Archives for September 2013

Top 3 Things Davidson Taught Me

Top 3 Things Davidson Taught Me

Jason Bernal, president of YES Prep, announcing expansion at the press conference I worked today.

Thanks to the generous efforts and foresight of our benefactors, I am the first Davidson Impact Fellow for YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, Texas. Having only begun a few short months ago, I’m grateful to already have gained such valuable experience from this opportunity.

For fifteen years, YES Prep has provided an outstanding college preparatory education to over 8,000 low-income students at thirteen campuses sprawled across Houston. By rapidly increasing the number of college graduates in urban areas, YES Prep “redefines possible” in the arena of public education. Serving Houstonians since 1998, today, Jason Bernal, president of YES Prep, officially announced the expansion to Memphis, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans starting in 2015. My work, however, happens at the home office, where the committed, supportive, and energetic staff made my transition into the role of Operations Special Project Manager an easy and exciting one. Along with organizing special events, such as the second annual YES Prep College Rush 5K/10K fun run fundraiser, I collaborate with the Communications and Advancement teams on various projects. While I’m incredibly fortunate to work with wonderful people, I also know my four years at Davidson equipped me with invaluable knowledge that I bring with me to YES every day.

The following are the top 3 things I’m glad I learned at Davidson:

1. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for help

As Davidson students, we reside in a couple key spots: the library, the union, our dorms, and…office hours. I remember when I arrived as a freshman, I was immediately encouraged to develop close relationships with my professors and to visit their offices regularly. I didn’t understand the importance of communicating openly with mentors and asking for help until later, but it definitely became an important part of my Davidson experience. On my first day at work, my boss, Mark DiBella, said, “My door is always open. You can never ask too many questions or e-mail me too many times. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out.” I knew immediately that we would develop a good working relationship. For my latest project, YES Prep College Rush, I found myself completely unfamiliar with race organization. I joked with my friends who had joined running clubs after college to meet new people and vowed that would not be me…Irony is a real thing. First day on the job, and here I was, tasked with organizing a 5K/10K in downtown Houston. Together, however, Mark and I created a project plan and financial model sustainable enough to function for the event in years to come.

2. Being Overwhelmed…it’s okay

Much of my position at YES Prep requires that I reach out to external partners or employees at different campuses. People I communicate with regularly range from our race director for College Rush, alumni, donors, teachers, and school directors, etc. My work depends on very busy people’s ability to get back to me…, which, at times, is fairly frustrating. Luckily, as a Davidson alum, I’m accustomed to this ceaseless sense of minor panic. Work was never really over at school. The best you could do was manage your own time as best as possible. At YES, when I needed to schedule appointments with someone whose Outlook calendar was so full, it looked more like a work of abstract art, or when my coworkers used multiple acronyms in one sentence (TNTP, AD, SD, OPS, TE…still learning what these mean.), I simply remembered to let the moment of anxiety pass and reach out to someone for their thoughts. I found that most often, my coworkers always responded with valuable support and advice.

3. Working with Multiple Different Teams/Leaders

Top 3 Things Davidson Taught Me

Trisha Cornwell, Director of Communications, and me…accidental Twin Day at the office.

When people ask what I like most about Davidson, one of my immediate answers remains the ample opportunity for students to assume positions of leadership in varied aspects of campus life. At Davidson, multiple student leaders support and work with one another due to a spirit of collaboration across campus organizations. At YES, I work with both the Communications and Advancement teams. For the Communications team, I will organize video production, and for the Advancement team, I serve as a liaison for YES Prep Professionals, a group of young professionals supporting YES. I’m certain, however, that my comfort working with multiple people across organizational fields originates from a similar experience at Davidson.

While in my first exposure to postgrad life, my list of “Things I Learned at College” seems endless, I’m glad to incorporate these specific skills into my Impact Fellowship. The rest, I plan on learning from my coworkers who surprise me each day with their dedication to eliminating educational inequity, resolve, and humor. I hope to emulate their work ethic and serve YES Prep in the same way.

Wandering

Wandering

Street in Mérida’s historic colonial center

By Andrea Pauw ’13

“Es un calor que nunca has sentido,” (“It’s a heat you’ve never felt before”), our co-worker explained to us, the four Davidson Impact Fellows working in Mérida, Yucatán. This was the first description of Mérida’s heat I heard from someone native to this tropical city. “Es un calor que nunca has sentido.” Indeed, this powerful combination of humidity and direct sunrays produces an enervating heat that I had never experienced. Since my main form of transportation is walking, I’ve become quite familiar with Mérida’s weather: a mix of suffocating humidity, sudden downpours in which using an umbrella is more cumbersome than helpful, and gentle dusks punctuated by the humming of mosquitos and muffled radios.

Indeed, navigating Yucatán’s capital city for the past two months represents a significant part of my experience as a Davidson Impact Fellow. Along with Mel, Whitley, and Andrea B., I’ve traversed many colonial streets, applied copious amounts of sunscreen, and been drenched by the ubiquitous afternoon storms. For me, these daily adventures are at once cathartic and challenging—a constant reminder of the foreignness of my life after Davidson and also a way of working through this transition into the “real world.” For instance, one thing I’ve come to appreciate more since living in Mérida is walking—not rushing or hurrying, but rather the simple pleasure of strolling comfortably and observing, thinking, and smiling at others who pass by. After about 5 pm when the sun is not so strong, walking around the city is the perfect time to reflect on the workday and be mindful of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes: the friendly hello from an old man who repairs bikes on Calle 47, the enticing aroma of a pastry shop, the heavy huffing of combi bus engines, the grin from a fellow pedestrian caught in a rainstorm, the unique taste of refreshing maméy fruit sorbet sold in the Plaza Grande, and passing snippets of rapid Spanish all form the backdrop of my days in Mérida.

Wandering

Sunset during an evening stroll

Paying attention to these sensory details while meandering around the city gives me a newfound gratitude for walking and J.R.R. Tolkien’s words, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Sometimes this quote is more applicable than not (since figuring out the convoluted public transportation system has yet to be accomplished), but in general my wandering provides me with time to grapple with the challenges of living abroad and the transition into life after college. The tranquil evenings in Mérida instill a sense of patience and peace in me that I experience through snapshots of Yucatan daily life—comfortable reminders of normalcy amidst the strangeness and unfamiliarity of a new city, new job, and new stage of life. The slow calmness of wandering Mérida contrasts with the fast changes and urgency it’s easy to feel in wanting to figure everything out: the desire to improve my language skills, make headway in work projects, and finding a comfortable routine. What I’ve come to realize is that navigating this uncharted territory is done best without hurry and worry—giving ample time to notice the ever-present moments of peace and calm in Mérida, even in the heat.

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