- Open by Andre Agassi
- Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra
To be honest, if you would have asked me one year ago if I thought I’d be jumping up and down about getting into a doctoral program at Marquette University, I probably would have laughed in your face because of how mentally exhausted I was from my M. ED program. However, today, I jump up and down with extreme happiness that I will be starting a doctoral program at Marquette in the Educational Policy and Leadership program. Can you believe it? I’m so excited about where I am in life right now, personally, professionally, and academically. That is all. :)
Last year I planned a week-long alternative spring break service trip to Yakima, Washington. In addition to planning all of the lodging, travel, budgeting, risk management, marketing/publicity (Daily Barometer article here – Gazette Times article here), fundraising, and project logistics, I was the trip leader for nine undergraduate OSU students while on the trip. This experience incorporated a variety of leadership, supervision, and teaching experiences. When I found out there wasn’t much work being done to offer a service trip during spring break last year, I contacted the director of Student Leadership and Involvement and shared with him my interest and enthusiasm in creating a new internship in the Community Service Center that would involve planning and leading a new alternative spring break trip. Although no one had ever created such an internship, the director was excited to have me devote twelve hours a week to the planning and implementation of a new service trip. This year I will be going to the IMPACT conference during spring break and will unfortunately be unable to lead a trip, but two graduate students will now be doing internships similar to what I did last year. Instead of sitting back waiting for an internship to come to me, I created an internship based on my interests and the needs of OSU students and now other graduate students are following in my footsteps.
I believe the main difference between leaders and supervisors is that leaders provide the vision and supervisors help make that vision a reality. I am able to switch between leader and supervisor depending on the topic and/or task and am proud that I had the vision to create such an internship and had the supervisory skills to implement a new service trip focused on hunger, homelessness, and neighborhood revitalization in Yakima, Washington. Since we received such overwhelmingly positive feedback about the Yakima trip, we will offer it as our yearly trip with two to three other trips changing each year. While I am new to the Pacific Northwest, I confidently took on the task of learning more about Yakima and the current social and economic struggles that Yakima residents face so that I could create an educational and productive trip surrounding those issues. Based on my research, I contacted dozens of nonprofit organizations that focused on youth development, food insecurity, homelessness, and neighborhood revitalization. From those contacts I was able to create a jam-packed schedule that included a tour of a runaway youth shelter, a spaghetti dinner with the fire department, an hour-long informational session about Yakima from the staff at the City of Yakima, and volunteering at eight different organizations that served a variety of populations in need. Additionally, I connected with several media outlets and we were able to schedule a visit to a radio station and even spoke with two TV news anchors on live television! Because of these media opportunities, we are now having a much easier time connecting with nonprofit organizations this year and we have heard only positive feedback from the Yakima community, including a kind welcome back this year.
As the trip leader, I was able to supervise, motivate, direct, and coordinate a team of nine undergraduate students as we made our way from Corvallis to Yakima to Seattle engaging in service work. I also managed our schedule and worked to help explain and execute our project objectives, actively engaged in all service projects, drove the 12 passenger van to each location, created and managed our budget, led nightly reflection sessions for our team, and ensured the safety, care, and well-being of everyone on the trip at all times. When our team mates were feeling tired, annoyed, or sick, I was there to bring up the team morale by being a positive role model, whether we were volunteering or hanging out in our lodging at the church. I believe my most positive and important quality is that when I am put in a stressful or challenging situation, I am at my best. During our first evening in Yakima, a student went to a bar and drank even though our trips are substance-free and the students agree to this rule by signing a form prior to departure. To enforce the rules, I met with that student in private about the situation and also reminded the students that evening during our reflection session about the substance-free trip policy. My personality lends itself to putting people at ease in uncomfortable situations. I am extremely open and honest and only want the best for everyone in the group, which meant that instead of coming down on the student on day one, I spoke with her one-on-one as a friendly leader so that she would leave the discussion knowing that she had made a mistake, but would still feel excited and ready for the rest of the week. I was there to build everyone up and make them excited about their choice to spend their spring break volunteering, not to bring down the positive energy. Since volunteering and traveling are my two favorite things to do in the world, I think the students could sense my excitement and passion for what we were doing. I felt so blessed to be with a group of students who chose to volunteer during their one week vacation between winter and spring term and every day I told them how lucky I was to be with such inspiring student leaders.
My goal was to build a cohesive and unified team that could spend seven days in a row with one another as we slept in the same room, volunteered at the same locations, sat in the same van, ate at the same places, and relaxed in the same space. We were together from sun up to sun down and while I thought there would be minor conflicts along the way, I was surprised to see that everyone got alone and felt comfortable expressing how they were feeling throughout the day to one another. When our only male student was feeling a bit out of place, he told us that he needed space away and took time to be alone during the group’s free time. When the sole international student from China didn’t understand what was being said when we were all speaking at the same time or very quickly, she felt comfortable sharing with us her confusion. When one of our students broke out into a terrible case of hives, we didn’t panic. Instead we drove to the nearest drug store and purchased Benadryl. Although she continued to get hives for the rest of the week, felt drowsy during the days, and fell asleep early in the evening, we made the best of the situation. She made jokes with us about always sleeping, but we were concerned and wanted to keep an eye on her to make sure she wasn’t becoming ill. Of course right when she got back home to Oregon, the hives cleared up and all was well in the world again.
