Abby Conklin

What made you decide to attend the RCAH?
The RCAH decision was twofold. I went up a day early for ADS weekend my senior year in high school, and was hosted by two engineering students in Mayo. This had to be my 4th or 5th hosted stay at a university in 6 months, and they had largely been a little weird and a little uncomfortable. But this was perfect. My hosts were perfect. They were kind, they introduced me to their friends, chatted freely about their academic experiences, we went bowling in the basement of the union, and did I mention they were kind?! I knew I had gotten into the honors college at that point, so I decided that unless some amazing scholarship or acceptance offer from another school came, I'd go to MSU.

It was my dad who noticed RCAH, though. We went to a couple of very boring info sessions for a few departments the next day, then my cousin (also there for ADS) mentioned to my father that he was going to a newer program's info session. The program was an arts and humanities thing, and my father demanded we go to this. I said I didn't want to hear anyone else talk at me for the rest of the day. My father is not generally pushy, but he really begged me to go to this session. And, as it happened, I went and found out there was a tiny liberal arts college on a campus of almost 50,000 students.  

Public university (I didn't want to go to a cloistered, insanely expensive, intimidating school), a program that required civic service work and  had art programming built into the curriculum, and a promise that I'd be learning for my future instead of killing time for four years and dreading the real world. I picked the RCAH.

Do you have any favorite memories?
Gus Navarro and I shared a classroom assignment at Whitehills elementary school our sophomore year 292B. We had an anti-bullying lunch group, a reading lunch group, and literally fell in love with every one of our kids. We still talk about them; hell, I still have the shirt the students made me.

What were your academic interests in RCAH?
Youth and education- I specialized in American Indian studies and pedagogical practice in-school and out-of-school. Also pursued studies in European Jewish history, poetry coursework, and some sculpture.

What were your favorite aspects of the RCAH experience?
Students weren't seen as an inconvenience. We were respected, and professors valued our minds and our appetites for learning.

What have you done since graduating and where are you now?
Interned with 826, worked for AmeriCorps, managed an elementary school's intervention and after school programming, had a major burnout, became a teaching artist and barista, got a job as an editorial assistant in a small curriculum publishing company. I still work for that publisher. 

Which RCAH experiences influenced the work you do today?
Co-founding an assisted-living arts program with Kat Stuehrk, completing my community assignments for various classes, working for and with Estrella Torrez and the indigenous programming and education she was immersed in. I'm always hungry to support people, and problem solve/collaborate with them. I got a degree in serving need, especially serving young people in need, and I'm hyper aware of that at all times.

Did you know while you were in college that you wanted to do the type of work you’re doing now?
Not necessarily. I didn't have a dream career. The last concrete career dreams I had were to be 1. spy, or 2. a writer. And the writer thing got squashed by multiple elementary and middle school teachers VERY quickly.

While at MSU I knew I wanted to work with youth, particularly indigenous youth, and be a change maker, particularly in education and socio-emotional development. I worked with Lansing's Indigenous Youth Empowerment Program for two years during school, then moved to DC, followed NYC, in pursuit of larger circles of youth work. I wanted to earn my stripes in the field.

Now, taking a breather from direct service, I'm able to help develop diverse, advanced curricular content, and write every day. I'm rounding myself out as I prepare to return to direct service within the next few years. Uncertainty isn't my favorite thing, but by allowing for it, I've certainly grown a hell of a lot since I graduated.

How did RCAH prepare you for what you're doing now?
Critical thinking is through the roof, I execute on or before deadline, I ask questions. I learned how to launch a community program, run a youth program, and how to eat mostly enough even when cruelly busy. 

In my current job, I strive to produce accurate writing that speaks to young people from different places and families who have a million different needs. When I was in program management, I was able to deploy critical thought and efficiency in supporting students in a highly traumatic environment. I helped them learn to regulate themselves emotionally, physically, and academically. I always saw my kids as humans, even in their worst moments, and was ferociously committed to their educations. To their futures. RCAH helped give me that capacity.

What do you enjoy most about your current job? 
I get to do research and write every day. I'm helping students learn by producing content that is actually semi-interesting, and shows them the enormous world that exists out there.

What are some of the challenges?
Sitting all day, staring at a screen, not a student in sight, and trying to adhere to office place etiquette is extremely difficult sometimes (I'm one of those twits who has an exercise ball for sitting on every other hours or so).

What kind of hobbies do you have outside of work?
I write, I read my poetry at various events, I practice yoga, I cook, I read voraciously, I walk a LOT. I spend hours stuck on the subway, and I drink buckets of coffee.

If you could plan an event for alumni in your area, what would you do?
I would love for us to be able to visit public schools in NYC to help recruit for RCAH.

What words of wisdom do you have for current RCAH students?
Be kind to yourself. Get enough sleep. Try not to stay out super late on Saturday because it'll make your Sunday and Monday heinous.  Try to stay off of Facebook in class. Actually do the readings. Schedule time to doodle with colored pencils, or walk without music to listen to, all by yourself at least once a week-- being alone with you can be invaluable. Remember you have a right to your education, we all do, and you are part of the generation working to ensure that all Americans get to exercise that right. You do not have to love college (I didn't. I really grappled with myself and my time in undergrad). But commit to benefitting as much as you can, get pumped for your future, and know that sometimes it'll be stupidly difficult but also sometimes wonderful.