Book Circles, Colorblindness, and #blacklivesmatter

Written By Emily Liptow, CSU STEM VISTA Member 2015-17 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

This past year as a CSU STEM VISTA member has provided me with so many learning opportunities around social justice, diversity, and critical theories. One of my favorite experiences has been participating in book circles at Cal Poly through the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT).  The CTLT hosts many book circles for staff and faculty throughout the school year on a variety of topics including higher education, personal growth, and diversity.


I love book circles for a variety of reasons: #1 you get a free book, #2 it forces encourages you to actually read the book in a timely manner, and #3 you get to participate in rich, lively discussions about the books. Honestly, #3 has been the most valuable aspect of the book circles. Processing a book’s content in a group helps me to more fully understand the themes and lessons, making it easier to apply to my own life. This year I read Brene Brown’s Rising Strong and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Freedom through CTLT book circles, both of which were powerful to me in many ways.

Considering my love of book circles, I was very excited to be asked to help lead one this past spring quarter. Noya (my fellow VISTA buddy) and I hosted a book circle for Tim Wise’s Colorblind that was especially geared towards faculty, staff, and students in STEM departments at Cal Poly. This book circle was one of three Tim Wise-focused book circles offered by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Cal Poly during spring quarter. Wise, a well-known, anti-racist activist and educator, came to Cal Poly this past May as the keynote speaker for Inclusive Excellence week. As a white man doing this sort of work, Wise provides an example for what white-allyship can look like in the fight for racial equality. Continue reading

What’s Jeffrey Listening to Today?

Jeffrey_Noya_PresArmstrong9-19-14.jpgWritten by Jeffrey Cabanez, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-16 CSU Chancellor’s Office Center for Community Engagement

When a specific song comes up on your Pandora playlist, what do you think about? What kinds of emotions come to mind? I have headphones in my ears approximately 20 hours of the day. Whether it be from listening to music at the gym, playing a video game with my friends online, or falling asleep listening to a podcast, headphones are weirdly enough a substantial part of my life. The idea of having headphones on and being able to get lost in whatever I am listening to is important to me. It gives me a space to reflect and focus on what I need to do and provide me with “me time.” With my second year of service coming to a close, and a third one on the way, I wanted to try and express some of what I have learned through different song lyrics. So, here it goes.

“In our darkest hours we are not invincible, but we are both stronger than we know, in our bones.” –Against The Current: In Our Bones Continue reading

Promoting a Cycle of STEM Outreach and Service at Sac State

IMG_3271.JPGWritten by JT Stoner, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16 Sacramento State University Commit to Study 

For the past 11 months, I have served as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) at California State University, Sacramento (a.k.a Sac State). The overarching goal of my VISTA year has been to coordinate new partnerships and opportunities for college students to do K-12 outreach and encourage younger generations to pursue their interests in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. We believe that providing students with opportunities to give back to their community promotes a cycle of service that if continued in the future will not only help future generations succeed in their STEM pursuits, but also inspires them to reach back into their communities as well.

Without a doubt, one of the single greatest opportunities I had this year was the opportunity to organize a 4-hour campus visit for ~50 5th and 7th graders from Sol Aureus Preparatory (SAC Prep) School. I started off the day by giving a brief presentation on the most popular STEM majors at Sac State and what careers students could pursue with those degrees post-graduation. We also talked about what they could do right now to help them prepare for the future (e.g. developing good study habits, taking extra science and math classes, talking to their family members, teachers, coaches, and their peers about what they want to do when they graduate high school, and reaching out to college students and staff members). To my relief, the presentation was super interactive and the students seemed genuinely interested! Fortunately for me, many of these students already wanted to pursue careers in STEM fields (e.g. doctors and nurses, mathematicians, computer technicians and engineers, forensic scientists, etc.).

Next I organized a short panel discussion with three college students who are currently pursuing STEM degrees at Sac State. Continue reading

(FR)iend l(OVE)

Written By Cheyanne Ramón, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, CSU Bakersfield Fab Lab

unnamed.jpgWarning: Parks and Rec Finale spoilers ahead

During the series finale of Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope gave a wonderful speech that illustrates work in public service:

“When we worked here together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make peoples lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about: small, incremental change every day. Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with the people that you love.”

This year was hard. I moved away from home. I worked in a city I had never been to. I didn’t know how to begin my work. Some days were longer than most. Sometimes people didn’t cooperate. But at the end of the day I had my fellow VISTAs to rely on. Continue reading

VISTA Spotlight – Jose Mendoza

Jose_IAmVISTA.JPGName: Jose Alfredo Mendoza

Alma Mater: University of California, Santa Barbara (Ole… Ole… Ole.. Gauchos!)

Major: B.A. Global Studies

Background: I began my college career at the University of California Santa Barbara as a Psychology major. During that first year, I realized that I couldn’t see myself pursuing a career related to Psychology. I decided to explore other courses and quickly became intrigued by Global Studies courses. Global Studies encompassed a broad range of topics I was interested in including globalization which seeks to “promote critical reflection on how the world works as an interlinked, interactive set of processes and relationships that operate across broad spheres of experience, from the social to the political, the economic to the cultural, the religious to the environmental, the legal to the technological, the scientific to the subjective.”

