Zack Bissell

What have you done since graduating and where are you now?

After graduating from RCAH, I completed a year of service with AmeriCorps and AIDS United in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I served at N'MPower Albuquerque, whose focus is on building community, communication skills, and self-esteem among gay, bisexual, and questioning men and transgender individuals ages 18 to 29 in Albuquerque. We followed a non-traditional approach to educate about and prevent HIV transmission through small events, hanging out, hikes, river rafting, ice skating, large community events, curriculum on safer sex and other topics, and counseling. We also won the award for OUTstanding Non-Profit from Albuquerque Pride while I served there.  

After Albuquerque, I changed tracks and I moved to South Korea. There, I taught English for two elementary schools (Dongkok 두국and Habin 하빈) just outside of Daegu (대구), South Korea. I spent a few months getting my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification and going through the long application process before heading out in February 2013.

Currently, I am the Out-of-School Arts Program Manager at Living Arts in Southwest Detroit. I manage an after-school program that provides dance, visual art, multimedia art, and a bit of music education to youth ages 2-18 in the primarily Hispanic/Latino Southwest Detroit. As program manager, I develop curriculum, manage registrations, communications, marketing parent relations, scheduling, as well as managing teaching artists, parent groups, and student groups. It's just me and occasionally an intern, so the work-load comprises managing nearly the entire program, but the reward is huge. I speak Spanish daily and get to give youth opportunities to learn the fine arts while also building community, self-esteem, creativity, critical thinking, social issues, and empowering a historical Detroit neighborhood. We are developing artists, thinkers, activists, citizens, and communities for the next generation.

How did RCAH prepare you for what you're doing now?

Oh, gosh. In every way, it seems. Just looking at what I've done in my years since graduation, it's like RCAH 2.0.  Learning languages, cultures, arts, travel, community engagement and empowerment, service-learning, education, all the humanities... it all has come full circle and informs my personal and professional life every day.

What were your academic interests in RCAH?

I was very much interested in music, culture, languages, and international affairs (especially in Latin America and the Caribbean). I learned a lot about how society, individuals, and cultures all work off of each other in different ways to influence everything about the way the world works from the way a child learns to the way that gay men continue to spread HIV. Although I never specifically studied these topics, what you learn in the RCAH really is very transferable.

What were your favorite aspects of the RCAH experience?

I can't complete this section without naming the RCAH community as one of the best things about the experience. Every single person from Dean Esquith to the professors, Pam, and the students all were extremely friendly, close, and inviting. This made a superb environment for learning, exploring, experimenting, and growing together and students, faculty, and as a college.

I also loved the creativity of the RCAH. We had to practice creativity regularly with the variety of projects and experiences that made us figure out what didn't work so we could move toward what might. RCAH students are not stuck in the typical paradigm or world view that leads much of the world. We see solutions more creatively, we see problems as opportunities, and we see differences not as a threat but as a way to learn. This, I am finding, is incredibly valuable to almost any employer (even the olive oil store I worked at to raise funds before going to Korea) and its not something that a more static degree will give you. Each student is unique in the RCAH and that makes the program and the degree vibrant.

Did you ever take part in Study Abroad/Study Away at MSU? If so, which programs?

I went to the Universidad San Francisco de Quito just outside of Quito, Ecuador for Spring Semester 2010. This was an amazing experience that really kicked my Spanish into shape (into near-fluency) and opened up so many opportunities for me in Latin America and around the world. The university is beautiful there, but the experience was way more than just my formal studies. I lived with a host family that taught me a lot of Spanish and the culture, I traveled all around the country and was forced to learn the culture and use Spanish in my everyday life, and I put some of my ideas and my education to the test. I probably annoy people with how much I talk about Ecuador. It's amazing. If anybody reading this is thinking about going to Ecuador, DO IT! You won't regret it.

What words of wisdom do you have for current RCAH students? 

1.) GET INVOLVED! This one is the most important. Although I was one of the co-founders and the vice president of RCAHppella for three years, I regret not having gotten involved even more. Yes I was busy, yes I had lots of homework, yes a had a lot of social opportunities. But now that I don't have that college experience around me, I look back and think about how many resources there are that just slipped by me. I thought about joining more organizations around campus, I thought about doing internships at organizations in the Lansing area (this would have helped my career prospects even more), I thought about doing a 292C at the Refugee Development Center, I thought about volunteering at local organizations. This may all sound cheesy and I know you all have been told it before (I certainly was) but its real. Employers want something concrete that makes you stand out. The RCAH is incredibly valuable, but it is not very concrete when employers look at your resume. Especially if you have lots of student loans like I do, having volunteer experience or an internship (or 292C) will help show potential employers that you have concrete interests, motivations, and accomplishments. You're competing against other college graduates (with student loans, volunteer experience, and internships). It really is about how you sell yourself (as much as it bugs me). Sadly, it's true.

2.) BRANCH OUT! Do something weird. Be a weirdo. Try new things. You might like it. You might love it and make amazing friends. Either way, it's going to be a great experience that will make you all the much more knowledgeable.

3.) HAVE FUN (but be safe)! Seriously. It's college. There's a lot going on in every aspect of your world. It's jam packed. You'll graduate and those resources aren't there anymore. Those friends aren't on your floor anymore. The co-ops (Vesta pride!) aren't there anymore. Those 24 hour delivery restaurants are not there anymore. Get it while it's hot. But you owe it to your post-college self to be smart, safe, and good to yourself. I had some of my best times with RCAHppella when we were singing at different places. I'd be in a horrible mood going in to practice and leave laughing. Now I only have to look a lot farther for those experiences. Just get out there and have fun!