Written by August Delforge, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-2015
My short time as a CSU STEM VISTA has been, at the same time, both incredibly confusing and sweetly rewarding. In this capacity, I am serving as the internship coordinator for the Science and Environmental Policy (SEP) Department of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) as part of a systemwide AmeriCorps*VISTA program of the California State University Chancellor’s Office (CSU). That is to say that I am serving in a full-time position for one year developing a new program under a Department of an institution that is part of a statewide system using a national service program. You can see where the confusion comes into the picture. Luckily for me, I am an avid proponent of jigsaw puzzles.
I graduated from CSUMB with a B.S. in Environmental Science, Technology, and Policy (ESTP) in May of 2014 and returned as a CSU STEM VISTA in July. The initiative of CSU STEM VISTA is to implement High Impact Practices (HIPs), as identified by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, into individual CSU institutions. Student internships have been identified as a HIP that will promote a student’s interaction with their major subject; therefore, promoting their retention and eventual graduation within that major. As the science department’s internship coordinator, I was brought-on to create an organized and centralized system to advertise up-to-date internship opportunities and track student placements and the effects internships have on STEM majors.
Mine is that of a cautionary tale of a starry-eyed individual placed in an organizational position, but wanting to make immediate impact. As I entered my new position, I found that I was being pulled in many different directions by faculty, by partners and by students. Faculty wanted me to advertise every internship position that they had ever received while only sending “top” students to the organizations they were in contact with as to maintain upstanding relationships. Partners wanted unpaid interns within a week’s notice. And individual students wanted to meet with me so I could revamp their resumes and get them paid internships right away. Due to my natural appeasing nature, I obliged to everything, and as a result was pulled in more directions than Mel Gibson in the torture scene at the end of Braveheart.
Luckily, I hit my capacity early-on and realized that I needed to be organized and to set a clear direction before I could help anybody else. Therefore, I took a week to catalog all resources that were available to me and pinpoint the objectives that needed to be fulfilled given my position and the total bandwidth I possessed to accomplish all objectives. Creating these parameters, goals and action plan has allowed me to begin compiling a system in which every action I take leads to the completion of my overall objective instead of taking on one individual task at a time.
This has been an incredibly huge learning lesson. In the few weeks that I have compiled the inventory of resources that were available to me on my campus; I have made more progress than in my first month. For example, a web search of campus resources revealed that the Center for Student Success on campus which was already involved with tracking HIPs had a database which advertised and tracked internships for business majors as well as provided resume and professional development workshops. Eureka! This one discovery of a pre-existing campus resource allowed me to concentrate potentially multiple months’ worth of work into a single meeting. I was able to use this database as a venue to advertise opportunities I received from faculty and community partners directly to students which opened up an incredible amount of bandwidth. The moral of my story is by taking a small amount of time to organize my priorities and place restrictions on what I could do, I allowed myself to cut through the foggy ambiguity of others’ assumptions. Creating and organizing pathways may not be as glamorous as individual hands-on work, but it can be just as rewarding and reach a lot more people.