The Happy Blend of AmeriCorps VISTA and Retirement

Peggie Scott is a CSU STEM VISTA serving at CSU Bakersfield FabLab.

I’m on the far side of 70 and have “worked” since I was 18. The word worked is in quotes because most of the last few jobs have been volunteer positions that offer a stipend. These include Peace Corps, teacher training in Liberia, teaching English at an orphanage in Cambodia and, most recently, Americorps VISTA. I can’t imagine not working. My idea of a good job is one where when I wake up, I’m just as happy to go to work as I am to stay home. Continue reading “The Happy Blend of AmeriCorps VISTA and Retirement”

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Introducing Careers in the Sciences

Across the state, at CSU campuses the CSU STEM VISTA program is working hard to increase retention in STEM education. San Diego State has been focusing much of its efforts on providing more effective academic advising, increasing access to STEM career-related information, and increasing STEM retention. One way to increase access to STEM career-related information is through effective programming and workshops related to students’ career and aspirational goals. With that in mind, the College of Sciences Student Success Center launched the Careers in Sciences panel series this spring. The panel introduces College of Sciences students to professionals who work in different industries and at different levels of education. The goal is to inform students of the variety of careers relevant to their major and in the different science-related discipline industries. As the VISTA at San Diego State this year, I was lead organizer for the panel series. The creation and implementation of the panel series was process-driven and collaborative.

The development of the careers series was a thoughtful and well-researched endeavor. While developing the panel series, my team and I were careful to be mindful of existing programs and resources offered for College of Sciences students. We observed the related events, panels, and seminars that took place every semester. In an effort to be inclusive of our different science majors, we included each science discipline in our panel series. This school year provided the foundation for event programming and workshops that the College of Sciences Student Success Center will continue to host. The opportunity to spearhead a new initiative was a learning process for all parties involved and myself.

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SDSU College of Science Student Success Center hosts a panel for careers in the sciences.

We believed emphatically that the way to best serve our students in this panel series was to enlist good partners. As much as possible, my team and I tried to implement this new panel series in conjunction with major stakeholders on campus. By informing each of these major stakeholders, we provided the opportunity for collaboration, advice, and direction of the proposal. The department chairs and advisers were helpful in panelist suggestions from colleagues in industry, while Career Services generously offered their consulting and logistical support. At the same time, our student organizations were helpful to shape the jobs, industries, and employers represented on the panel. The collaborative approach allowed for multiple opportunities for insight, perspective, and feedback.

The semester comes to a close with a successful launch of the panel series. For students, many learned more about the duties, responsibilities, and skills relevant to the science careers. Based on student survey data submitted after the event, we found that students felt more motivated to pursue a career in the sciences after attending the panel series. By soliciting input, my project gained much more support from our STEM stakeholders on campus. By keeping those same stakeholders informed of our progress of both successes and challenges, they now look forward to the panel series as an initiative that will take place every year.

Dear VISTAs Past, Present, and Future

Dear VISTAs Past, Present, and Future,

I want to share my appreciation for what my fellow VISTAs have taught me. No matter what stage you are in – whether you are considering becoming a CSU STEM VISTA member or looking back as seasoned alumni – I hope that at least a part of this letter speaks to you.

VISTAs are some of the strongest people I know. They can not only lift each other up physically but also lift their communities and their fellow VISTAs up in difficult emotional times. They understand where their communities have come from and empower them to reach their inherent potential for the future. They use their passion and heart to empower the community. They have done this by pushing their own comfort zone and ensuring others can feel safe and comfortable. They welcome new perspectives to better understand the people in their communities. Through their actions they have shown me what it means to be a good person and a great leader.

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My co-VISTA from 2017-2018. She was my rock throughout the year and I couldn’t have done it without her.

VISTAs also are a support system that makes the inevitable roadblocks easier to endure and have enhanced my ability to persevere. During both of my service years, I have been fortunate to have an on-site co-VISTA. They supported me through the daily struggles by giving me the space to verbalize the frustration with dead ends and contemplate possible solutions for difficult situations. These little moments were crucial in navigating the systemic issues, like the lack of funding and access for students in low socioeconomic neighborhoods to quality STEM education compared to higher socioeconomic neighborhoods, which we face through our VISTA year. For example, my housing situation last year became inhospitable, but I was fortunate to have a co-VISTA to confide in. My co-VISTA figured out how I could stay with her, while my VISTA leader and program manager were able to find financial support. I am grateful and honored by all the support that I have been given and realize they were integral in allowing me to persevere through those tough times.

