VISTA Spotlight: Noya Kansky

NoyaName: Noya Kansky

Host Site: Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo LSAMP 

Alma Mater: Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Major: Anthropology and Geography, with a focus on the Middle East

Background:  When I first arrived at Cal Poly SLO, I was actually pretty burnt out from high school. I had subscribed to the craze of getting admitted to a good school, and probably put too much on my plate, literally and figuratively. Once in college, I strayed away from any and all leadership positions (even within group projects), clubs, and pretty much every pop-up tent on the quad. Fliers and recruiters of any sort became my enemy. My primary extracurricular throughout my undergrad experience was the glamorous job of waitressing. In fact, the restaurant where I worked was my home away from home. I mean, home is where the free unlimited French fries are, right?

My major at Cal Poly was small and intimate, and I was lucky enough to develop fantastic relationships with my professors and peers. We all encouraged each other to reflect on our own interests through these awesome anthropological tools that we were provided with. This led me to my study abroad experience in Haifa, Israel, where I was able to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an up-close and personal setting. My year abroad influenced my future goals of studying women’s roles in the Palestinian resistance movement in an interdisciplinary graduate program, but it also recharged me for my senior year at Cal Poly SLO. When I returned, I became more involved in Cal Poly’s small community of social justice activists and was reassured that this was truly my passion.

Why I serve: I thought that I would be waitressing after I graduated from Cal Poly. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t have a job that allowed me to engage my academic interests and personal passion for social justice. My current supervisor is actually my former professor in a class called Gender, Race, Science, and Technology, which was a really formative experience in my college career (and especially in my understanding of being a mixed race woman on a predominantly white campus). This position allows me to engage that experience while supporting traditionally underrepresented students, disrupting common narratives that we accept about scientific and technological progress, and learning more about the public higher education system.

Ah-ha moment: My Ah-ha moment has two parts and isn’t the most flattering for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but here goes:

  • I was really disheartened to see that our university (what many like to refer to as the “mothership” of the CSUs… not true), has no institutional support for students who are undocumented. Only a handful of faculty and staff are really dedicated to supporting undocumented stJeffrey_Noya_PresArmstrong9-19-14udents, and one of those individuals is me – a recent college grad, who does not have the time to give this issue the attention it deserves. Throughout this year I’ve worked with many talented students who are undocumented, and it is very clear that we need a full time staff-person who can support their academic endeavors, financial needs, and health/wellness.
  • The second directly relates to Cal Poly’s false institutional narrative that we are the “mothership of the CSU System.” This narrative allows for Cal Poly SLO to be isolated within the CSU System, when in fact I think that our university has a lot to learn from the fantastic consortium that we are a part of. When I look at the other CSUs, Cal Poly SLO is really behind in terms of supporting traditionally underrepresented students. While other CSUs have multiple programs that are complimentary in supporting underrepresented STEM students, Cal Poly SLO has too few. But, I think there are new initiatives that are helping different CSUs collaborate… such as this CSU STEM VISTA Program!

Future Goals: Within the next few years, I hope to enter a graduate program that allows me to intersect my interests in Middle Eastern studies, Gender studies, and Science-Technology-Society studies. Although my academic interests are not directly STEM-related, this position has given me many tools and knowledge that I know I will be using in the future. I’ve been able to refine my research/critical thinking skills, learn how to work with/advise students from diverse backgrounds, and learn about the public higher education system.

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