Tell us about your experience as an American Cultural Studies (and Fairhaven College if applicable) student within Western Washington University.
I chose Fairhaven College / Western Washington University because it was “different,” a model of education in which learning was more than just listening. The task of designing my own curriculum allowed me the flexibility to pursue a broad diversity of intellectual interests inside and outside classrooms through independent study projects, internships, and undergraduate research with faculty guidance and support.
The program I designed in American Cultural Studies was a hybrid of Fairhaven, WWU courses, and independent study focused particularly on health and education differences and disparities across cultures. Based on my work as a peer health educator (Prevention and Wellness Services / the Ally Building Program) and my experiences working with local and national non-profit organizations, I wanted to design a practical way of addressing the health concerns of the communities I was learning about and working with in my internships and other community engagements. In my final American Cultural Studies research paper, I argued for the use of the developing technologies of online social networking such as Facebook as platforms for targeted HIV risk reduction interventions for at-risk college students, and eventually for other populations disproportionately affected by AIDS.
What made you decide to concentrate on American Cultural Studies?
I chose ACS following a Larry Estrada’s class on the history and culture of Mexico. His teaching style and the course work got me excited in a way that other classes had not. The following quarter I took classes from Midori Takagi and Kathleen Kennedy – both of whom challenged me in ways and degrees I had not experienced previously -- they really taught me how to think critically, make an argument (with support from texts), and how to write a strong academic paper.
How did you choose your career/field?
After graduation, I moved to New York City, seeking employment with organizations that were deeply involved in social change. I chose to work for Keeling & Associates (K&A), a small mission-focused higher education consulting company that works with colleges and universities to improve learning and student success. My work with K&A has included both working on consulting projects and researching and developing articles, reports, and presentations on topics ranging from how colleges and universities can more effectively address depression among students, to how people physically learn -- based on neuroscience research, to how to establish a new university from scratch.
How did ACS influence your path?
IACS really solidified and focused my desire to pursue a life and career focused on social change. I originally intended on working for health-related or LGBTQ causes, but ended up pursuing work in education. I now believe that improving education is the best way to see the change I’d like to see in the world.
What attributes (personal or otherwise) were essential?
A bachelor’s degree was the only real requirement, but it was my volunteer and community work that really made me a strong candidate for the position. Also my thesis paper served as a great writing sample – showing that I had learned from various disciplines / “ways of knowing” and integrated what I learned into a new idea. References and connections from WWU professors was what got my foot in the door!
Reflecting on your time as a student, what was the best/most important/influential part of your experience?
The study abroad trip to Mexico was by far the most memorable experience in the ACS program and I highly recommend it (or other trips).
Really getting to know professors was the most positive and influential part of my time in the program. They offered academic and personal support that kept me not only in school, but engaged and excited about what I was learning.
Many of the most impactful learning experiences I had occurred outside the classroom through student organizations. My involvement made class material more interesting and introduced me to friends I remain close with many years after graduation.
What advice would you give to entering or current students?
Take advantage of all of the resources made available by WWU / Fairhaven and the Associated Studies. Get to know faculty members (especially in ACS) – they will offer guidance and support while your pursuing your degree at Western / Fairhaven and will serve as excellent references for jobs or graduate school someday!
Start thinking and talking about what interests you, what you want to study, and what you want to do with your degree / after graduation. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy 5 years at Western, but I probably could have completed my work in 4 years had I started thinking about where I was going a little earlier. One of the best ways to start is to meet with a professor you like, tell them about your interests and your plan and see if they can offer any helpful advice. Around my sophomore year I started talking to Larry Estrada about graduate school, asking him – do you think I could get into Columbia or NYU? His advice worked for me!
Please describe a typical day for you.
Any given weekday begins with coffee and the Rachel Maddow Show. I generally work from home (I recently relocated from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side of Manhattan) but occasionally I’ll work from the library at Teachers College or my company’s office. Since I’m working part time while I’m in graduate school the days are long and somewhat strange – my classes generally start after 5pm and end as late as 10pm – but actually, the ACS program introduced me to late evening classes many years ago, so it didn’t take too long to adjust to! /
When I’m not working, I try to enjoy the endless resources New York City has to offer – it’s really an ACS graduate’s playground – from museums and shows to simply riding the subway! I even get to see some fellow ACS grads that live in New York as well – all of whom are doing really interesting and diverse things with their degrees, from social work to tv/film production.
What does the future hold for you?
I hope to finish the neuroscience and education program at Teachers College / Columbia University with a knowledge base that would allow me to contribute to meaningful change and improvements in education, especially for schools, programs, and agencies that serve traditionally underserved populations.