When we reflected on our privileges every evening, the students opened up, let their guards down, and several students cried as they spoke about how much they had learned and what they would take away from their ASB experience. Since I was a bit older than everyone, I felt like the mother of the group. I wanted to share my knowledge, create educational opportunities for the students, and involve them in as many transformative experiences as possible during that week. Throughout the week, I shared many of my volunteer stories and some of the information that I gathered over the years as I volunteered at soup kitchens, food banks, and overnight cold weather shelters. While my stories and our hands-on work throughout the week were making an impact on several of the students, I wondered if I was getting through to the others. As someone who is so passionate about serving others and understanding the needs of my community, I wanted to encourage our team members to get involved with service, philanthropy, and activism after the trip was over. I know that not everybody is going to fall in love with service like I have, but I was hoping the trip would at least expose the students to a different environment that would allow them to see and think about their own environment in a different way.
My most memorable teaching experiences happened near the end of the week after we had been painting playground equipment. One of the students became very upset after she accidentally got orange paint on her Oregon State rain jacket. She rushed to the bathroom to clean it off, but since it was paint that was intended for playground equipment, the paint wasn’t budging. She came back and spent the next 20+ minutes trying to get the paint off of her coat. With no success, she went back to painting and continued to complain about her coat. The previous day we had gone to a youth center and hung out with at-risk youth, many of whom were clearly in clothing that had been in the family for quite some time. The student who got paint on her coat had even mentioned to me that afternoon that she noticed several children wearing shoes that were way too big, but probably couldn’t afford a new pair that fit. When she continued to complain about her coat, I brought up our experiences from the previous days working with youth who were wearing over-sized shoes and coats and hand-me-down jeans and volunteering at the clothing bank where hundreds of people came in and picked out anything that was free and that somewhat fit. She laughed at my comment and continued to paint, but didn’t complain about her coat anymore. Later that evening during our reflection session, she asked to share her recent revelation. She began to cry as she apologized for complaining about her coat and recognized that she could still wear it and it wasn’t necessary to spend another $100 on a coat when hers was still perfectly functional. She said that after seeing dozens and dozens of families at the clothing bank needing free clothing that she would rather donate $100 to the clothing bank than purchase the same exact jacket just because it had some orange paint on it that you could barely even see anyway. I was so proud to hear this coming from this student as she was able to remove herself from the situation and see that the paint on her coat wasn’t a tragic situation. She was able to take what she learned that week and put it into her own life. Yes, getting paint on a nice jacket is annoying. Do I now have to go stand in line with hundreds of other people to get a used coat at the clothing bank? No. Each one of us in the group was extremely privileged people, including myself. It made me so unbelievably happy to hear this student share her new-found beliefs about material items and being thankful for what you have. To this day, I see her walking around campus in that coat with a small orange dot on the back and I am so proud that she continues to act in a way that aligns with her recent revelations.
The second most memorable teaching moment occurred right after my first most memorable teaching moment! A student who had started the week off calling homeless people ‘bums’ ended the week telling us how she had asked her father, who is a chef, to donate major kitchen appliances to one of the soup kitchens that we had worked with. The staff at the kitchen wasn’t able to work to their full capacity because they didn’t have the necessary equipment. Recognizing their need and knowing that her father could help, the student was able to get a huge donation made to the organization. While the student was sharing this news with us, I could see the light bulbs going off in her head as she spoke. She recognized that she has been ignorant of her privileges and went on to say that she will continue to volunteer and serve those in need. Having come from an upper class family, having never had to pay for school, and having been given everything that she had ever needed, the student began to tear up as she spoke about how lucky she has been and how she has been taking her very privileged life for granted. While my goal as a teacher isn’t to have everyone cry and feel bad about who they are and where they come from, I do want students to own their baggage and learn how to unpack it. I am a privileged, white, female, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied, educated, and healthy human being. However, I understand my privileges and am educating myself about my privileges and am working to educate others about their privileges so that we can stop pushing others down as we pull ourselves up.
