AmeriCorps position is a perfect opportunity for recent alumnus

Nina Trach
January 14, 2019

In 2017, Erik Arroyo, then a Penn State senior majoring in journalism, already had an eye on Los Angeles.

The journalism major knew his future was on the West Coast. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he would be working in a high school instead of a newsroom.

Arroyo, currently serving a one-year term with AmeriCorps City Year in the Westlake region of Los Angeles, graduated from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications in spring 2018 with his journalism degree and a media studies minor.

“I was looking for something that was like a job, that would give me real-world experiences and would expose me to different perspectives,” Arroyo said. Having graduated one year early from Penn State, he felt like he had an extra year to spend finding himself and not rushing into anything permanent.

After participating in a service trip to Detroit with Penn State Alternative Breaks in the spring of his senior year, Arroyo was inspired to search for jobs with nonprofits after graduation. City Year was the perfect opportunity for a year of service and self-discovery, something Arroyo described as his own alternative to backpacking across Europe.

In his current role at Belmont High School, Arroyo puts in 50 hours a week working with students to contribute to City Year’s mission of combating high dropout rates in public schools. He attends four classes per day and helps to answer questions, provide one-on-one instruction and form connections with students that give them a reason to come to school.

Arroyo works closely with a focus list of 11 students, helping them in algebra and English and encouraging them to keep their attendance up. He said students connect with City Year staff because the AmeriCorps mentors, all between 18 and 24 years old, are close in age with the high schoolers and easy to form relationships with.

 “It makes you feel really good to know that you’re having an impact positively in this child’s life.”

-- Erik Arroyo, 2018 graduate from Penn State's Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications

“Watching them learn new things and just excel in a class they weren’t doing well in at the beginning, and knowing that they’re a little step closer to getting an A, is really satisfying,” Arroyo said. “It makes you feel really good to know that you’re having an impact positively in this child’s life.”

From his morning start time of 7:15 until he rides the bus at 5:15 p.m. to the gym and then home, Arroyo and his City Year colleagues do more than just tutor. Helping to greet students in the morning and planning different engaging events including a career fair for the local middle school and a holiday-themed literacy event, are on the schedule of duties that Arroyo said was too long to list.

Moving to the laid-back West Coast from his hometown of Belleville, New Jersey, has also been a positive experience for Arroyo. “I love L.A. so much, it’s everything I expected and more and I’ve never been more happy,” said Arroyo, who is particularly enchanted by the nature and open-minded people he has found in California.

Though it has been challenging for Arroyo to find time for himself and balance his modest stipend in a city with such a high cost of living, he said showing up to work every morning in his yellow City Year jacket and uniform has all been worth it.

His time in the classroom with students, paired with his coursework and extracurricular involvement at Penn State, have pointed Arroyo in the direction of his future. Since starting at City Year in July, Arroyo has applied to five graduate schools in California and plans to pursue a doctorate to eventually teach sociology as a university professor.

Arroyo said his journalism coursework helped pushed him out of his comfort zone to develop skills that he knows will aid him in a career in sociology. “Journalism, I would argue, is a cousin of sociology,” Arroyo said. “You go out, interact with people and obtain information then condense it and write about it.”

In his current job and plans for a future career, Arroyo said he has drawn inspiration from his Penn State professors, along with teachers from as long ago as his elementary school days. He feels good knowing that he can pay the lessons he has learned forward, all while living a new adventure on a different coast.

“The way I’ve been taught is the way I’m teaching others now,” Arroyo said. “It’s kind of like I’m carrying on the torch.”

Last Updated January 25, 2019