Career Profile: Rachel Fuchs, AB'06
Dual Economics and Public Policy alumna leverages her post-graduation volunteer experience in work with immigrants and Colorado communities
On any given day at her job in Boulder, Colorado, Rachel Fuchs, AB’06, manages a staff that oversees 200 to 250 volunteers in Boulder County, coordinates classes, implements curricula, and trains volunteer English teachers. Fuchs is the Director of Programs at Intercambio Uniting Communities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing English classes to adult non-native speakers in markets across the country. Fuchs explained that understanding of a common language is one of the ways in which Intercambio works to “improve immigrant lives through English education, and unite communities across cultures.” In Boulder alone, 60 different countries of origin are represented by the current student body who are taught by volunteer teachers trained in Intercambio’s curriculum.
Before coming to Intercambio, Fuchs served for 27 months in the Peace Corps, working on business development projects and teaching English in Costa Rica. It was there that she encountered differences in the perception of time between herself as an American and the citizens she was supporting. Projects in Costa Rica, in Fuchs’ experience, “took a long time to feel functional” because the business owners she was serving needed to build a sense of trust with her before working specifically to build their businesses. Fuchs has seen this experience reflected in her role working with non-English speakers in the United States: many volunteers teach in the homes of their students, so it is important for a sense of trust to be established between student and teacher before deeply diving into Intercambio’s English curriculum.
During her time at the University of Chicago, Fuchs exercised her interest in nonprofit work and community-building via her membership in a service fraternity and participation in student organization-sponsored volunteer projects. As a dual Economics and Public Policy major, she was exposed to the business world, but felt a deeper connection with the “socially minded” culture of the University, so she took her lessons in business to her work in economic development in the Peace Corps following her graduation. After serving with the Peace Corps, Fuchs returned to her native Boulder and began volunteering while she sought full-time work. She volunteered with a local school on a project to implement science curriculum, and it was her supervisor who pointed her in the direction of Intercambio when she found out about Fuchs’ career interests. Fuchs then applied for her first position with Intercambio, and she attributes part of what got her the job to having the University of Chicago on her resume as well as a great reference.
Before her current role at Intercambio, she was the Academic Director, where she worked closely with volunteer teachers to train them in Intercambio’s curriculum and approach. When asked what she feels her biggest professional accomplishment has been, Fuchs cited the relationships with volunteers that she was able to build through this position. In fact, in addition to giving their time to teaching, Intercambio volunteers donated $192,000 to Intercambio in fiscal year 2014, making up 20% of the organization’s revenue that year. As the current Director of Programs, a new position that Fuchs assumed in June 2014, she has encountered the challenge of having a distinct vision for Intercambio and the intermittent disconnect between this goal and the resources and infrastructure necessary to follow steps to achieve the vision that can occur on the operational side of a nonprofit.
For current students and recent graduates looking to build a career in nonprofits, Fuchs recommends that individuals volunteer for organizations that interest them. “The reality is, you have to get your foot in the door,” she said. Fuchs sees volunteer service as an integral part of career exploration for people interested in nonprofit work, as “working for nonprofits is not for everyone” due to the often limited resources and shifting structure of the majority of nonprofit organizations. In addition to volunteering in one’s free time, Fuchs emphasized that alumni new to the job market should be open to a wide variety of jobs, because “you never know what’s perfect.” Fuchs also recommends being open about your professional goals with the people around you because--as in the case of her volunteer manager recommending her for a job with Intercambio--nonprofit networks are small, and it is likely that someone in your immediate sphere may have a connection with an individual or organization that could lead to the job you most desire.
Final Note: Fuchs remembers her favorite course at the University of Chicago
Fuchs cited the most memorable course that she took at the University as a Public Policy Practicum that she participated in with Professor Betty Farrell. In this course, Fuchs and her classmates were contracted by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to go into the Chicago community to develop a list of indicators regarding how cultural institutions impact the communities they are located in. This gave students the opportunity to get out in the community and talk with residents about culture in their neighborhood, an experience that Fuchs remembers fondly.