VISTA Spotlight – Jessica Garcia

Name: Jessica Mary Garcia 

Host Site: Humboldt State University, Klamath Connection Program

Alma Mater: Humboldt State University and College of the Siskiyous

Major: Wildlife Biology

jess tree.jpgBackground: The road I took to becoming a CSU STEM VISTA was filled with crossroads, new experiences, ups and downs, tons of self-exploration and self-reflection, ah-ha moments, and new discoveries. The paths I took to get to where I am now really helped shaped me as an individual, as well as opened my eyes to a world of socio-economic and environmental justice issues.

I suppose I will start at the beginning of my undergraduate career. Spring of 2010 was when I enrolled for the Fall 2010 semester at my local junior college, College of the Siskiyous (COS). At the time I was still working for Wholesale Solar, Inc. I worked at Wholesale Solar, Inc. for almost 4 years, and wore an array of hats while I was there. I managed the wholesale accounts to small businesses/installers/contractors, and worked as a sales representative for the company. I continued with this job through my first semester in college and then decided to stop working there to focus solely on my education. This job really opened my eyes to the “real world,” and what I really wanted out of life and for myself. I was exposed to a lot of environmental justice and political issues stemming around renewable energy, and wanted to continue my education in science. Continue reading

Bridging Together Technical and Social Worlds

Written By Emily Liptow, CSU STEM VISTA Member 2015-17 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

12803200_10153427471656381_8061855602720549735_n.jpgI remember quite clearly a moment early in my undergraduate studies when I first became distraught at the social-technical divide that pervades our education system and society at large. I was excited to be taking one of my very first Industrial Engineering classes where we were exposed to some of the basic principles of the field. In one of the first weeks of class, our professor provided a brief history of Industrial Engineering, introducing us to Frederick Taylor who is considered the father of the field. Taylor is known for his contributions to industrial efficiency and development of time studies and Scientific Management.

Just a few weeks after learning about Taylor in my engineering class, we met again in a very different context. I was taking a class on the sociology of work and employment, and we had just begun learning about the formation of unions around the time of the industrial revolution. We learned of the abuses many workers faced as manufacturing companies focused on production, efficiency, and the bottom line. Taylor’s ideology of management largely contributed to the dehumanization of workers, reducing them to cogs within the manufacturing process. Continue reading

VISTA Spotlight – Casey McCullough

Name: Casey McCullough

Host Site: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Alma Mater: Northland College

Major: Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies

IMG_8716.JPGBackground: 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. Continue reading

VISTA Spotlight – Miranda Lopez

Name: Miranda Lopez

Host Site: Fresno State University

Alma Mater: California State University Long Beach

Major: Psychology

Miranda.jpgBackgroundAs my dad always says “Life goes by way too fast, I remember when I was your age and my dad was my age.” Being an undergraduate seemed to take so long, but now looking back, it went by faster than I could have imagined. I spent 3 years of undergrad at my local community college, College of the Sequoias (COS) and 2 years at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB). During my years at COS fate would take its course in an English class I was trying to add. In order to be in this English class, I had to be a part of a program called “Puente” (Spanish for “bridge”). The program was created to increase the number of educationally under-served students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities in hopes that they return to their community as leaders and mentors to help future generations. While being a part of Puente we had to regularly keep in contact with our assigned counselor and make a yearlong commitment to the program. During the program, I gained a great sense of community. The program’s slogan happens to be, “once a Puentista, always a Puentista.” It was this program and my counselor, Sandy Valenzuela, who ultimately helped me succeed in transferring to Cal State Long Beach. Continue reading

One Day at a Time

Written By Jake Williams, CSU STEM VISTA 2016-2017 CSU Bakersfield, Fabrication Laboratory 

Jake.jpgWhen 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. Continue reading

Finding Direction and Passion After a Gap Year

Written By Christa Cheung, CSU STEM VISTA 2016-2017 San Jose State University, Jay Pinson STEM Education Program

IMG_8831.JPGI began my VISTA position after taking a gap year after graduating from University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). I worked tirelessly during university; only taking a couple of weeks in 3 years off, having a full course load every quarter, working a part time job, participating in two on campus organizations, and working in a research lab. I was thoroughly burned out, and I didn’t want to pursue a graduate education in my field after my undergraduate research experience. I even lost the confidence that I was a competent scientist/engineer and believed that maybe I was an impostor. I needed to take some time off to really recover from all the stress and doubt that grew throughout my undergraduate career. I was fortunate enough to be able to take a gap year, even if it wasn’t idyllic. My parents would continually ask about what my next steps were and would judge my choices regardless of what I said. I took about six months to relax and recharge. I wasn’t able to find what I wanted to do, but I did get some desperately needed self-care in the form of not having to stress about school and spending time to clean up all the papers and things I accumulated over that last four years. In early 2016, I started to be more proactive in my daily life like looking more seriously for jobs, researching classes I might take, and doing some freelance work for a short time. Continue reading

VISTA Spotlight – Kimberly Torres

Name: Kimberly TorresIMG_8524.JPG

Host Site: California State University, Long Beach BUILD

Alma Mater: California State University, Fullerton

Major: Political Science

Background: Since my freshman year of high school, I had a clear understanding of what I wanted to do in life. Fast forward to the junior year of my undergraduate career, I had mixed feelings about my major and career choice. I dedicated my undergraduate career to studying political science in order to learn the law and the inner workings of the government while pursuing a law degree. Continue reading

VISTA Spotlight – Natalie Hambalek

Natalie.jpgName: Natalie Hambalek

Host Site: California State University, Monterey Bay School of Natural Sciences Internship Program

Alma Mater: Sonoma State University (B.A.), Oregon State University (M.S.)

Major: Biology, Zoology

Background:  I graduated from Sonoma State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. Outside of the classroom, I was involved in many facets of campus which gave me experiences that have been instrumental in shaping my personal and professional lives. As a freshman, I became an active member of the Biology Club, a service-oriented club where I found my tribe of nerds which I am happy to call my lifelong friends. I volunteered at Kid Street Learning Center mentoring at-risk youth for two years. I was a McNair and LSAMP Scholar, starting my path in scientific research and dissemination. I looked forward to the CSSA-sponsored California Higher Education Student Summit (CHESS) every year, where my peers and I headed to Sacramento to lobby State Legislators for bills to increase accessibility and affordability to the CSU System (like the CA DREAM Act). I was a part of National Model United Nations, where I participated in the annual international conference in New York City representing Venezuela. I was also fortunate to have been able to work for the Center for Community Engagement at Sonoma State University for all four years of my undergraduate career. Housed in Academic Affairs, I had a first hand view of the behind the scenes of the University, tasked with helping to implement service-learning courses and strengthen partnerships between the University and the Sonoma County community. Observably, I was what some would call “all over the place”; in the lab, the field, the classroom, the office, the playground, in a CA Assemblywoman’s office —  I loved every minute of it. These experiences not only fostered my growth as an individual, but they nurtured my need to give back and fulfilled my desire to be a part of something bigger. Continue reading