Written By Jose Mendoza, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, San Jose State University Jay Pinson STEM Education Program
As of August 2015, I completed one year of service with AmeriCorps. My first service term was with City Year Los Angeles, where I completed well over 1700 hours of service as a tutor, role model and mentor. Unknowingly, I was in for a lot more than what the position first described. I felt like the long days, various deliverables, and challenges prepared me sufficiently for my new role as a CSU STEM VISTA. So far, my first three months at San Jose State University have already made me realize that I am also in for more than what I first expected.
It was through my first AmeriCorps term that I became intrigued by the power of service. Through service, I felt a deeper connection with my community and country. I quickly discovered that service was about sacrifice for a cause greater than myself. I didn’t really know beforehand what it meant to be fully invested in a meaningful cause or community. What I did know, was that I enjoyed working with young people and supporting students who might be struggling. I knew that I wanted to come back for a second year because of how much I enjoyed interacting and learning from the students I served. They taught me just as much as I taught them. Yet, at the end of my first service year I still felt like I had not done enough.
Last year, I said “I serve because I believe every student deserves equal opportunities despite the color of their skin, where they live, or where they come from.” I was lucky enough to have a supportive family and role models to lead me along the way. Today, it is my responsibility to remind students of the potential they have. I was once that struggling student who had a low self-esteem. I am very passionate about helping students have more confidence and believe in themselves when it comes to pursuing a field like Computer Science. Through my work at the Jay Pinson STEM Education Program, I hope to create opportunities for minority students to excel in Computer Science and Cybersecurity.
I’ve always been intrigued by Northern California. What better place to explore Computer Science and Cybersecurity than Silicon Valley? I felt like it was only right, Jose living in San Jose. Being away from Los Angeles and from my family has not been easy but I know that this is bigger than myself. I remind myself that despite any personal challenges, service has helped me grow both personally and professionally. So far the students I have worked with at San Jose State University have impressed me with their creativity and ideas. It was the relationships I formed with students previously that brought me back. Even though I am mostly working with college students now, I hope to continue building strong relationships with this new community.
For the past two months, I have been working with service-learning students to develop activities related to cybersecurity. Some of the topics we are exploring are social media malware, car hacking, human virus vs. computer viruses, and catphishing. From these topics, we will create activities we can implement at local middle schools. Personally, I can’t wait to see how the middle-school student will react to these activities. Ultimately, our goal is to have a culminating event in December where we can showcase these topics in a fun and engaging way to the San Jose State community. By creating awareness about these issues we hope others will not only feel informed but empowered to take action.
Although my efforts thus far have been mostly from my office desk and desktop, I look forward for the opportunity to go out to schools again and directly see students interact with computers. This year, I want to be challenged in new ways, step out of my comfort zone, and have more responsibilities. I have already been challenged this year in new ways. As I reflect on my ‘why I serve’ statement from a year ago, I think about what service means to me now. I think about what it would be like to have more minority students and young women with the opportunity to pursue a Computer Science or a Cybersecurity career. For me, it would mean we could create a cycle of change by having more role models and mentors who could go back to the communities they are from and simply let others know that it can happen. In my new role, Computer Science and Cybersecurity is way to empower young people and initiate change. As a CSU STEM VISTA, I will work to encourage SJSU students to become these agents of change.
During my short time in San Jose, I have learned the importance of having a vision. Having a vision of how I would like for things to develop, then finding ways to implement it and believing in it even when there is uncertainty. Learning to be an innovator is something I am learning to embrace early on. When things get difficult, I always remind myself of the power of service and the power of young people.