Name: Casey McCullough
Host Site: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Alma Mater: Northland College
Major: Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies
Background: I initially intended on majoring in natural resources, since I’m passionate about wildlife protection and animal rights. However, I took a “Sociology of Gender” class for fun my freshman year. That course completely altered my life path. As a woman who identifies as queer, I had experienced forms of heterosexism. But as a white girl growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I was shielded from, and even benefited from, overt forms of racism and classism. I became interested in social justice when I learned, in a controlled classroom setting, about the deep injustices that are built into our current social organization. I recognized my privilege in learning this from text books and primarily white professors, versus learning the depth of these racist, classist, and sexist structures on a day to day basis. However, my education fueled my passion for fighting for social justice and liberation from oppressive structures, while addressing the inequalities that provided me with that opportunity.
Lesson Learned: Higher education, especially in a state-wide public system, is complicated! Campus dynamics, bureaucratic processes, and the particular politics of different departments can take time to learn and be comfortable with. I have been very fortunate to have knowledgeable and strong mentors to guide me through the complicated systems of higher education as I transition from being a student at a private, environmental liberal arts school to my VISTA role at Cal Poly. I feel more confident in my ability to thrive in a higher education setting because of my position here.
Area for Growth: An area that I have grown in tremendously during my time as a CSU STEM VISTA is my public speaking skills. As of April, I have organized and facilitated 50 UndocuAlly trainings to over 500 staff, faculty, students, and administrators at Cal Poly and on the Central Coast. Not only am I well versed on the content, but I am much better now at speaking to large groups of unfamiliar folks who have years of experience in higher education and supporting underrepresented populations. This has increased my confidence and ability to articulate difficult concepts to others – skills I will certainly use in the future!
Advice: Being a CSU STEM VISTA really increases your knowledge of the CSU system, and how to operate as a pseudo-staff member. It allows for incredible professional and academic development, as well as networking opportunities which are particularly helpful if you are interested in pursuing careers in higher education. I’m able to come to work every day and advocate for social justice and cultural equity- something that not many people have the chance to do! I am forever grateful for my experiences as a CSU STEM VISTA, and you will be, too.