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Building job experience through building connections

Gaby De Leon in cap and gown
Gaby De Leon

To get a foot in the door at a nonprofit organization, where do you start? What aided Gaby De Leon was coming to work for the Irwin W. Steans Center, whose mission-focused goals mesh easily with local service groups.

De Leon enrolled at DePaul to pursue a Master of Science in Human Resources degree, and she spent two years as the Steans Center's internship program assistant, a role that initially attracted her because of its HR focus.

De Leon says she knew that tasks such as recruiting and onboarding interns and working with human resources would prepare her to contribute in her field right after graduation.

Her areas of responsibility included both the McCormick Community Internship and Community Partners Internship programs. Through what she calls an "in-between position," De Leon developed trusting relationships with leaders at many local nonprofits.

Whether you're an intern or an internship assistant, "when you start making relationships with community partners, they will have positions for you," De Leon says. "For CPI and MCI, many of the students that work as student workers end up getting full-time positions at their nonprofit organizations. This is definitely something you should be thinking about if you want to work for a nonprofit."

One of the community partners De Leon came to know was Erie Neighborhood House, and she particularly connected with its efforts to help the Latinx community integrate into American life, to teach English, and to assist with visa paperwork. De Leon eventually volunteered at Erie Neighborhood House outside of her position. She was also able to connect it to her field of work in human resources and work with the nonprofit on two academic projects.

Such experience and accomplishments enabled multiple organizations to regard De Leon as a promising job candidate. As she approached graduation this spring, she had plenty of job interviews lined up, and community partners reached out about their available positions.

Ultimately, De Leon chose for personal reasons to move to Texas. She says she will miss the relationships she was able to cultivate at DePaul with staff and professors who gave her the opportunity to grow. She is grateful to the Steans Center faculty and staff for giving her such an opportunity and for the connections they helped her make. Even staff and faculty who were not directly involved in her role would touch base with her from time to time.

"Sometimes you feel so alone as a student, and people checking in on you even though they're not your boss or anything, I really appreciated that," De Leon says.

She will not, however, miss the Chicago winters.

To learn more about working as the internship program assistant at the Steans Center, search the Campus Job Board.