Learning about these different topics/issues made me feel more connected and aware of the world around me. It also made me want to take action and be further involved in my community. I always felt a connection working with youth and decided to participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters program throughout the majority of my time at UCSB. Continue reading

CSU to Silicon Valley

Shelby.jpgWritten by Shelby Ramsey, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, CSU Monterey Bay School of Computing and Design

Since my year of service began at CSU Monterey Bay with the School of Computing and Design, I wanted to ensure the focus on creating internships for our students lived beyond my VISTA year. Helping the students secure internships has led to them earning money and feeling financially secure, and it has provided relevant work experience and helped them develop professional relationships in their respective career fields.

There is one program in particular that provides highly beneficial services and support to our CSUMB students: CSin3 (Computer Science in 3 years program). This program currently consist of 3-cohorts of students who, with the support of faculty, staff, and their fellow cohort peers, will successfully grow and graduate together. Throughout the school year, CSUMB faculty and staff in this program help guide the students through meaningful reflection on their passions and interests, help students gain computer science or communication design experience, support them with their resume and LinkedIn account development, and prepare for interviews.

Every semester students in the cohorts have the opportunity to interview with technology companies from Silicon Valley. Continue reading

VISTA Spotlight – August Delforge

August_IAmVISTA.JPGName: August Delforge

Host Site: California State University, Monterey Bay Science and Environmental Policy

Alma Mater: California State University, Monterey Bay

Major: Environmental Science, Technology, & Policy

Background: I graduated from California State University Monterey Bay with a degree in Environmental Science, Technology & Policy (ESTP), and an emphasis in watershed systems, in May of 2014. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I enveloped myself as much as possible in seeking training outside of the classroom to facilitate my career trajectory. In the summer of 2012 I secured my first internship through the Council of Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology (COAST) working alongside biologists and field technicians monitoring Salmonid habitat, abundance, and distribution for the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) now known as Fish & Wildlife (CDFW).

After my first internship with the DFG, I worked in the watershed geology lab at CSUMB under Dr. Doug Smith as a lab and field research assistant for the Hollister Hills SVRA erosion project, Santa Lucia flow monitoring project, and San Clemente Dam removal sediment transport monitoring project (View publishing’s at: My experiences from these versatile assignments equipped me with a strong set of technical and scientific skills Continue reading

Communities that Care

Written by Sheina Vogt, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, Humboldt State University Klamath Connection 

Sheina Work Self_alternate.jpgSchool was often a struggle for me. If I got a poor grade on a test I remember feeling defeated sometimes even crying. But I knew I could call my eldest brother, Derek, and he would help me figure out next steps to persevere. Similarly, there were times when I had to choose between paying my rent and paying my tuition. When that happened, I always had a friend or a family member who could help me out with a personal, interest-free payday loan. My success took a lot of support from my friends, my community, my family, and my university. Many hands, seen and unseen, guided me through with financial, social, emotional, and academic aid. Truly, I was helped through school by seemingly an entire village. I hope to be a part of as many supportive communities for other students as possible.

A student in the program I serve at stopped me recently. I was heading out the door of our shared residence hall at Humboldt State University. She seemed close to tears Continue reading

Finding Myself in My Year of Service

Written by Vy Nguyen, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16 CSU Long Beach Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD)

2251.JPGAs I begin to reflect on my year of service, I realize that AmeriCorps allowed me to find myself. Being a recent college graduate, I was lost and confused about my career path and what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. Similar to many students, deciding what I will be doing for the rest of my life was a daunting task. I was torn between two completely different professions – a researcher or a health care provider. During college, I was heavily involved in research and had absolutely no experience in health care. The question I personally pondered for half of my AmeriCorps year was: Do I stick with something I am familiar with (research) or do I explore my other interest (health care)? I pondered this question for a good 5 months before I finally made the decision to explore and venture into the unknown. It was the CSU STEM VISTA program that gave me the courage to take that leap.

One of the many things I appreciate that AmeriCorps has allowed me to do and learn is to take risks. I learned to take risks when I am scared. I learned to take risks when I am uncertain. I learned to take risks when I am hopeless. Continue reading

VISTA Spotlight – Shannon Palka


Name: Shannon Palka

Alma Mater: University of San Diego

Major: English

Background: I’ve never been the kind of person who knows what they want to be when they grow up. But I’ve had a pretty good idea of who I want to be. My whole life, I’ve known that I want to be the kind of person who strives for a better tomorrow because, before I knew the word “equity,” I knew the world wasn’t fair. Before I understood “privilege,” I knew I benefited from living in a society that values my white skin and my parents’ zip code. And before I could define “liberation,” I knew I would never experience freedom until every person experienced it. I have pursued opportunities related to social justice as a way to engage this passion and take tangible steps toward increasing equity in education. Continue reading