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How did RCAH prepare you for what you're doing now?
I think the RCAH shaped me into the learner and teacher I am now. I came into MSU with many passions: a deep love of artmaking, a drive to participate in debate, public speaking, and historical learning, and a passion for Social Justice. In the RCAH I found a community which fostered growth in all of my passions and provided me with real world experiences in fields related to these passions. It was only when the RCAH sent me out into a classroom for a civic engagement project that I realized what a passion I had for youth, teaching, and the arts. Through civic engagement and a four year study of art and public life, I became the community-oriented arts educator I am proud to be. I coordinated a program at a local nonprofit art center for three years, and I feel that I have found my calling and been supported on every step of my journey along the way.
Currently, I am a Program Specialist with After School Matters. After School Matters is a non-profit organization that offers Chicago high school teens innovative out-of-school activities through a network of public and private partnerships that include Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Public Library, and community organizations throughout the city. We are the nation's largest out-of-school time education nonprofit. We have been recognized nationally for our innovative approach to coordinating city resources and delivering unique and diverse programs. Our hands-on, project-based programs expose teens to rewarding careers and help them develop marketable job skills.
As a program specialist I manage 20 of these programs on Chicago's Westside, mostly in the Humboldt Park area. I oversee after school programs in 3 CPS high schools, 4 parks, and 11 Community Based Organizations. I work with program providers and teens to provide opportunities in visual arts, digital media, spoken word, urban gardening, culinary arts, sports and lifeguarding, music, dance and more.
What were your academic interests in RCAH at and MSU?
Coming in with a broad and fervent set of passions (writing, art, reading, history, politics, social justice, theater, music, storytelling, language…) I found myself not sacrificing these interests but learning how they informed one another. As an artist, I have been featured in 4 juried shows and coordinated an exhibition, but I've also learned how community arts bring people together to make change. I've spoken french over Senegalese delicacies, studied folk music and oral tradition in the mountains of West Virginia, and marveled at the unexpected beauty of the Heidleburg project. Through the program, I've been able to focus my studies on the intersection of art and life, and shape a career around that passion.
What were your favorite aspects of the RCAH experience?
I responded strongly to the civic engagement. Being sent out into the world to learn from people, from lived experience, was incredibly powerful. I set out to make art for social justice with Guillermo Delgado and it changed me during my freshmen year: it showed me a side of art's capacity to unite and provoke social change. Then, I worked in public schools to introduce art and theater with Donna Kaplowitz. I remember going to West Virginia, on the Appalachain emersion experience, to hear songs and stories passed down from voices past. The best of RCAH, in my opinion, lies in the doing, and making, and learning by living.
Did you ever take part in Study Abroad/Study Away at MSU? If so, which programs?
I did a Freshmen Seminar Abroad to South Africa. I am incredibly glad I did: seeing and studying resistance and reconciliation after apartheid and learning in a group of passionate young people about a culture separate from my own taught me quite a bit about the world and about myself. I saw people making art into a sustainable living: art as a tool to reclaim humanity in dehumanizing poverty and oppression. I felt the first spark of working with youth at a Nutrition center in Philani. I am grateful for the friends I made, and they stayed with me through my RCAH experience.
What words of wisdom do you have for current RCAH students?
Embrace the civic engagement component of this college. It will shape you into a greater learner, doer, maker, and thinker.