These ideas tie into what challenges I experienced during the ASB trip and what challenges I experience every day as a person who lives with many privileges. When I volunteer I do not want to come off as a privileged person who is volunteering because I pity or feel bad for the community that I am serving. When I volunteer, I do not want to be praised for what I am doing. When I volunteer, I don’t want to be seen as the white knight coming in and saving people in need. In Yakima, over 50% of the population is of Hispanic/Latin@ descent, which meant that we were serving many people of color. With our group being rather homogenous (1 Chinese student, 1 student from Guam, and 8 white students), sometimes it seemed like we were marching into organizations ready to save the day, especially when we were being interviewed by radio stations and TV news stations for volunteering for one week, when Yakima community members volunteer year round with little to no acknowledgement. The reason that we agreed to be interviewed was because we wanted to inspire other community members to get involved with their community. They might ask themselves, “If 10 students from Oregon wanted to drive six hours to Yakima, Washington for their spring break to sleep on the floor of a church, shower in a YMCA, and serve food and paint playground equipment in the rain, why am I not doing the same thing when this is my own community?” I believe that experiences like alternative spring break can be absolutely transformative for the participants and the community members. However, it is the role of the trip leader to ensure that everyone involved feels valued and respected instead of further marginalizing those we serve. I took this aspect of my position very seriously and as a result we have been invited back this year. The biggest lesson I am taking away from this is that while it is important to understand the populations that you serve while volunteering, it is just as or even more important to understand yourself and your biases and privileges before you can truly try to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Since starting my graduate program at Oregon State University in College Student Services Administration, I have taken advantage of nearly every opportunity on campus that involves students and service. My specialization in my program is community-based learning, which means that all of my internships, projects, and classes must focus on community-based learning. I am a graduate assistant in the Center for Civic Engagement, I am currently planning the Nonprofit & Volunteering Expo, I am a member of the service club Circle K, I am on Oregon Campus Compact’s Student Advisory Board, I interned with Willamette University’s Office of Community Service Learning in Salem, Oregon, I will be interning with the University of Oregon’s Service-Learning Program in Eugene next term, I will be leading a community service-focused living learning community next term on the OSU campus, and I am taking a service-learning theory course next year. While many of my peers are currently applying for full-time jobs at institutions of higher education, I am more interested in working with young people off campus in the service realm. After planning and leading an alternative spring break trip last year, which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, I am determined to continue leading similar service trips as a full-time job when I graduate.
After my VISTA year I looked into applying to be a participant with NCCC, but with a full-ride to Oregon State University to earn my master’s degree, I decided that I would wait two years and enter NCCC as a much more polished and prepared team leader. Since I am older than many of the current team leaders, I believe my experiences with service, young adults, and travel will strengthen NCCC. I am independent and have lived far away from home for the last eight years, I am confident in my ability to travel and lead groups while traveling as I have previously led youth groups through England, France, and the Midwestern part of the United States, and I have been trained to work with young adults who are in transitions. Many members of NCCC, I would argue all, are transitioning as they move from one stage of life to the next stage with NCCC. Most have probably never lived with a group of 8 to 12 strangers and most have probably never performed hundreds of hours of service work in 10 months. Some may be missing home; others might be enjoying their newfound freedom a little too much. With a friend who is currently an NCCC member, I have heard stories involving conflict and diversity and I am prepared to handle situations that may involve hammers being thrown at heads (that just happened to my friend), personality conflicts, and personal or group struggles. Having worked with diverse young adults when I was an undergraduate in residential life and the study abroad office, and now working with diverse young adults as a graduate student in many different areas within higher education, I believe I have the experience and skills to lead and support a diverse group of young adults as an AmeriCorps NCCC team leader.
As a 26-year old who has engaged in a wide variety of service work, youth development, and travel, I will be able to bring my varied experiences to the group and to other team leaders. When I led the alternative spring break trip, many of the students asked me how I got to where I am now and we talked about AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, study abroad, internships, majors, etc. While I was older, they didn’t see me as an adult that they couldn’t relate to. They saw me as a friend who happened to be a bit older and who had experiences that could possibly aid them in their careers and/or personal lives. In fact, last week I had dinner with two of the students from the trip because they are nervous about graduating and don’t know what they want to do with their lives. They asked me to talk them through this big transition they will be going through and asked me how I did it and which resources I used and continue to use. I absolutely love this part of being in higher education and working with young adults. Just because I am a few years older doesn’t mean I have everything figured out, which puts them at ease when they hear me say that. However, I tell them that I’m working really hard to figure out what I want to do, where I want to be, and who I want to be and they are able to do the same thing with a little bit of courage and the desire to take chances. I know that many people join AmeriCorps after high school or during or after college because they have heard good things or they don’t know what else to do. They are hoping that being away for 10 months or a year will give them time to figure out what they really want to do in life, or it will be an experience like I had that demonstrated that what I want to do for the rest of my life is done through the work of AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Whether they would like to continue their involvement with service or never volunteer again, I hope to be a sounding board for the members in my group as they process their passions, goals, and fears.
Since I would like to be in this field for the rest of my life, I know that being an NCCC team leader would be extremely advantageous, especially since my goal is to become a unit leader in the next two years. With 10 months of leadership experience as a team leader, I would be much more prepared to be a unit leader that provides supervision and motivation for team leaders. While I have led service trips and I volunteer almost every day, I have not traveled with and lived with a group of strangers for such an extended period of time. I lived in the residence halls with hundreds of students for four years as an undergraduate, but I had my own space and didn’t work with those students on service projects every day. I know that having this experience would be life-changing for all of us on the team and I think that it would help me continue to enhance my supervision and leadership skills and give me the opportunity to deal with conflict on a more regular basis.
