VISTA Spotlight – Jeffrey Cabanez

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Name: Jeffrey Cabanez

Host Site:
CSU Chancellor’s Office, Center for Community Engagement

Alma Mater:
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Major:
B.A. in Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies | Concentrations in Media Arts and Technology and Industrial Engineering

Background: I found my niche in Orientation Programs at Cal Poly. The concepts of change and transition really interested me. How could I help motivate students to succeed when they are going through the transition from either high school to college or a community college to a 4-year institution? I spent the next three years in Orientation Programs taking on 1269191_10151674046738458_1905436320_odifferent roles, including leading different groups of freshmen and transfer students through a week-long program, helping coordinate logistics, and training potential orientation leaders. My decision to join Orientation Programs, essentially on a whim at first, ended up becoming the defining moment of my college career. I realized that this is what I want to do out of college. Even though my industrial engineering and film background was more in-line with where high school Jeffrey wanted to end up, college Jeffrey wanted to help others succeed in university.

Last year, I served with the CSU STEM VISTA program at Cal Poly. I was tasked with developing and implementing a scholarship program for students from underrepresented communities. The Program for Engineering Excellence for Partner Schools (or PEEPS for short), aimed at alleviating the costs of tuition so that our students would not have to work and could focus on their studies and form a learning community together. In essence, the learning community became a second family to them. Building a rapport with each of the students and seeing how much I could do for them made me think critically about what I want to do for graduate school moving forward.

Why you serve: I decided to serve my first year with the CSU STEM VISTA program because I wanted to build on the work that I did in Orientation Programs. Two of my best friends in Orientation participated in the Jeffrey-Ryan-ElleAmeriCorps Volunteer Infrastructure Project (VIP) in San Luis Obispo immediately after they graduated. They talked about how living on the stipend was difficult, and the work had its ups and downs, but hearing about their impact and work with the community and the passion they spoke with about the people they work with, I knew that this was the next chapter in my life.

This is my second year with the CSU STEM VISTA program. I wanted to serve again in the VISTA Leader role because of my experiences during my first year. After encountering both successes and challenges during my first year, I thought I would be well-equipped to support VISTAs during their service. Some of the challenges I faced in my year were being too stressed, navigating the work-life balance, and advocating for myself. I serve so that the VISTAs I am working with feel fully supported and are not afraid to advocate for themselves so they can produce amazing work.

Advice: My advice for someone who is considering any AmeriCorps program is to know going in that it is going to be challenging. National service is a unique opportunity because it makes you think critically about the community you are serving, but at the same time reflect on yourself. If you were to do some outreach to a community to implement a tutoring program, how would you go about that? Do you start with needs assessment? Should you meet with a local high school teacher to start the dialogue? AmeriCorps does an excellent job at immersing you in a community, and you have to think strategically to figure out the best way to carry out your assignment. Something that I wanted to take advantage of while in national service is working on my identity as a young professional. You have the opportunity to gain tangible skills to put on your resume. And, like me, you may be able to use your year of service to inform what you want to do in the future once you complete your year.

Ah-ha moment: In September, all of the VISTA Leaders across the country came together in Dallas, Texas to learn more about leadership development. It was a great opportunity to meet other VISTA Leaders and learn more about their projects since they can vary from program to program, as well as increase self-awareness and hone our own leadership abilities to best support our VISTAs. I learned about what it means to lead from a distance and how to best coach, mentor, and counsel my VISTA IMG_1552members. This was an eye-opening experience for me because I realized that there is no one cookie-cutter method in mentoring and advising. Effective mentors take the time to get to know the people they are supporting. Once there is mutual sense of trust and respect between a mentor and mentee, the mentor can focus on the mentees’ needs and priorities, and empower the mentee to become independent. This mirrors my role as VISTA leader; my goal is to empower the VISTAs to be independent. However, everyone in our corps has different experiences that they bring to the group. I can’t take a mentoring technique that worked for a local VISTA and apply it immediately to a VISTA 3 hours away. Mentors have to be methodical because everyone needs different kinds of support at different times. It only took a 3 hour plane ride and a 4 day training to fully understand this.

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