Tag Archives: Americorps Alums

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).

Blog

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.

Connections

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.

Conclusions

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.

Regards,

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.