In terms of my personal goals they are so intertwined with my professional goals that it is hard for me to decipher between the two. My personal goals involve being a lifelong learner, taking care of my physical, mental, and spiritual health, caring for and loving those around me, traveling whenever I can, volunteering wherever I am needed, and appreciating what I have and not dwelling on what I do not have. For me, my passion for service and being active in my community are so important in my life that they are part of my personal and professional lives. I am blessed because I get to go to work every day and learn about how to engage young adults in service-learning, I get to practice this at my assistantship when students come in and ask about opportunities, and then I am able to leave work and volunteer as a community member. I can be proud that I practice what I preach. I inspire students to volunteer and then I volunteer alongside them. I never want to be the person who sits at her desk all day telling students how to be active citizens, but then never actually goes out and volunteers in her own community. Since I would like to eventually become a unit leader, I believe that I must be a team leader so that I can understand first-hand the duties, responsibilities, challenges, and the benefits of the position before I attempt to supervise and motivate them as a unit leader.
Finally, I will shine as a team leader. When I led the ASB trip last year, I felt so inspired, positive, happy, thankful, and blissful. I felt the most like myself and who I want to be more than I ever had before. I was working with great people, doing amazing work, seeing a different part of the country, and was effectively using my leadership and supervision skills as we went from organization to organization and drove across two states to do so. I now know that I am meant to do this type of work and being an NCCC team leader will solidify my feelings while providing new and exciting opportunities for growth that I cannot get anywhere else.
Last term I had the very fun and very eye-opening experience of being a peer leader in a U-Engage course. U-Engage courses are designed for first-term freshmen and are taught by an instructor and co-led by a peer leader. The main course content varies in each U-Engage course, however, each course regardless of the topic focuses on issues related to transitions to OSU’s community and skills needed to succeed at OSU (e.g., time management, student rights and responsibilities, accessing resources). Additionally, U-Engage courses emphasize an active learning environment where students actively participate in class discussions and assignments. The main responsibilities for U-Engage Peer leaders include working with faculty and other peer leaders, attending each U-Engage lecture, and completing monthly email check-ins to the First Year Experience Coordinator. In addition to these responsibilities, I helped create the syllabus as the class was offered for the first time this year, graded papers and provided constructive feedback on assignments, updated the Blackboard site, led discussions about study abroad, community service, and poverty on campus, and provided information about a number of campus resources.
The course that we taught was entitled ‘Money Matters’ and it primarily focused on teaching students to be financially responsible by learning about credit, debt, tuition, budgeting, and other topics related to money.
Money Matters Course Description: This course is designed to develop your knowledge about money matters and build skills to navigate your OSU finances and your personal finances. Through discussion and research, students will develop an understanding of concepts such as take-home pay, budgeting, savings, and the power of interest earnings. Each student will build a flexible budget template, assess their spending habits, calculate tuition and the full cost of college, and learn how to review their own credit report. Students will also explore cultural and personal perceptions about money, as well as the myths and realities of credit and debt. This course will build your financial literacy and ability to meet your own goals such as financial independence, buying a car or house, or pursuing further education. Activities will help familiarize you with OSU by visiting campus locations and exploring OSU resources available to all students regarding financial topics.
Personally, I found the material to be pretty fascinating because I can look back at my first-year self in Minneapolis and cringe at the ways that I spent my money (or should I say my parent’s money as I didn’t have a job). Instead of eating meals primarily in the dining halls which were already purchased for me, I ate Chipotle burritos several days a week, got my first credit card with a 23% interest rate, purchased $1000 of unnecessary items at the Mall of America on my new credit card, quickly realized that I didn’t have the money to make the payments on said credit card, and was forced to ask my dad for help who instead canceled my excitingly new form of independence and freedom.
Thinking back to my first year of college, I’m not sure that I would have even enrolled in the class for which I was a Peer Leader. I took a consumer math class my senior year of high school, which mostly entailed learning how to correctly write out a check and calculate different types of interest. It surely didn’t teach me how to be financially savvy as an independent adult, but I think that I would have refused to admit that I was in need of such guidance during that age anyway. The fact that we had 23 students enrolled in our Money Matters U-Engage course was extremely impressive….not because Lissa and I were so entertaining that we were able to recruit a full class, but because out of all of the different U-Engage courses that they could have chosen (Harry Potter class!? HELLO, AWESOME), they chose to enroll in a class that would provide them with practical financial knowledge.
While I would consider myself to be extremely responsible in terms of spending and money management, I was less comfortable sharing my knowledge about power of interest earnings and credit cards and more excited to share with the students relevant campus resources and discuss my experiences as a college student, such as how to find housing in Corvallis, where to find counseling services, and what to do if you’re failing Math 103. Being a U-Engage leader did increase my confidence in being a leader. I was excited to share with them my knowledge and help them as they make their way through their first year, but I didn’t want to tell them how I think they should do it, and I instead provided insight into what a successful student might look like here at OSU. Additionally, working with Lissa Perrone, the instructor for the class, gave me the opportunity to engage in a working relationship with a staff member from a different OSU department and work in a team together. We built such a positive relationship with one another throughout the term and I would be delighted to work with her in the future. Since I typically work with staff from CCE, Student Media, or Career Services, it was nice to work with someone from the Registrar’s Office, an area that I probably wouldn’t otherwise venture into.
