quickly to my comments. That proves that not only are there real people behind the site (which I already knew), but that they’re promptly responsive to visitor input as well, which is always a good thing.

Secondly, I applaud the site’s efforts to grow and improve, and to take feedback seriously. It’s a good sign that this isn’t going to be a “set it and forget it” endeavor, as is sometimes the case with resource sites.

But I do have to say, I’m a bit taken aback and somewhat bemused that my suggestion to include a search tool was received as a “great idea” that triggered some research into the prospect on their part (which is how I read it, anyway), because that’s a core concept of building accessible, user-friendly websites that should have been a no-brainer for any web designer who hasn’t been hiding under a rock since FrontPage rocked the Internets with those newfangled scrolling marquees and flashing graphics.

I mean, dude. Yes, real people are running the joint, but what people? Have any of them ever run a professional multi-level site before? And if so, how does something as basic as putting a search tool into a resource archive/member community not get on the drawing board well before even the color scheme and layout?

Eh, maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. And I’m glad they’re finally considering the idea (and I hope they pick a proven, brand-name implantation that actually works, and not some bargain-basement off-brand kludge that some back-alley programmer hand rolled because he just had to have a piece of software with his own name on it).

But for me, going into a site with the Americorps name on it and seeing these sorts of basic usability issues is like going into a supposedly upscale nightclub and seeing a plywood bar and cheap carpet – it gives the impression of either fly-by-night cheesiness or, more likely, big dreams being carried out by people who are in over their heads. Neither prospect is particularly comforting.

Americorps Alums Site Tour – An Overview

First, the good news

The Americorps Alums site is a veritable treasure house of valuable resources for the registered Alum. So let’s take a moment and go for a visit, shall we…

Obviously, the first stop for most Alums is going to be the Americorps Alums home page. Here you get your first look at the navigation links, the calendar, the news panel and the Alum Spotlights, which are in the sidebars that show up on all the site pages, although when you’re logged in, the Latest News becomes a profile links pane.

Aside from the basic navigation links, though, the home page offers a rotating gallery of pictures of Americorps members in action, and just beneath that, a row of quick links that will allow you to either Contact, Sign In or Register. Once you sign in, these links change to Contact, My Profile and Sign Out. Beneath these links, you’ll find a listing of recent announcements, news items and other important content.

The navigation links take you off to a site nicely populated with useful resources that can help you save money, find jobs, discover new opportunities and so on, including members-only discounts as places like Barnes and Nobles and Avis car rental, listings of colleges that will match your ed award, and a career center and library.

All very nice and all pretty much standard.

And then, the not-so-good news

But if I’ve got one gripe about this site, it’s that that’s about all that’s standard. Simply put, this site has some serious usability issues.

For starters, there’s one bit of gear the site doesn’t have that every site with more than a handful of pages should have, and that’s a site search application. Nor, as far as I could tell from browsing the slide-out navigation panels, is there a handy link to a site map, if there is a site map at all. Given the fact that this site isn’t the most intuitive site to find your way around in, these missing pieces create an environment ripe for generating a high number of frustrated visitors.

This is a serious usability faux-pas, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve written to them about that.

Also, while the site does offer social networking and blogging tools that are purportedly there to make the site more interactive and useful to members, these tools end up being so clunky or hard to figure out (and the existing myriad of social networking and blogging platforms out there so convenient, easy to use and already highly populated), that very few members bother using either of them. In fact, few members bother to do more than throw up a bare-bones profile at all.

Just as an aside, it always amazes me in this day and age of dead-simple, intuitive and often free content management systems, social networking tools and widely agreed-upon user-friendliness usability standards, that businesses and non-profits will still create sites that defy standard usage habits, use proprietary (and hard to use) applications, and otherwise seem to go out of their way to ignore the decade+ of evolved user experience on the web and the associated tools/actions that we’ve all come to know, recognize and use almost without thinking about. As a result, users have to re-learn the unique pathways and how-to’s of basic actions like adding contacts, finding resources and sending messages for each site, a task for which few users have either the patience or the desire to do.

Not fun.

But it’s not all bad

Even with those limitations, however, it’s still a very worthwhile resource to have at your disposal.

Usability gripes aside, this site is seriously full of valuable and useful tools, resources and options for Americorps Alums that are indeed worth reinventing the wheel a bit to dig around for, if you can get past the “raised by wolves” web standards blindness of the site structure. For my part, with sites like this I tend to do what everyone else seems to be doing – I set up a simple profile and go straight to the stuff that’s useful to me and don’t bother much with the site’s interactivity, blogging and social networking tools, since I already have far easier and more effective options for doing that.

This is unfortunate, since the Alums site could be a highly interactive and socially “contagious” site for sharing and conversing with other alums – which is what it appears that it wants to be – as opposed to just a static library of resources, which is where it stands now.

Maybe one day, the site builders will visit Ning or some similar community and see how easy it is to make all that connectivity…well…easy, and fun. Or just learn how easy it can be to drop the roll-your-owns and simply integrate the stuff their membership is already using into the basic site structure (or create tools for integrating their site into these existing systems).

But in the meantime, members are better off sticking with Facebook, Ning, MySpace or whatever for connectivity, and just look at the site as an archive of money-saving and opportunity-opening place to get private-access goodies.

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Americorps Alums Site Tour

As a way to encourage Americorps Alums to join up on the Alumni site, and as a way to help others find the tools and resources they can use, I’m creating an Americorps Alums Site Tour series. Each post will explore one page or resource that the site offers, complete with linky goodness, reviews of the resources if I know enough about it to do so and so on.

Hopefully, this will not only allow Alumni blog readers to find more of what they’re looking for, but with any luck, the keyword usage and tagging will help get the Americorps Alums name out there just that much more, and increase the odds that someone will stumble across it on their Americorps-related searching.

I’ll post links to the tours posts here as I get them written.

Go Alums!

Americorps Alums Site Tour – An Overview
The good news – the site’s chock full of useful resources. The bad news – usability is awful.

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