Written by Vy Nguyen, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16 CSU Long Beach Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD)
As an undergraduate at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), my daily activities consisted of attending classes, eating, conducting research, and studying. My daily schedule was self-constructed, giving me tremendous freedom on how I wanted to spend my time. Like many students, I spent most of my time outside on school benches or in the library. Although my class schedule was repetitive every week, I would always go home at different times every day. This all changed after I graduated.
After finishing my undergraduate degree, I began working full time at California State University, Long Beach as a CSU STEM VISTA. I remember being extremely excited about many things on my first day at work, one of which being that I got to park in the Staff Parking Lot. What that meant for me was 1) I did not have to walk far, 2) I felt official, and 3) I was no longer an undergraduate. However, the real excitement started when I stepped into my very own office and spent every second of that day completely in awe. I recall saying to myself “Wow! My very own office, just like my mentors at CSUF!” A strange feeling that felt like a combination of excitement, nervousness, and butterflies came through my body as I sat in my rolling chair and started researching the Long Beach Unified School District on my desktop. It was that very moment that I felt like a true adult in the workforce. I felt a sense of responsibility in ensuring that I complete my VISTA assignment description to the fullest.
Before delving further into my eye-opening transition of becoming a VISTA, I would like to explain my role at CSULB. In short, I work with the Outreach Coordinator, Dr. Laura Henriques, for the newly developed Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Program. The BUILD program is a National Institute of Health-funded research program for undergraduates who are interested in pursuing a health-related research career. As part of my role as a VISTA, I help establish connections with CSULB’s partner community colleges and Long Beach Unified School District. I spend most of my time communicating with CSULB partners to coordinate outreach activities.
During these first months, while feeling all grown up, I also felt that I did not belong because I still had an undergraduate student mindset. I was not used to the repetitive schedule of coming into work at 9 AM and leaving at 5 PM. It felt strange to call CSULB faculty by their first names when I saw them in meetings or as they passed by in the hallway. It felt strange to walk around campus and see other students but not be one of them. It felt strange to leave work and not have any homework or studying to do.
As I began my CSU STEM VISTA journey, I attended many faculty meetings to learn more about the administrative aspect of the BUILD program. Although I felt out of place, I was excited to begin this chapter of my life. I began to embrace the journey that allowed me to start growing out of my little undergraduate bubble and experiencing the real world. The transition from a college student to a full-time VISTA member was eye-opening, as it allowed me to understand the background work that faculty do to ensure that students get a meaningful college experience.
Before becoming a VISTA, I was oblivious to the behind-the-scene work that faculty do in order for programs to launch and run smoothly. I never realized how much time and effort it took for faculty to develop and sustain programs for students. It was during those initial meetings that I learned faculty spend numerous hours discussing, planning, and working together to create high-impact practices and ensure resources are allocated effectively to sustain programs. I also learned that faculty are extremely innovative and constantly strive to improve current programs so that they can better serve the changing student population. Being able to obtain a glimpse of what faculty do makes me appreciate them beyond just the classroom encounters. Overall, I am amazed at how well faculty can juggle and manage their workload in addition to being phenomenal educators.
Though the transition from student to VISTA has sometimes been awkward, overall, I feel like it has been an amazing three months, and I feel like I’m finding my place in the real world!