Prior to standing in front of a group of 20 college students every Wednesday and Friday morning, I was a rather hesitant public speaker. Although I am still not jumping up to speak in front of large groups, my public speaking skills have drastically improved because of my time as a U-Engage Peer Leader. I remember the first day of class. It was predominantly focused on going over the syllabus and getting to know one another. Since I am the Peer Leader and not the instructor, I told Lissa from the beginning that she is the financial expert and thus should be the main provider of information. I am happy to speak up when the time is right or lead discussions that make the most sense for us (i.e. study abroad, volunteerism, grad school, life as an OSU student, funny anecdotes about poor spending habits), but I am by no means a financial professional like Lissa. That being said, I began to question what unique attributes I was bringing to the class. Despite having helped create the syllabus, I was beginning to feel like I didn’t have the expertise to stand in front of a group of students and coherently and confidently share with them tools to being a more financially responsible college student. I could feel my palms sweating and my heart beat racing. However, once I began to introduce myself I realized that all of the students in our class had been college students for two days and were probably just as nervous as I was. I thought, I’ve been in college for seven years, I’ve got this….and while I probably didn’t always make sense when I spoke or rambled on about things too quickly, I was gaining substantial public speaking experience.
Although I didn’t lead as many classes as I had hoped, I still spoke in front of the class every time we met and led several classes on my own. I’m still not perfectly comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people, but being a U-Engage Peer Leader definitely helped build my confidence and my skills. I also was hoping to gain some teaching experience and begin to better understand the academic affairs of higher education. I definitely learned a lot about the academic side and have to say that I am much happier on the student affairs side. I didn’t love all of the work that comes with creating a syllabus, grading assignments, preparing for each class, and hunting students down who have never turned anything in. The thing that I love about student affairs, or at least the jobs that I have had in the past, is that students come to me when they want to and have genuine joy for the area in which I work and don’t feel forced to come and talk to me for a grade. I also don’t have to give people grades in student affairs (which was very hard for me to do) and I struggled with creating a syllabus on a topic for which I am far from an expert (Money Matters). While I didn’t love every aspect of this internship, I am glad that I did it as I was able to further examine my fit within the profession and now know that teaching a class isn’t a top priority for me in the future. I think it is great that graduate students and student affairs have the opportunity to teach classes like U-Engage, but I honestly think that teaching should be left up to the professionals who have been trained to do so the most effectively (and I would argue that students want their money to go to a trained faculty member as well).
After several classes I began to feel more comfortable adding to the discussions and it was so much fun reminiscing about my first year of college with the class. My first year at the University of Minnesota was far from ideal (super model roommate who modeled professionally every weekend, feeling lost in a huge city/campus, feeling pressured to drink and go to parties when I didn’t want to, etc.) and I think the students appreciated hearing my experiences because everyone hits road blocks and struggles through some sort of problem in college. I wanted to be honest with our students and show them that although my first year of college was actually pretty crappy, the next four years were amazing. I just had to find the right people and become connected to the right activities/student orgs to build the right community around me.
Schlossberg’s Marginality and Mattering theory really resonates with me because it was so spot on in describing my first year in college. With 60,000 other students on campus I didn’t really feel like I especially mattered to anyone. Until I found a really great student group and started my on-campus job where I met people with similar interests, I felt like moving closer to home to go to school with people that I knew cared about me. However, once I met people who didn’t want to go to Frat Row and drink every Friday and Saturday night and who had similar values as me, I started to feel more at home in Minneapolis. Because I needed to feel like I was an important part of a community, I wanted students to feel like Lissa and I were and continue to be a part of their community and support them in their ups and downs.
Since I helped create the class syllabus, I was excited to incorporate Team Liberation into one of our classes. They facilitated an activity and led a discussion, which was really neat to see as a current Team Lib facilitator. The students weren’t super chatty since it was 9am on a Friday, but I think they enjoyed the activity and they provided some good comments in their small and large group discussions. The activity was focused on being forced to make difficult decisions about budgeting/purchases as a single parent with two children and a very small budget. Since I am especially interested in poverty/hunger/homelessness, I thought this was a great activity to help educate our class about real issues that are happening on the OSU campus, like students struggling to afford meals or housing. I asked them to think twice before they complain about their iPods, iPads, iPhones, etc. Many students at OSU struggle to afford three meals a day, some live in their cars or couch surf, and some even stay in the overnight homeless shelters. I asked them to think about the things they appreciate and to think about what they would do if they could no longer to afford to live in the res halls and had to sleep in their cars all while continuing to carry the responsibilities of a full-time student. I’ve written about this before, but more and more students are visiting food pantries, applying for food assistance, and seeking public assistance funds while in college. Those who struggle to afford food and housing aren’t just the people standing on street corners asking for spare change; they are also sitting next to you in class, studying next to you at the library, and walking the same stage with you at graduation.
