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What have you done since graduating and where are you now?
Since graduating, I’ve worked at REACH Studio Art Center, a nonprofit neighborhood space for arts education and civic engagement in REO Town, Lansing: there I run a program called Teen Open Studio, where participants, a guest artist, volunteers, and staff collaborate on community art projects. I also handle enrollment and volunteer coordination for other art classes. At times, I’ve also taught breaking (breakdance) classes on behalf of a collective called All of the Above Hip Hop Academy, I’ve babysat, I’ve run before- and after-care for a YMCA summer camp, I’ve worked in the collections department of a bank, and I’ve done odd jobs for friends and family.
How did RCAH prepare you for what you're doing now?
First, the RCAH prepared me as a general worker. I interview with ease, I'm able to create and write, I adapt to jobs, I learn new skills and information, and I work with the community, with sustainability and workers’ rights in mind. Second, the RCAH fostered in me well-being and a commitment to the common good: as an informal educator, my wellness directly correlates to my ability to mentor, to listen to and to learn from students, and my commitment correlates to my ability to solidarize, to inspire, and to grow. Third, the RCAH exposed me to safe, open-minded, engaging learning spaces, and as a result, I am able to foster similar environments in and outside a classroom. At REACH, this is crucial, as the group of 20 teens in Teen Open Studio range from those experiencing autism spectrum disorder, homelessness and abuse, being queer or trans, or simply being different and needing a space to create art. Fourth, the RCAH showed me how to work with partner organizations in civic engagement, particularly through 292A, B, and C courses and the engagement model of insight, practice, action and passion. During each season of Teen Open Studio we create art for a different community partner, like murals for the Women’s Center, sculptures for the Greater Lansing Garden Project and graffiti on Riverview Church in REO Town. Fifth, the RCAH widened my perspective on history, art and culture, as I’ve explored and continue to explore my own stories and identity. Through teaching the technique and the foundation of breaking (breakdance,) I also teach the history of Hip Hop, and I’m able to assist students in cultivating their own identities. Sixth, the RCAH taught me active citizenship, and as a mentor for youth this is integral, because I’m a role model.
These six points highlight part of how the RCAH prepared me, but by no means encompass the experience in its entirety – oh, I could go on! In summary, a combination of self-transformation, engagement with community, a wide base of experience, and specific skills allow RCAH students and alumni to be fulfilled persons and effective workers.
What were your academic interests in RCAH?
I dabbled in everything, but I focused most on education, Spanish, Hip Hop, Indigenous culture, Black culture, civic engagement, and dance. I took many of RCAH professor Estrella Torrez’s courses.
What were your favorite aspects of the RCAH experience?
When I visited MSU, Dean Steve gave a tour to my mother, two other families and me, and I loved the fact that faculty and staff were – and continue to be – relatable and welcoming on that level. We are a caring, open community.
We students had the opportunity to shape our learning experience. That was rad! RCAH staff and students have likened the RCAH to Montessori-style ed, but on the college level. Moreover, this program is new and one-of-a-kind, such that student voices hugely impact how the curriculum and mission move forward.
The RCAH experience was healing. Much of undergrad I struggled with bipolar disorder and an eating disorder, and the program helped me understand and care for myself. I made friends that could relate, professors provided insight and counsel, and I found fulfilling work. Today I give back to youth who deal with similar experiences, and I’m not sure if I would be able to do that if it weren’t for the RCAH.
The class sizes are intimate and the class environment allows for discussion. Students’ voices are heard and respected. There’s a lot of solidarity among us.
We put theory into practice. Some similar programs are too theoretical!
Meeting people who care about improving themselves, their communities and the world. Meeting people who you can relate to! I’m a part of the queer community, and the RCAH provided me an opportunity to explore things like queer theory and my identity in a safe space.
Again, I could go on at length...
Did you ever take part in Study Abroad/Study Away at MSU?
I did! I studied in Valencia, Spain in Fall Semester 2013. There I took Spanish courses and interned as a translator for an e-journal called RELIEVE. I lived with a host family – Inma and Paco, their daughter María, and their dog Elvis – and I trained with b-boys and b-girls (breakdancers) there. I highly recommend studying abroad or away while in school.
What words of wisdom do you have for current RCAH students?
Take care of yourself! Eat a variety of food. Be active. Find fulfillment. Engage with your community. Practice time and task management. Set time aside to relax and decompress. Self-care habits that you develop in college will help you later in life!
Work to figure out who you are, and keep in mind that it is a process! We are always changing. It’s difficult to decide next steps in schooling and work if we don’t understand ourselves, so take the time to understand your qualities, your strengths, your weaknesses and your story. Knowing what you want in life follows suit.
Go to other parts of the Greater Lansing area! 292B’s are lovely opportunities to explore Lansing and surrounding places, but they’re not enough. Go to a concert venue, a café, a bookstore, a restaurant, a different part of town. If you need recommendations ask peers, alumni or professors!
Learn personal finance. Whether it’s understanding your loans better or how to budget money, these sorts of skills are helpful!
Participate in internships. Work, volunteer! Get out of your comfort zone. These are the sorts of things that help connect you with employers after graduating.
Utilize resources at hand: talk with advisors, take free workshops, and attend seminars and events. Learn from peers too!