Written By Jake Williams, CSU STEM VISTA 2016-2017 CSU Bakersfield, Fabrication Laboratory
When I first enrolled in California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB), I imagined crossing the finish line like I was Usain Bolt, skipping, dancing, and fist-pumping into class. Honestly, I thought that. However, when I arrived on campus, a class with 75 students awaited me. I showed up late because my bus had to stop twice to help the elderly get on, only to help them back off at the very next bus stop, a mile down the road. I brushed Day One off. College was still going to be great, I couldn’t articulate why, but I knew this was my way to success. The next two years I remained a good student, passing all my classes. Yet, I could not wrap my head around how much fun it seemed everyone else was having. I felt like I was missing out on something, and I started to feel like the loneliness I was feeling was dulling my future in a way. Finally, I decided to do something totally out of the box. I asked a stranger what was going on. That stranger turned out to be the president of the student body government, and honestly, my entire college experience began that day, two full years into my undergraduate studies. He said to me five simple words, one life-changing question, “do you want to help?” From that day on, I found out what my passion really was and how to go about satisfying it. The best part was it did not stop there.
Three months later, and I was serving forty-five to fifty students daily as a Residential Assistant (RA) for campus housing. The reason I took this job was two-fold. I wanted to opportunity to guide students in their personal growth, and I wanted the chance to learn how to lead a team. I was able to have ample opportunities to develop my ability to lead. Nonetheless, graduation was approaching quickly, and I was weighing my options.
Months earlier, I had been floating around meeting with my residents asking about how things were going and asking about their summer plans. That is when I met Cheyanne, last year’s VISTA at CSUB. Cheyanne and I sat down and spoke in-depth about the VISTA position. Cheyanne felt I was more than qualified for the position. However, I still wasn’t sure. Graduation came and went, and there I still was wondering if graduate school was even going to be an option for me. On the way home from school one afternoon, I stepped on to my number 61 bus and sat down. I saw a young man sitting across from me with a CSUB sweatshirt on. It was torn and dirty. I asked him, “Hey how long have you been going to CSUB?”. As nervous as it is to talk to anyone on the bus, he replied, “I haven’t yet, I got it from the fields.” I asked him his age, and he said 22. We talked more about the agriculture fields he spoke of, and he told me how he feels like his life is passing him by and to not be like him and to stay in school. He did not know my age, but just assumed I was younger then him. At that time, I was also 22. I am not saying that picking fruit or stacking crates of vegetables is by any means dishonorable work, but working in the fields is just really tough work. I thought about all the privileges I had that he did not, and whether or not there were others who may have felt cheated out of an experience because of their background. All the opportunities for progress that I was given, this man was not afforded, maybe even unaware of. A week later I got offered a position at an old wedding chapel I used to work for. I turned it down. I knew what my next move was, AmeriCorps VISTA. I wanted to have an impact on the community, the community that created me.
Six months into my first VISTA year, and I have never been part of something so much bigger than myself. I have helped over six thousand students get involved in STEM. I watched novice STEM students create things beyond my own imagination. To watch elementary school students beam with happiness during our circuitry courses truly makes my day. The tireless days of work are tough, but those being trained for success here at the Fabrication Lab (Fab Lab) at CSUB makes it a fun process. I’m grateful work with a great team here that focuses on the mission of the Fab Lab. When I first arrived at the Fab Lab, I thought the potential was overwhelming. There were so many opportunities that bubbled in my head that I had to write them down. The Fab Lab has blossomed since then; we are now successfully meeting the needs of the community by reaching out to schools in Kern County. We also serve eleven unpaid interns in the lab by training them on equipment each week. This way, we build a healthy pool of candidates for future paid internships the Fab Lab may offer. The best part is that the Fab Lab is becoming sustainable.
Most of my life I felt like I was waiting for something amazing to happen to me or for me. But through this work I’ve found that it is through what I do for others that I find satisfaction and serenity. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to be an AmeriCorps VISTA.