In addition to inviting Team Liberation into our class, I was super excited to take the reins of the class by myself when Lissa was in Salem for a conference. Since I studied/worked/lived/volunteered abroad as an undergrad, I focused the class on study abroad. A representative from the International Degree and Education Abroad Program Office came and spoke about her study abroad experience in Madagascar. When she was done, I presented on my previous international experiences and the students all seemed very interested in learning more about how to apply for a trip and how to finance it. It was really fun to share my passions and for them to see my enthusiasm about getting out of Oregon, getting out of your comfort zone, and doing something that the majority of students don’t do while in college.
At the end of my study abroad powerpoint presentation, I had a slide about Astin’s Theory on Student Involvement. I told them about it in a fun way and related it to their success and how they can become involved on campus or by studying abroad. I’m hoping that they picked up on the importance of getting involved. When class ended, a student came up to me and told me she is super excited about studying abroad, but she is an engineering student and was nervous about finding classes that would fit into her major. I told her to stop by IDEA to learn more about their programs and told her that study abroad can almost always be worked into any major. She then said that her dad isn’t very supportive of her extracurricular activities and would prefer that she solely be a student that goes to class, studies, and gets a 4.00 and a good engineering job when she graduates. I then joked about how she should tell her dad about Alexander Astin and his involvement theory to convince him of the importance of being more than just a 4.0. A 4.0 is awesome, but it’s not as impressive if you can’t talk about anything else that you did in college besides study, read, and attend class. I hope the father ends up supporting her in her desire to be a well-rounded student who can be an amazing female engineer with a 4.0, but also have social skills and know how to work with others.
Being in a class for 50 minutes, twice a week with first-year students most definitely gave me a better understanding of the many challenges and concerns first-year students have. I am not that far removed from the first year experience (2003), which made it interesting because I could relate to so many of their stories, but I have also matured so much that I really couldn’t relate to some of them. Students are still worried about fitting in, finding friends, getting good grades, affording college, satisfying their needs and desires as well as their parents’ expectations, and trying to create a sense of home in a new place. However, when I was a first-year student facebook and twitter didn’t have the presence that they do now, so being a new student on campus has a whole new dynamic to it. It is so easy to ‘like’ Dixon Rec or the CCCC and be constantly updated by their programming and events. Creating community is somewhat easier because you can add the people who live in your hall on your facebook and send them a message at any time asking them for advice or to come over. This can also be a challenge as social media allows you to sit in your room and chat with your friends online instead of walking the two doors down and sitting with them in person and hashing it out. There also seems to be a stronger sense of confusion among students regarding their futures and what they should be majoring in or doing with their lives. Whether this is parental, economic, or social pressure, I do not know, but it surely isn’t good for the morale of new students. In my opinion, it seems like students are expected to have their whole life plan figured out by the end of their first term in college, which is absolutely undoable. On a timeline of life, age 18 is closer to the beginning of life than the middle or end of life, so why are students expected to know what they want to do with the rest of their life when they haven’t experienced a quarter of it!? I think one of my strongest qualities as a student affairs professional (or soon-to-be) is my ability to empathize with students. I don’t feel the need to always give students advice about how to solve an issue, but can instead just empathize and feel their pain or work to understand how they are feeling. I think too often we feel like we are paid to give the right advice to students when sometimes all they need is someone to listen to them and be like “Yes, that really sucks. Tell me more.” Almost all of our students told Lissa and I that they felt comfortable in our class and I think it is because we were so honest and open with them about our feelings and asked them to be just as open about their feelings and opinions. College isn’t always a walk in the park and I was very honest with the students about my first-year experience, which I believe they appreciated hearing.
Finally, during my time at OSU I haven’t had the opportunity to advise student groups. I’ve advised students during START week and have advised students in the CCE about volunteerism, but I’ve never officially advised a group. While I tried to help Circle K get off the ground last year, I didn’t have a leadership position within the group and didn’t make very much progress. However, I am not able to attend their meetings this term and have been told that they are doing more service projects this year and have recruited more members. I like to think this is a result of my advising, but who knows! Anyway, our U-Engage course felt like a mini advising/counseling session every Wednesday and Friday. We would talk about how to become financially responsible, but we would also talk about on-campus life and resources. Since so many of our students were quiet or attended class so off and on, we created a homework assignment that involved meeting with Lissa or myself for 30 minutes to chat one-on-one about their life and their first term at OSU. During these sessions I somewhat felt like a counselor as they opened up to me about their families, their roommates, classes, and personal struggles. For the most part I just listened and empathized, but when they sought advice I was happy to step in and see how I could be helpful. This was a great experience for me because I don’t get a ton of one-on-one contact with students with my PeaceJam assistantship and sometimes I feel like there is a disconnect between what I am reading about and what I am experiencing in the office. I finally felt like I was able to use my counseling skills that I gained in class last winter and put them into practice with my one-on-ones! The main reason I am in this program is because I absolutely love working with students and the conversations that come from one-on-ones or small group discussions. Teaching was a unique experience for which I am very thankful, but the opportunities for one-on-ones with students just don’t seem to happen as often as they do for folks working in student affairs. Lissa and I had to make an effort to create an assignment that required our students to engage in such dialogue (and even with the assignment, many of them didn’t meet with us!). For me, building meaningful relationships with students is an essential part of my job and it is extremely important that I never have to assign a student the task of coming into my office to chat about life. While I respect professors and the knowledge that they share with students, I’m very happy to be where I am in higher ed.