And finally, as I begin to transition into a VISTA alumna, I reflect on how VISTA alumni have enriched my service years. One of the first emails I received at the start of my service was from the previous VISTA; he wanted to connect me with an educator in the community that wanted support for the upcoming year. It was inspiring to see the level of commitment and care he had for the community even after his year of service and made me strive to develop the same level of commitment and care for my community. Also, I recently had the opportunity to connect a current VISTA with a VISTA alumna. Their joyful interaction made me realize the amazing group we are part of and how I want to support future VISTAs after my service year ends.

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My co-VISTA from 2016-2017. She was my rock throughout the year and I couldn’t have done it without her.

I have been changed for the better because of the lessons I have learned and the bonds I have made with my fellow VISTAs. I hope to carry this foundation of strength and support into the future.

Sincerely,

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Christa Cheung

CSU STEM VISTA 2016-2018

The VISTA Relay Race

Zulema Aleman is a CSU STEM VISTA serving at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. 

 

 

According to the online encyclopedia Britannica, a relay race is “a … sport consisting of a set number of stages (legs)… each leg run by a different member of a team. The runner finishing one leg is usually required to pass on a baton to the next runner…”

I like to think that a VISTA project that continues from year to year is a relay race. Each leg is a project year, the baton is the actual project, and the runners are VISTAs. The race is only successful if you are able to pass the baton off as smoothly as possible. Similarly, you can only be successful and build sustainability in a VISTA project if the VISTAs can hand off the project to one another and eventually the campus community with a smooth transition.

I’ve had some experience with this myself, as I am currently the third VISTA serving immigrant students in STEM at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, so I would like to share some of my knowledge about sustainability to current and future VISTAs.

There a lot of variables that can play into what steps you take, but generally, these are some things to consider and questions to ask yourself daily as you think about the sustainability of your VISTA project.

Consider how you are involving the community you are serving. Are you seeking and encouraging input on next steps and action from the community? Are you involving them not only in the brainstorm and design process, but also in implementation?

Consider what offices, departments, programs, and positions are already in place that can help carry the mission of your project. How can other offices, departments, programs on the campus get involved so the change permeates and sustains across the campus community?

Consider how you are shaping the movement. What voices and faces are visible?  Who is the face or the contact of the work you are doing? Are they individuals who will still be part of the community in 2, 5, or 10 years?

Consider how you are maintaining records of the work you are doing for the community. Are you saving meeting notes, drafts of workshops, flyers, budget breakdowns, grants, budget proposals, and any other information that the community can use in the future to continue the change? Are you creating a contact list and ensuring that the contacts and connections you’ve collected know other campus community members involved in the work? Are you saving all this information in a location and a format that is easy to access?

These are all questions I ask myself as I come to campus every morning. When I do a presentation, table at an event, or even step into a meeting, I make it a point to consider all of these questions and include those who are going to continue the work after me. I want to ensure that my leg of the race, the last leg, will be as efficient as possible. I will pass off the baton to the community in hopes that our work will be standing for years to come.

Fear of Growth: An Open Letter to Future VISTAs

Dear Future CSU STEM VISTA member,

It was nearly a year ago that I received my bachelor’s in Biology from CSU San Marcos. Like most other prospective graduates, I was thrilled about graduating, but nervous about what would come next. On the day of Commencement, I spoke to hundreds of students, their families and friends about the fear of failure. During my speech I kept thinking to myself, this was likely the last time I would see my graduated peers at CSUSM.

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Noelle giving her speech at CSUSM’s graduation.

As much as I wanted to revel in finally being “done”, it was not the case. By the time July came, I was back at CSUSM, not as a student, but as a CSU STEM VISTA.  I couldn’t help but wonder if in the next year, I would gain anything from being in a similar role that I worked in as an undergraduate student. The fear of not knowing if I would grow, weighed heavily on me. Reflecting on it now, I made the best decision for my immediate future.

