Communities that Care

Written by Sheina Vogt, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, Humboldt State University Klamath Connection 

Sheina Work Self_alternate.jpgSchool was often a struggle for me. If I got a poor grade on a test I remember feeling defeated sometimes even crying. But I knew I could call my eldest brother, Derek, and he would help me figure out next steps to persevere. Similarly, there were times when I had to choose between paying my rent and paying my tuition. When that happened, I always had a friend or a family member who could help me out with a personal, interest-free payday loan. My success took a lot of support from my friends, my community, my family, and my university. Many hands, seen and unseen, guided me through with financial, social, emotional, and academic aid. Truly, I was helped through school by seemingly an entire village. I hope to be a part of as many supportive communities for other students as possible.

A student in the program I serve at stopped me recently. I was heading out the door of our shared residence hall at Humboldt State University. She seemed close to tears as she told me that she would miss me a lot when she moved out next week. I am generally pretty upfront about how I don’t know how to handle these sorts of goodbyes. In this case, I gave her a hug and reminded her that we still had another week together. I can tend to be a silver lining type of person.

costumes.jpgI have been having a lot of these conversations as the school year draws to a close, and often it is in the moments when I feel least prepared (e.g. in my pajamas, while gardening at home, etc.). These young science students, who are currently in the throes of finals week, feel the need to reach out to me to tell me that they are going to miss me. It is such a precious moment and also a distinct honor.

It’s not just me though, I see them reaching out to each other. Plans are being made to find places to live together, to make class schedules together for fall, and to share storage units over the summer. I find the last one to be conceptually a bit over the top, even when they will not be together, the Klamath Connection students’ stuff will be mingling in some dark, damp storage unit. Yet, these are all elements of how I know that I am part of a caring community.

signs.jpgMy anecdotal evidence is an example of what is called ‘social connectedness’ by many people in the field of higher education. Social connectedness simply refers to how well students are connected to each other and the community around them. These friendships allow them to build social networks which can help to support them throughout their time as student (Chang et al. 2014).

All this is to say that I am immensely proud of how this student-based community has formed. As individuals, their willingness to reach out to one another has been extraordinary. I am going to miss all of them profoundly. My life will not be the same without their ukulele jam sessions, nacho-fueled dance parties, and late night chats about everything and nothing. They fill me with faith in the future and for that I am grateful.

Chang, M. J., Sharkness, J., Hurtado, S., & Newman, C. B. (2014). What Matters in College for Retaining Aspiring Scientists and Engineers From Underrepresented Racial Groups. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(5), 555–580.

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