Written by Jessica Taatjes, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-15
Tides are the periodic rise and fall of sea levels caused by the gravitational pulls of the sun, moon and rotation of the Earth. The times and height of tides at a certain location can be predicted using the alignment of the sun and moon, along with the topography of the ocean floor and shape of the coastline. Coastal communities around the world rely on these predictions for surfing, sampling and navigation which are predicted well in advance.
This was my life as an undergraduate, I had grown to only know the expected date of finals, labs and surges of homework, but I didn’t know what I was going to do after graduation, which scared me. Then I saw an advertisement for a position that would allow me to live in a new town, provide regular paychecks and end of service education award and loan deferment, which was what attracted me to AmeriCorps VISTA, selfishly I might add. I was a newly educated graduate with thousands of dollars in debt due to student loans; my only thought was I need a job related to my background that paid. I wanted that expected surge of income for a year while I figured out my next move, the only thing was, the job description was vague and I had just dedicated a year of my life to a brand new program – where I didn’t have anyone to ask how they liked the CSU STEM VISTA program and there were certainly no yelp reviews.
When I took this position, I thought I would only be working with COAST staff. What I didn’t realize, was that I would come to find 11 new amazing friends with a broad array of skills that were going through the same transition as myself. The program started off intensely by a weekend in the mountains navigating through exercises and ropes courses to build personal development and team building. Just this weekend alone, took a group of twenty something year olds who were strangers and built personal relationships and trust in one another in just a matter of 72 hours. Not only did this make us feel more comfortable in starting off our year, but it has helped build collaboration across the CSU, or at least the ones with VISTAs.
It’s not only ironic that the word COAST is a parameter of predicting tides, but CSU COAST (the CSU program I am serving a year with) acts a lot like them. When I first came into the office, I noticed surges of work that would come at predicted times. The work was either processing applications by certain deadlines for funding we offer, applications rolling in for travel to an upcoming scientific conference, or small deadlines to accomplish annual deadlines. The way I started to see it was the California State University and the students within all 23 campuses are the sun and the moon causing the surges of work while my supervisors are the centripetal force keeping us on a timeline. In fact, when I first started, I was shown a calendar of blocked out times of when to expect the heavy work that needs to be done to accomplish that certain deadline. Along with those deadlines are also the VISTA job tasks; with only two full staff and a VISTA within COAST, we have learned to work with the tides.
As I became more comfortable and started settling into my spot as a COAST VISTA, we started to plan campus visits to as many campuses as we could before spring. The campus visits were to inform students of our upcoming deadlines, what type of programs we had, and how to properly apply. Our hopes were to increase awareness of COAST programs to all students in the CSU. I also spoke with 30 faculty members across the CSU involved in marine science about undergraduate research at most of the campuses I visited. Since all campuses are different from each other, it was important to get input on how undergraduate research works on their campus to increase student participation with high impact practices. By early March we concluded 13 campus visits with immense feelings of accomplishment and a little more understanding of what students need for student success.
In my day to day tasks, I work closely with the COAST supervisor and coordinator, which happen to be the only two staff positions along with a VISTA. Because of this, we work very closely not only having great work ethics within our tiny group, but also great personal relationships. Since COAST staff thinks it is important for professional development, I have been able to network at different meetings related to my educational field, attend professional workshops, and talk with faculty members across the CSU (as someone in the educational field, not a student). The opportunities for professional development were much more than I had ever dreamed of making this one of the reasons I want to go back to school to pursue a masters in marine science.
Before realizing I was already in the 2014/15 tidal calendar for COAST, the program leaders told us we may not make a difference in a couple months, let alone our full year. Personally, I feel I have made a difference even if it is small. I have used that predicted surge of students reaching out to help set up capacity and sustainability within COAST to carry out for future STEM students, specifically traditionally underrepresented and first generation students. A quote by Antony Jay that brings light to my year of service is “You can judge a leader by the size of the problem he tackles. Other people can cope with the waves, it’s his job to watch the tide.” In my case, I’m changing he/his to she/her, and I will always be proud to say I was the first cohort of the CSU STEM VISTA program.