An Unexpected Journey

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Bilbo Baggins (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Written by Paige Hernandez, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, San Diego State University CSUPERB

IMG_2363.JPGI cannot believe that my AmeriCorps VISTA service year is nearly halfway over. It feels like it was just yesterday when I was introduced to my co-VISTA’s in Big Bear, bonding over our newfound fellowship that is CSU STEM VISTA. Each with our own tasks, yet united by one set of core principles: to fight poverty through higher education, empower the community that we serve (underrepresented students in STEM), build capacity at our host organizations, and create sustainable solutions for the high impact programs that we coordinate. Although each of us are hundreds of miles apart, across the Cal State University (CSU) system, my 16 co-VISTA’s are what keep me going as my journey as an AmeriCorps VISTA takes unexpected twists and turns.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Every month of my service year thus far has quite been an adventure, highlighted by a new and exciting experience. So far, I have traveled to the CSU Chancellor’s Office to observe how CSUPERB’s governing boards operate, coordinated my first campus visits to CSU Long Beach and CSU Northridge, and presented to faculty and students about the CSU I-Corps program for the first time at CSU Bakersfield. The learning curve for me, leading up to the CSU Bakersfield visit, was not as quick or easy as I had IMG_5906.JPGexpected. The language used in the science world sounded like Elvish to me at first, and took me nearly four months to comprehend. There was also a lot of wandering and feeling lost in these first few months as I tried to navigate a new city, and understand how the CSU system, CSUPERB office, and CSU I-Corps program all work together yet separately. However, with the constant support of my supervisors, coworkers, and co-VISTA’s I have learned so much about the program that I am working with, and also a lot about myself. Reconnecting with my co-VISTA’s in San Jose this past October and participating in monthly check in calls, has also helped to remind me that I am not alone on this VISTA journey and that we are all working towards a set of common goals.

“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again)

Now that I have a better understanding of my role as a CSU STEM VISTA at CSUPERB, I am excited to forge my own path and turn my focus towards the “building capacity” and “sustainability” portions of my VISTA Assignment Description (VAD). For the last three months, I have been working closely with the student cohort that my VISTA Leader, Shannon Palka, recruited last year when she was in my position.IMG_7894.jpg
This cohort’s session will end in January 2016, during a series of culminating presentations at the 28th Annual Biotechnology Symposium in Orange County. After the Symposium, recruitment efforts for the next student cohort will begin to ramp up! I will reconvene my outreach tour at my alma mater, Cal Poly SLO, and then target CSU campuses in regions where access to the Biotechnology Industry is more limited for students. I am also hoping to build an alumni network for CSU I-Corps students, so that alumni will have a virtual space to connect, share job opportunities, and learn more about each other’s research efforts in the biotechnology field.  Having this network will also provide the next VISTA or CSUPERB staff member an updated database of alumni who may be interested in leading recruitment efforts on their own campuses, or serve as mentors and evaluators for upcoming cohorts.

IMG_6185.JPGIn February, the CSU STEM VISTA fellowship will be reuniting in Northern California to recharge and reflect about our experiences since October. I am very eager to hear about the adventures that my co-VISTA’s have encountered since our last training, and to learn more about the work that they are doing at their own host campuses! Each time that we meet as a group, I become even more inspired to give all that I can during my year of service with CSUPERB and to continue advocating for underrepresented students in STEM. Our impact on an individual level may be small, but together I know that our work as CSU STEM VISTA’s will be a catalyst for greater change in the CSU system.

“Even the smallest person can change the course of history.” – Lady Galadriel (The Fellowship of the Ring)

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