I’m No Engineer, But…

Written By Alejandra Lopez, CSU STEM VISTA 2016-2017 San Jose State University Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS)

Ale.jpgWhen I decided to do a year of service I was excited to embrace everything that came with it. I knew I would face new and difficult challenges but I welcomed all of it. I saw an opportunity to learn and grow, as a professional and as an individual.

Not long into my search in finding a program, I came across AmeriCorps CSU STEM VISTA. The program had everything I wanted to practice at one point in my career. I would be able to work at a university, provide full-time support to a program working to increase the presence of students of color in STEM, and work with students-to some extent. While trying to narrow down which Cal State University I wanted to apply to, in the back of my mind I kept wondering, will not having a STEM degree or background affect my ability to effectively support the program? It was something I thought of throughout my entire interview process, but it didn’t stop me, I wouldn’t let it stop me.

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VISTA Spotlight – Christa Cheung

Christa with kid.pngName: Christa Cheung

Host Site: San Jose State University Jay Pinson STEM Education Program

Alma Mater: University of California, Santa Cruz

Major: B.S. Biomolecular Engineering and a Minor in Bioinformatics

BackgroundI graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) with a degree in Biomolecular Engineering. It was quite an overwhelming and a difficult degree, but it was very rewarding. I learned so much by being a STEM major. I learned to advocate for myself, be independent, and to analyze scenarios critically. Outside of working and studying, I participated in two student organizations over my undergraduate career that brought balance to my time at UCSC.
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VISTA Spotlight – Nam Kang

Nam.jpgName: Nam Kyu Kang

Host Site: California State University, Bakersfield Fabrications Lab

Alma Mater: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Major: Political Science and Marketing Management

Background: My undergrad at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP) was one big emotional roller coaster, with loads of fond memories and regrets. Entering CPP with a major in social science, was a little embarrassing. Whenever I told people that I attend CPP, everyone assumed I was going to school for STEM-related major. However, CPP served to be the best school to complete my undergrad. Due to its smaller sized classes, I was able to make personal connections with all my professors. I got to know everyone in my graduating class, and make long lasting memories. I was able to get involved in my major, and became a member of our competitive Mock Trial Team. Mock Trial served a big role in my college career. Being a political science major, I thought I had to go into the law field. However, after competing in Mock Trial, I soon realized that being a lawyer was not for me. That experience eventually got me involved in student government at CPP. Continue reading

600 to 20,000: Moving from a Small University to the CSU

Written by Casey McCullough, CSU STEM VISTA 2016-17 Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority and Underrepresented Student Participation in STEM

Casey robes.jpgI graduated on May 28th, 2016 from Northland College, an environmental liberal arts school in Ashland, Wisconsin, with a BS in Sociology and a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies.  When I decided what I wanted to study in college, many folks asked me, “Well what will you do with those degrees after college?” Evidently the answer is, “WWOOF[1] for 3 weeks in Oregon, then move from Wisconsin to San Luis Obispo (SLO), California to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA dedicated to increasing support for undocumented students at Cal Poly.”

My graduating class at Northland was 132 students; the entire student population was around 600 students. You can imagine the culture shock that I’m still experiencing, as 20,000 students return to Cal Poly SLO for another academic year. Northland might not necessarily reflect academia at large, indeed, especially not the 3rd largest university system in the United States. However, my experiences as an undergraduate at an environmental liberal arts school were vital in defining who I am as a woman, an academic, and a social justice advocate.

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The Intersection of Science and Poverty

9772284.pngWritten by Natalie Hambalek, CSU STEM VISTA 2016-17

This time last year I was getting ready to embark on my third year into my PhD program at Oregon State University. Needless to say, over the last year my plans and goals have morphed into ones that I will enjoy living and accomplishing. After 6-weeks into my year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA, I can say with relief and conviction that this is the work I am supposed to be doing.

My path through higher education, like many other students, was filled with hurdles, pitfalls, and closed doors. There was always the expectation to go to college, but as a first-generation college student and a daughter of immigrants, my family did not have the knowledge capacity or financial resources to help me navigate that expectation. Luckily, being a student and learning was what I did best; school and science formed the concrete that kept me grounded in my personal life. I was determined, and saw education as a clear path to achieving success. Continue reading

VISTA Chapter 2: Cheyanne Moves to Cal Poly Pomona

Name: Cheyanne Ramón Cheyanne

Host Site: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Alma Mater: University of California, Riverside (UCR)

Major: B.S. Biology

Background: Last year, I was a CSU STEM VISTA member serving at Cal State Bakersfield. I worked as the K-12 Outreach Coordinator for their Fab Lab; a lab filled with computer controlled machines (laser cutters, 3D printers and more!) where you could make almost anything. Coming to CSU Bakersfield, I had aspirations of becoming a teacher. Personally, STEM (science, technology, engineering, & mathematics) at young age seemed boring until my teacher made it her mission to change my mind. I wanted to be that person for the students of Kern County, to inspire them into STEM. As the outreach coordinator, my job was to bring K-12 students to see the lab, expose them to the engineering design process, develop activities, and discuss their real world applications. At the end of my term, I got a taste of running the program – training student assistants, planning, and executing lessons. Continue reading

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