Name: Nina Levine
VISTA Host Site: San Jose State University, Jay Pinson STEM Education Program
Alma Mater: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly, SLO)
Major: Civil Engineering
Cal Poly is a very competitive school – especially for engineering students – so most of what I did during my four years as an undergrad revolved around my academics. Pretty much my only extra-curricular activity was marching band and the orchestra. Call me a band geek if you’d like, but without those outlets, I probably would have become oversaturated with engineering and who knows, maybe changed majors. I held various leadership positions in my music groups as well as the engineering clubs in which I was involved. I was very heavily engaged in one engineering club in particular, and spent a lot of time with its members and planning and attending its events. I was fortunate enough to not have to work while I was a student, which is probably how I was able to graduate in only four years.
Why you serve: I’m not incredibly proud of the reason I chose to serve as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, but the truth is I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation (grad school, work in industry, etc.) so I saw this position as an opportunity to stall until I got my priorities figured out. I chose the CSU STEM VISTA program in particular because at the time of my application, I was a CSU STEM student myself, and I had already done a lot of STEM outreach for female and minority students throughout my college career and had really enjoyed it.
Ah-ha moment: When I first started here in the Jay Pinson STEM Education Program at San Jose State University, I had to give a presentation. The day before the presentation, I did a practice run for my supervisor. She told me that all my content was great, but I used the word “just” too much. We weren’t “just” a program that brings STEM activities to K-12 after school programs. We didn’t “just” provide over 12 hours of content to each student. We weren’t “just” developing our own original and engaging 10-week program curriculum. Using the word “just” like I had done in the practice presentation somehow lessened the importance of the work we were doing, as if I wasn’t proud of it or I was apologizing for doing it. I tried really hard the next day to be aware of my language and how I represented our program, and over the past seven months, I’ve remained hyperaware of it.
Recently, my supervisor and I attended a ribbon cutting ceremony with a lot of important folks in attendance. We did a lot of what I like to call “schmoozing” and talking about our program and the various initiatives that were happening locally. It took me back to my undergrad days, forcing myself to go to the career fairs and sell myself to the company representatives. After we left the event, I asked my supervisor, “That was exhausting. How do you do it? How do you have so much energy to network with all those people and remain so excited?” Her response was simple, “You have to care. If you really care about what you’re doing, then it’s easy.” This came full circle for me. My supervisor is truly passionate about the work she’s doing at San Jose State, which is why she’s so picky about the language I use to describe it.
Future Goals/Plans: After my AmeriCorps*VISTA service year is over, I’m planning on entering industry. Luckily for me, there are a lot of employment opportunities in engineering, so it’s a pretty safe thing that I’ll be doing. I hope to work for a few years, and if I’m not as passionate about my job as my current supervisor is about hers, then I’ll look for something else. I haven’t yet found precisely what I want to do with my future, but whatever it is, it won’t be just a job for me.