From Ship to Sitka

Sarah Komisar '14 enjoyed breathtaking scenes like this during her year of service in Alaska through AmeriCorps/Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest.

Sarah Komisar '14 enjoyed breathtaking scenes like this during her year of service in Alaska through AmeriCorps/Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest.

Just weeks after receiving her diploma from Ship, Sarah Komisar found herself on the other side of the country picking berries in Alaska.

When Komisar graduated in 2014, she was ready to apply her geoenvironmental studies degree, but she didn’t flood job sites with her resume. Instead, she looked to service as a way to diversify her skills. She spent a year as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest at the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS). 

“Service is a really good opportunity to explore the ways I can use my degree, gain professional experience, and network,” she said.

Komisar catches Dungeness crab in Sitka, Alaska.

Komisar catches Dungeness crab in Sitka, Alaska.

I learned a lot about myself this year. I was able to focus on my work and why I’m doing it.
— Sarah Komisar

Several of Komisar’s classmates dis-cussed dedicating a year of national service after graduation through AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps VISTA Community Fellows program encourages students to volunteer their time fighting illiteracy, mentoring youth, promoting environmental awareness, and combating hunger, among other things. In addition to learning new skills, building a resume, and creating lasting relationships, the program enables volunteers to defer student loans up to one year and provides a stipend upon completion of service. With her involvement in extracurricular activities at Ship such as the Environmental Club, the SU Farm Club, and the Adventure Club, volunteering seemed like a natural transition. 

Through the AmeriCorps.gov site, Komisar searched a variety of service opportunities and locations, quickly zeroing in on JVC Northwest. “I connected with JVC Northwest strongly when learning of their core values of simple living, social and eco-logical justice, spirituality, and community.”

The organization offers yearlong service opportunities in the Pacific Northwest that emphasize spiritual openness and depth in vulnerable communities. Through JVC, Komisar was placed with the conservation society in the small town of Sitka, situated in southeast Alaska. 

Although she had never been to Alaska, Komisar was thrilled to be placed with that organization. She packed two bags, quickly learning the meaning of “simple living,” and started on her new adventure.

While working with SCS, Komisar developed, implemented, and staffed com-munity programs for children ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade. She created partnerships, networks, and relationships that helped to build a stronger local com-munity in relation to the land and water of the Tongass ecosystem.
 
“The section I ran was called The Alaska Way of Life. I created programs that I thought would be good for kids in Alaska working with the land, including hiking, making jam, picking berries, shooting, and cooking. We have to teach them to adapt and learn life skills,” she said. “We’re trying to develop advocates for the land.”

She implemented programs focused on healthy eating through gardening and taught conservation and science education classes on topics such as bear awareness, salmon education, intertidal life, and wilderness values. She also planned a community-wide Earth Day celebration parade.

Her year of service in Sitka has shaped her plans for the future. “I have been overjoyed to learn of environmental nonprofit work, and the conservation ethics of the Sitka Conservation Society are ones I will carry with me wherever I go next.”

Working through JVC and the conservation society allowed Komisar to directly apply what she learned at Ship, both in and out of the classroom. She refined and developed professional and interpersonal skills. She also had the opportunity to take on jobs that she wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to try.

“I learned a lot about myself this year,” Komisar said. “I was able to focus on my work and why I’m doing it.

“We’re working on preserving places together and retaining them for future generations.”

Komisar plans to apply for another nonprofit position through AmeriCorps in hopes of completing a second year of service. She encourages students to consider the program and recently spoke at Ship about her experience. “It’s such a good program; they really care about you,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity to dive into service, values, and examine why you’re doing what you’re doing.”