Written by Kyle Murray, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-15
Unlock the office. Flick the light switch up. Fire up the computer. Check all four email accounts. Brew a hot cup of tea, stir. Reply to emails. Look at the clock, 8:15 am. Cautiously sip hot tea. Dive into extensive research on the academic and personal benefits students exhibit after participating in a service-learning course. Check the clock, lunchtime. Eat. Back in the office. Research best practices and model courses to become familiar with what all goes in to conducting a service-learning course. Hungry… eat a Snickers. Explore the internet for community benefit organizations where students can perform meaningful service that is relevant to their major. Look up. 5 pm. Shut down computer. Flick the light switch down. Lock the door.
The story above describes a first person experience of what the first month and a half of my year of service at Fresno State consisted of. As you can see, it was quite dry and the monotony had gotten to me; I needed to venture out and explore what else I could offer the students in the College of Science and Mathematics. It was not easy though, as if there was some outside force keeping me cooped up in the 8’ by 10’ that was my office. Wait, there was a force holding me back, my supervisor, and unbeknownst to me it was for justified reasons.
What I lacked to understand in the beginning was that the VISTAs (AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America) were housed under a new center that had not officially opened, and though I was eager to pump up the VISTA name and engage with students, there was an absence of structure and ground work to build off of. We were the first people to focus on implementing high impact practices across the entire college, and we needed to be able to articulate the values and benefits to professors and students as if we were experts on the subject. I struggled with this at first, but I realized that I was running the first leg of a three year project. It was up to me to set the pace for VISTAs to follow, and establish a method of work that could be replicated and tracked. With this in mind I powered through the long days filled with research and presentation preparation looking forward to the spring semester and the grand opening of the Advising and Resources Center (ARC).
Now, at the end of February, the center is in full swing and students are filtering in and out like water through a Brita. And much like the dormant winter transitioning into lively spring, I have found that my work has evolved from dull (but necessary) research to active engagement with students and faculty. But before expanding on the work that captivates my attention these days, there is a change to note. I moved from my secluded office in a separate room to be stationed at the front desk with the peer advisers for the ARC. This move keeps me actively involved with the center and allows me to feed off the bustling atmosphere in the office. It also gives me a better sense of being part of the team and I can now see where STEM VISTA fits into the ARC’s mission and plan for the future. Once I settled into my new location, I found that I developed a new passion for the work I was doing and was reassured of my original commitment to further STEM student success.
“WORKSHOPS, GET YOUR WORKSHOPS HERE!” This semester I have felt like a vendor selling student success at the reasonable rate of a simple “like” on the ARC Facebook page. Karina, my co-VISTA, the peer advisors, and I have been tabling multiple times weekly to spread the word about ARC, VISTA, and our student success workshops. I enjoy it because it serves as a nice break from the office where we get to venture outside and engage in conversations with students about their academic careers and where they see themselves in the future, as well as recruit for the workshops. Karina and I have also been visiting the introductory science courses to advertise our specific workshop that focuses on undergraduate research, internships, and service-learning. We believe there is no better way for students to advance their education than involving themselves in one of the high impact practices (HIP) we are promoting. The workshops cover the ins and outs of finding these opportunities on and off campus, as well as the benefits that students take away from the experience. I am finally able to see why my supervisor stressed the importance of in-depth research; we are the only people on campus the science and math students can talk to about HIP-HOPportunities (my failed attempt at a cool name for our workshop). If I could go back I would tell myself “don’t worry young and disgruntled Kyle, through the murky dense haze that is HIP research there is an Ah-Ha moment in the future for you”.
Flash forward. Look at the calendar. August 8th 2015. Glance at the clock. 4:55 pm. Shut down the computer. Place the last files away in their respective drawers. Fill up water bottle, it’s hot outside. Say goodbye to supervisor and co-workers. The sorrow and gratitude in their eyes is powerful. Mine reflect it. One last check of the desk. Walk out of the door knowing that I blazed a trail for others to follow and that the future STEM student success at Fresno State is as bright as the torch that I am passing to the person whose duty it is to carry on the legacy. CSU STEM VISTA Legacy. Ouch, it’s bright outside. Where are my sunglasses?