Last spring/summer I had the privilege of interning with Precollege Programs to help plan and lead a one-week GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) summer camp for 50 10th grade students from mostly rural areas throughout Oregon. GEAR UP is a grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post secondary education. GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools. GEAR UP grantees serve an entire cohort of students beginning no later than the seventh grade and follow the cohort through high school. Funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students.
My main tasks for my GEAR UP internship were to recruit, hire, and train 10 college mentors, create the curriculum, help the mentors implement two hours of educational activities with their groups from 7pm to 9pm each evening, attend and lead groups to a variety of afternoon activities, create pre and post assessment surveys, supervise and evaluate mentors, ensure that mentors’ and students’ needs were being met at all times, and troubleshoot any problem or issue that arose.
My internship with GEAR UP was one of the highlights during my graduate program. Not only did I gain skills in each of the nine competencies, but I had an absolutely amazing time throughout the entire process. When I think about competency 9, The Developing Professional, I realize how much my GEAR UP internship helped me to articulate and demonstrate my own leadership style, values, strengths, and ethics and really see how I personally fit into this profession. There are those shining moments in your life when you feel like you’re doing exactly what you’re meant to do and I felt that high and sense of purpose throughout the week-long GEAR UP camp. I need to thank my supervisors in Precollege Programs for this because they assigned me a task and let me run with it in my own way. Instead of telling me what they wanted for the camp and having me put their ideas into action, they asked me to take my own strengths and knowledge to create relevant and interesting programming for the high school students. Knowing that my supervisors had confidence in me to take their program into my own hands inspired me to knock their socks off. I took great pride in what I was planning for the evening educational activities and became extremely invested in the process. Because of my supervisors’ confidence in me, I wanted to prove that I was up for the challenge and really exceed their expectations. When I feel a sense of ownership of a program, I am more likely to devote all of my energy and passion into it than a program that I just jumped into and don’t feel especially connected to. I believe most people are similar, which is why I also lead in a similar capacity with students; share your expectations and provide guidance when needed, but let them run with the program in their own way to build strong supporters who are truly invested in the program’s health and success.
Since I was given such a major role in the planning of the camp, I was extremely thoughtful about every programmatic aspect, including the hiring and training of the camp mentors, the curriculum, evening activities, and assessment. If I was going to devote so much energy into designing amazing nightly activities, I would want to hire and train college mentors that would be excited and prepared to lead these activities. Thus, I spent a large portion of my internship time recruiting and hiring 10 OSU students that would serve as mentors for the GEAR UP students. I posted the job on Beaver JobNet and sent the job application to academic advisors throughout campus and expected to receive about 20 applications. Surprisingly, I answered over 100 inquiries about the position and received over 70 applications for the ten available mentor positions. I was thrilled to have received so many applications, however, 70 applications meant that I would be spending a great deal of time reading and rating application materials, interviewing students, and having to decline 60 of those 70 applicants, which was especially difficult as we had an amazing group of students who would have all brought different skills and personalities to the camp. Ultimately we chose ten great mentors who impressed me every day with their thoughtful and fun interactions with the GEAR UP students, their willingness to assist me and the other staff members, and their ability and desire to get to know a group of 16-year old strangers for 12+ hours a day.
When I was given the task of planning two-hour interactive, yet educational sessions each evening during a health sciences-focused camp for high school students, I admit I was a bit out of my element. I had never really created a curriculum before, I am not the most knowledgeable person about health sciences, and I’m 10 years older than the GEAR UP students who would be attending the camp and am possibly out of touch with what they would consider interactive and educational. The GEAR UP camp the year prior was focused on discovering a career path, which I thought was really interesting and useful, but I wanted to put my own spin on the programming. High school students are already feeling so much pressure get accepted to a great college so that they can eventually be successful in a career, so I didn’t want them to come to a camp during the summer and feel even more pressure about what they will do with their lives (there is plenty of time to worry about that after high school). GEAR UP does stand for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs and the focus is to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. However, instead of overwhelming them with these expectations, I wanted to design programming based on a holistic view of education that encompassed more than just what career they will pursue or which college they will attend. While we did invite Career Services to to do an activity with the students, we modified it to include personal values and how those may play a role in which career you ultimately pursue. We also did a goal-setting activity that included goals about life that weren’t restricted to jobs, careers, or school. Of course I hope every student who attended the GEAR UP camp chooses to attend an institution of higher education, but I also hope that they are capable of reflecting on what they value in life, who they want to become, and the importance of self-understanding. Each GEAR UP student deserved to have time to think about what they want for themselves and deserve in their lives and how higher ed may play a role in realizing their goals. The activities were well-received and I think the students and mentors really enjoyed having these discussions together. In fact, I’d imagine that many of the college mentors struggled to answer some of the questions about their own values, purpose, and goals which proves that whether we are 16, 26, 46, or 66, it is important to be introspective and conscious of who we are and who we want to become.
