Graduate School: fighting for social justice post-VISTA

Sunny skies kissed palm trees as they swayed with the gentle wind. Bricks paved the ground for miles, and endless fountains ordained every part of campus. I cringed at all the cardinal and gold. Yes, the Bruin in me was conditioned to flinch at the sight of those colors. But, the onset of emotions I felt when I first stepped onto USC’s campus, the first school to send me an acceptance letter for a Master’s in Public Policy program, was caused by more than a historical university rivalry. Past the gates that contained the prestigious university, I stopped because too many questions flooded my mind. Who goes to USC? Am I supposed to be here? Can USC help me help others?

The university oozes with wealth; if you’ve seen, heard about, or experienced USC, you’ll understand what I mean. Simultaneously, its surrounding community faces rampant homelessness, gentrification, struggling public schools, drug abuse, and crime. Never would you imagine that when stepping onto USC’s campus, you are also stepping into the surrounding community that looks nothing like it. The juxtaposition of USC and Downtown Los Angeles prompted further reflection, this time about myself and my potential role within higher education.

Flashbacks of my childhood: a little girl with glasses and pigtails gets dropped off at the public library on a Saturday morning, just to read for hours on the couches with stuffed animals larger than herself. As a first-generation college student, though I loved school, I never really saw myself going down a fixed college path. Never did I imagine that my path would, figuratively and literally, lead me to USC. But, there I was, standing on a campus that was once my dream school (sorry to admit that, UCLA). As a senior in high school, at the time eager to pursue architectural engineering, USC (specifically, Viterbi School of Engineering) was beyond my dreams. Now, my “dream” school could very well be a reality.

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I kept exploring, in awe. After walking deeper into the campus, I stood again, this time staring at a fountain that read, “Water is the foundation of life. Education enriches life.” Immediately, I thought about rural, agricultural communities in the California Central Valley fighting for clean water and better public schools. As I stepped through the doors of USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, I realized: though I, or students with a similar background, may not be USC’s majority, I am supposed to be there, to use a renowned education for public good. I will use my graduate degree to better the lives of those surrounding USC or those I already serve as a CSU STEM VISTA in Bakersfield, CA. Whether I decide to focus on poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, or another social issue facing too many communities of color, and whether I decide to attend USC or another institution, graduate school will help me grow not only as a person, but as an advocate. I am beyond excited for life after VISTA.

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A Brief History of DACA and CSU STEM VISTA

Created by CSU STEM VISTA Casey McCullough

We are at a critical time right now for immigrants in the United States. There is constant and inconsistent change around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which impacts the futures of 800,000 DACA recipients and all immigrants who would benefit from immigration reform. These inconsistencies often leave the undocumented community and allies with anxiety and uncertainty, as their livelihood, safety, and future in this country are threatened.

As my 2nd year of VISTA service supporting the undocumented community, on the central coast of California, comes to an end I have been reflecting on all that has happened over the last two years. Below I share a brief and incomplete history of DACA and the CSU STEM VISTA program.

To view the interactive version of this timeline click here.

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Tapping Into Resources

Erica Panado is a CSU STEM VISTA serving at San Diego State’s College of Science.

When I moved out-of-state to attend St. Edward’s University in Austin, there was some type of pressure to take advantage of my environment. I fell in love with the city of Austin (Live Music Capitol of the World) and my university campus. One way I was able to understand campus life and make a home for myself 1,500 miles from my hometown was to participate in student organizations and attend campus events. Aside from extracurricular involvement at the collegiate level, I tapped into campus resources and departments when I needed any type of support. In turn, I’m a firm believer in utilizing campus resources and campus departments to help a student excel and enhance the overall student experience. Continue reading “Tapping Into Resources”

Meeting the Challenge

There are some days as a VISTA you just know you’ll remember and December 1st was one of them. Just four days earlier I had gotten a text from Bobby, our Fab Lab Manager, asking if I would like to facilitate an activity for two groups of high school students on Friday morning. I said, “YES!” and asked if he could make a hovercraft large enough to support a student. Bobby said something along the lines of, “That should be doable.” So, a Google search, a little discussion and a shopping trip later, the supplies were in the Fab Lab and ready, well ready for fabrication. I was jazzed! A hovercraft is cool and I knew the students would love it. I could go into detail of what it takes to make a hovercraft last minute, but trust me on this one – it involved heroics and Duct Tape. Continue reading “Meeting the Challenge”