When I applied for this position, I didn’t think I would get a call back. I was in what seemed like the peak of a personal crisis, unsure of how to get my life on a stable track. As a young single mom who wanted to go back to school, wanted to work, I found that I had more barriers than resources. I felt stuck in perpetual confusion. I had served with AmeriCorps NCCC, which is an intensive community service program for young adults seeking to help people, and help themselves. That time taught me a great deal about the power of people from varying walks of like coming together to make a difference. Doing another volunteer experience with AmeriCorps made sense for me, despite the modest living stipend, despite the challenging work. In many ways, I felt that AmeriCorps was my last hope. I could not afford daycare, without daycare I could not go to work, I could not go to school. I knew that there were perks with serving in AmeriCorps, such as daycare assistance and an education award. I knew I wanted to better myself. On a whim, I mustered up a few recommendations from my previous time at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, cleaned up my resume, and hoped for something…anything.
I had drove past the Park several times, and knew nothing of it. I saw only signs that introduced large companies and campuses, familiar places for what I assumed people who didn’t have to worry so much were employed. I researched US2020 before my interviews, and learned about STEM mentoring and the work they sought to accomplish. I was worried if I was getting in over my head, as STEM subjects were my weakest in high school and the areas that I remain most insecure about as a college student today. I remember two things very clearly from my first interview. One, the “meager” stipend that I was being informed about was a stark increase for me, and would buy me a bit of time and stability. Most importantly, the program sought to help students who were low income, minority, and female. I knew what it was like to be each of those demographics. I did not know what it was like to love science, technology, engineering, or math as a student. But the idea that somehow I could be a part of an effort larger than myself resonated with me. I wanted to join the team of dedicated individuals who were working to continuously to improve the accessibility of STEM mentoring and programming for students who felt left out, or forgotten about.
When you don’t have enough of what you need, it is hard to think of anything else. The feeling can consume you, and darken any optimism or hope for anything better to come. This feeling is overwhelming for adults. For children and students with barriers to success it is matched with the confusion of trying to navigate through adolescence. It is not hard to imagine how they could become distracted during the school day, disenchanted with homework, and uninterested in studying especially if it was a subject they struggled with. This year, I learned quickly that STEM is for everyone. Everyone. I learned that STEM can open doors, it can spark creativity, it can refresh a person’s ability to dream wonder and imagine. I learned that although we may find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and alone when up against barriers that seem insurmountable, there are people who care to put their efforts into seeing the people in their communities lead happier and more fulfilling lives. I was able to work under the guidance of a dedicated Project Director and alongside an ambitious fellow VISTA member. Our little team of 3 pulled off 2 Expos, the STEMmy awards, the RTPi3 Essay Contest, and plenty of other moments of engagement for students in North Carolina. As much as our effort was to get mentoring to kids in need, I feel like I was mentored on professionalism and community service. I may never know what it was to be a STEM professional, but knowing that I was able to be a part of the positive message of hope for 2,476 students this year is something worth more than money can buy.
This year has allowed me to feel more capable than ever, through helping others. I am grateful for every experience and every tough moment, for they taught me perseverance. I feel refueled with a passion to continue to give back to my community, and I have been empowered to finish my Bachelor’s Degree. I look back on my year in Research Triangle Park with a lot of pride, and so much excitement and confidence in all the great things US2020 RTP has in store for the next year.