Since a major part of the curriculum focused on values, I wanted to incorporate service to others and civic engagement into one of our nightly activities. Plus, service is clearly a huge interest area of mine and it fit into the schedule perfectly. The students completed a What’s Your Issue worksheet which hopefully got them thinking about issues they may be interested in learning more about in the future (i.e. human rights, hunger and homelessness, education, health and safety, environment and conservation, peace and friendship, and youth representation). The next day our large group of mentors and students volunteered for two hours at Linn Benton Food Share. After an 8+ hour day of hands-on activities at Linn Benton Community College, I was nervous about how the service project would be received. On the drive there I heard several complaints from tired students who wanted to go back to campus and take a nap or relax. While I understood that it had been a long day, I had a feeling that the service project would actually re-energize them. We split the students and mentors into two groups and made the project into a competition; who can pack the most dried beans in two hours? During those two hours I ran back and forth between the two groups trying to get a sense of how the students were feeling and to inform them of who was ahead. After two hours of putting dried beans into plastic bags and then into cardboard boxes, I expected the students to sprint to the bus and rush back to their rooms. I was surprised to find that most of the students wanted to stay longer and even asked if they could come back on a separate bus after packaging more beans. When I think about that day, I start to feel that high that I spoke of before. I felt like others were experiencing the same passion that I feel for service and it almost brought tears to my eyes when students asked me where they can volunteer in their own communities. The next morning several of the adult advisors/teachers told me that their students found the service project to be the highlight of the camp and want to come back next year to do the same project! It’s such a great feeling when you put so much of yourself into the planning of something and it ends up being a huge success for everyone involved.
Service project at Linn Benton Food Share
My GEAR UP internship provided me the opportunity to improve upon and/or gain so many valuable skills:
Even before working as a GEAR UP intern, I was extremely interested in learning more about rural education, especially rural community colleges. While I grew up in a relatively rural town, our schools were extremely well-funded and I always felt supported by staff and very prepared to attend a four-year university. However, I heard very different stories from the GEAR UP students about their experiences as a student in rural schools. Many of them spoke of their schools losing grant funding, which has resulted in having an excessive amount of shortened days to save money on teachers’ salaries. Students are now being forced to learn the same amount of material as students who attend school everyday, but are having to learn the material on their own and then prove they understand it by taking one exam per class. So many of the students, understandably, seemed stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious about learning algebra or chemistry on their own. In my opinion, this is not only a problem for secondary education, but also a major challenge for student affairs professional in higher education. As a land grant university, we put a major focus on ensuring that all students have equal access to Oregon State University, whether one attends a rural, suburban, or urban high school. We recruit students from diverse backgrounds and work to provide the same opportunities to students from low-income areas as we do to students from well-funded suburban schools. However, if rural schools continue to lose funding, students are not going to be academically prepared to attend an institution of higher education like Oregon State University. Instead they may choose to attend a rural community college, which like rural secondary institutions, are often underfunded and unsupported. How can we as student affairs professionals work to equalize the playing field for these students? Last year in AHE 520: Multicultural Issues, I attempted to answer that question. I researched non-traditional students and rural community colleges and became inundated with facts and figures that prove how many barriers rural students must overcome to succeed in higher education.
Read below for the abstract of my research paper:
Rural America has traditionally faced low per-capita income, low levels of educational attainment, slow job growth, high poverty, and high unemployment (Gillett-Karam, 1995). As the job market and economy have become more competitive and technology-based, rural America‟s economic stagnation has become magnified. Citizens are now pressured more than ever to update their knowledge and skills to compete in the changing job market. Therefore, rural community colleges have been witnessing increasing enrollment for the last decade, especially of non-traditional students. Unfortunately, rural community colleges are “fragile institutions serving fragile communities” (Fluharty & Scaggs, 2007, p. 19), which does not facilitate a supportive learning environment for students who face financial and social barriers within higher education. To support this unique student population, student affairs professionals and policymakers must address their many needs so that they can ultimately be competitive with their urban and/or four-year peers. (End)
This term I am taking RS 512x: Intro to Rural Studies and I look forward to learning more about how we can serve students in rural communities. If we are to live up to our mission and vision as a land grant university, we must promote ‘economic, social, cultural and environmental progress for the people of Oregon” and “best serve the people of Oregon,” not just some of the people of Oregon….ALL of them.