Coming back in summer and into the fall semester, I quickly learned that my role in STEM Tutoring and Supplemental Instruction has evolved. One aspect of my role that has expanded is the opportunity for relationship building with faculty. As a CSU STEM VISTA, I have had more opportunities to foster relationships with them, in comparison to when I was an undergraduate student. Partnering with faculty allowed me to strengthen student and faculty interactions that were not presented before because students seemed intimidated by their professors. Bridging the gap between students and faculty helped the STEM Tutoring and Supplemental Instruction gain faculty support and make this a joint effort in enhancing STEM student success.

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Collaboration is key when working with a student-run tutoring center. The success of tutoring and SI would not be possible without solid working relationships between staff and coordinator.

Another aspect that my role has evolved is the ability to lead. As a CSU STEM VISTA, it has taught me how to be an effective leader. Not only am I responsible for managing a team of 50 employees, but they also perceive me as a mentor. With these responsibilities, CSU STEM VISTA provided me with the freedom to act as a voice for my team. With this freedom, I have learned how to effectively listen to my team and drive them to success. This has shaped me in becoming an effective leader because it allowed me to gain soft skills that I can utilize in future leadership roles.

Cheers,

Noelle

 

Grassroots: Growing a Movement from the Ground Up

How does a grassroots movement begin? What are the key components? Does it have to be a certain size? Like, how many people are we talking? And What even is a grassroots movement? These are questions I’ve been reflecting on as an AmeriCorps VISTA at California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB).

After reading a few different definitions of grassroots movements, here’s how I define them: a group of people who rely on engagement, organization, and outreach to connect communities and catalyze change. So I wondered, can I consider my work as an AmeriCorps VISTA part of a grassroots movement?

As the CSUB Edible Coordinator, the most common question I get is, “When will the garden be ready?” Hearing that question over and over again motivated me to get something (anything) planted out in that gloriously barren and dusty field known as the future spot for the Edible Garden. And as of today, May 9th 2018, we have over 150 plants out in that (no longer barren but still quite dusty) field.

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Planting is a family (and friend) affair!

So how did we get here? I use the word “we” in the previous sentence with the utmost intention, because it took a village, and this case, some seriously dedicated farmers. Here’s the funny thing about me being an Edible Garden Coordinator- I have no farming or agricultural experience. Like none.

Once I joined forces with students from the Agriculture Business club, I started to believe we could really start a garden. These students donated time, materials, and knowledge to clear the land, prepare the soil, and dig garden beds. Every single plant we now have was donated by a local farmer and a local edible schoolyard. On the planting day we had tables, and of course, lemonade- all donated from the local community. People heard what we were doing and they reached out to support us. And just like that, our movement grew.

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Summer guides young gardeners at the CSUB Edible Garden Earth Day Event.

Sure, there might be easier ways to get things done. For example, blank checks are nice! But what are we really trying to do with this garden? It’s always been my goal to create a welcoming, comfortable space for students and community members, so why not have them take the lead in creating that space? Maybe starting a garden isn’t a typical form of a grassroots movement, but I would argue that the powerful act of planting cannot be understated.

We are working to start conversations about sustainable agriculture, healthy eating, and food insecurity. We are creating leadership opportunities for students who can now say they were instrumental in starting a small farm. We are fostering community relationships through open events and gatherings. Most importantly, we are working to end student and community hunger. And WE are starting a grassroots movement.

 

Step It Up: Have Courage and Be Kind

Kimberly Henderson is a CSU STEM VISTA serving at San Jose State University. 

Step It Up: Have Courage and Be Kind

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Kimberly Henderson at MESA Day with a 3D scanner on the left and VR station on the right.

One of my first projects as a CSU STEM VISTA with the San Jose State University STEM Education Program was partnering with Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA). MESA hosts weekend workshops called STEM Academies and an annual large event called MESA Day. My supervisor and I agreed that I would develop and facilitate an hour workshop focused on leadership and computer programming skills, as well as create a full MESA Day STEM Creations workshop. Continue reading “Step It Up: Have Courage and Be Kind”