This past winter, I participated in the Dream Project at the University of Washington. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a program that focuses on supporting high school juniors and seniors with pretty much anything they need: we can help them with filling out the FAFSA (or WASFA if they’re undocumented students), applying for scholarships, or anything else they might need. I really liked the model of this since it’s focused on student-to-student support, and the idea that every student has the right to higher education.
I’m glad that I received the opportunity to work with high school students at Tyee High School because 1) I’m somewhat familiar with the area, and 2) I rarely get to focus on the education pipeline of K-12 students. It encouraged me to think critically about my own experience in higher education, particularly because Tyee was vastly different than the private schools I attended. I have spent my entire life in Federal Way, Washington, which isn’t necessarily known for its schools. Because my parents are relatively affluent, I was able to attend the few private schools in the city and commuted 30 miles a day to attend Bellarmine Preparatory, a private Catholic school Attending Bellarmine enabled me to have some of the best teachers of my academic career to date (and some of them are the reason that I performed well in the Chemistry series at the UW, write with a semblance of confidence, and can tutor my friends in pre-Calculus). This education, not to mention access to top-notch instructors and AP classes, helped me succeed in college when I thought I would fail out. In a word, I was prepared even though I lived most of my freshman and sophomore year in fear that somebody would walk through the door and tell me that I needed to live because I wasn’t ready and didn’t belong in college. I had heard all those statistics about how 70% of high schoolers weren’t prepared for college and thought, doesn’t that include me?
But I know that I’m incredibly privileged to have the choices to receive an amazing education at private schools. My parents had the financial means to send me to a school that changed my life. I’m not saying that schools in Federal Way aren’t amazing or rigorous or able to prepare its students for college – I just think that my low self-confidence might not have fared well at a sink-or-swim education system. I needed teachers who looked me in the eye and said, “you’re a stronger writer” and “I think you would do well in an honors course” because I didn’t see this potential in myself.
The other day, my friends and I were talking about how having a really good teacher can change your life – I shared my experiences working with Frances McCue, a UW professor in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program and Department of English. At the end of my first class with her, I thanked her for inspiring me with the works of Pacific Northwest writers. In response, she said, “You are going to be an asset to every workplace you enter” and these words haven’t stopped reverberating through my mind. If this amazing instructor and writer saw potential in me, I must be able to create real change & talk about things in a way that piques the curiosity of others. Maybe that’s the reason I still write on this blog: I believe that I something meaningful to share.
The same goes for mentors: Mentors can inspire us to see ourselves as inherently talented, valuable, and intelligent. They can nurture us and help us find opportunities to grow. And if we’re lucky, these mentees will support an up-and-coming leader and share the lessons they’ve learned. As a mentor for the Dream Project, I’m not sure if I affected anyone this much, but I hope that I was able to support students get through the tedious stuff, even if it’s creating a FAFSA ID or finding the right scholarships for them. Maybe I do this in other ways too: by meeting with my mentee in Society of Women Engineers (who I love so dearly!) and learning about her journey to find the right engineering field. Or by helping students apply to the right major and take classes that help them develop their skills set as aspiring designers or researchers or healthcare professionals. At any rate, mentorship and teaching can happen anywhere, and good mentorship should always be seen as a two-way street.
Being in the Dream Project was also significant for me because I rarely get to learn about how to be a better educator through formal training, but the Dream Project was a great way to find some relevant reads about equity and justice, DACA, and other policies and challenges that relevant for students. I’m really grateful for this. One quote from the reading that stood out to me was:
Inclusion asks, “Has everyone’s ideas been heard?” Justice responds, “Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?”
I know that this reflection has a lot of different pieces, but that’s because higher education is a really big part because it informs who I am and where I’m going since my long-term goal is to be an academic advisor. This experience has confirmed that education is a fundamental human right, and I hope that every student meets a mentor or instructor who inspires them to keep moving forward, even if they don’t believe in themselves. It’s also a reminder that I shouldn’t take my own education for granted. I should use it as a tool to support other students and leaders, and I hope I can do that in everyday ways as a course assistant, mentor, and writing tutor.