Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"140 characters changed my life:" my interview with a Twitter movement phenom


One day, Angela Maiers, an acclaimed author, educator, and speaker, sent out a tweet with the hash tag "YouMatter" on Twitter. The hash tag started out as a way for Angela to espouse a philosophy - as we all do frequently on social media - that the world can be changed by those two simple words.

As of today, there have been over 388,000 tweets with the #YouMatter hash tag, and last year Angela was asked to give a TED talk.

After talking to Angela on the phone, I can confirm that she lives the #YouMatter philosophy every day. Because she didn't mean to start this movement. It happened organically because people connected with those two simple words. 

How often do you feel like you do not matter? How much sadness, heartache, violence, and high school/college dropouts happen because people feel like they don't matter? 

Those 140 characters have sparked a movement. A movement that I think is paramount to community college success - because you do matter. And I think we can all learn a lot from the woman behind that movement. I know I did. 

When Angela started college she was on track to pursue medicine. To put herself through college, she worked four jobs with children with special needs, families in crisis, and homeless teens. 

But as she moved forward to take the entrance exam for med school, her bosses in those jobs said: "I'd be a terrible doctor, and that I should be a teacher instead. I realized it was something I must do. While my family did not embrace it in the beginning, I finally understood what passion-driven work is. It's not doing something that's fun or you feel like you're good at, but it's doing something you must do. Asking me not to teach is like asking me not to breathe."

So Angela took the leap and pursued teaching. Her first job was preparing future undergraduate teachers. She held her university classes at a school so that her students "could be immersed in real experiences to see if its something they really want to commit to doing. Kids' lives are at stake. I wanted my students to make sure they really wanted this."

Angela has spent 14 years in the classroom working with almost every grade level. She concludes about education that "learning needs are the same no matter what grade you are in. Students need to be trusted, supported, believed in, pushed, and demonstrated to. Every learner needs time to play and make mistakes. And every learner needs coaching; its what teacher whispers in your ear not says in front that really makes the difference."

When I asked Angela what advice she had to share with college students she said: "Really recognize that your goal isn't to seek success, your goal is to seek significance. You can get a job and you can do work, OR you can pursue something that will make you feel that you matter, that you are essential, that you are contributing the best of who you are, and that is far more valuable than any other achievement you can get."

"When you lay your head on your pillow, ask yourself, did I do something that mattered today?"

Angela had her own challenging moment when she was asked to do a TED talk recently: "Even though I speak for a living, I had a panic attack," she said of the night before. "I watched my top favorite TED talks and I started feeling insignificant. At about 3am I decided I was going to call and say I can't do this."

"But then, I had to ask myself, how can you look people in the eye and tell them you matter and then not live it? If you don't believe that YOU are significant than there is no way you can help other people grow."

Angela did the TED talk, and the subsequent #YouMatter hash tag on Twitter indeed sparked a movement to remind us that "it is fundamental that we are essential and that we belong to something bigger than ourselves."

"Our greatest fear is the fear that we are insignificant.The moment you hear the words 'you matter,' it changes you. And it changes you more as the giver than the receiver."

I can agree with that. Working in a community college, I'll never forget the look in a student's eye the first time I told her about the talents and potential I saw in her. It was the first time I had really told someone how they mattered in such a direct way. It really took me by surprise, the light that grew behind her eyes.

So today, tell someone they matter. Watch the light brew. And as you do, grow the light behind your own eyes. The best way to feel like you matter, is to focus on helping others feel that way. 

And to conquer the high school and college drop out crisis, we desperately need more students like you, telling each other that you matter. 

You can follow Angela and the #YouMatter movement on Twitter. You can also learn more about her speaking, and check out her newest book

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” A recommended book by Dr. Tatum

I just finished reading the book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Tatum, PH.D., and had to share it with you.
In this book, Dr. Tatum explains racial identity development and unpacks how all people develop their racial identity in American society, especially in adolescence and in college.

Reading her book reminded me of my own racial identity development, for which college was the catalyst.

I am bi-racial: half White, half Puerto Rican. I like rice and beans and Taylor Swift. In high school, I never quite felt like I fully fit in with either racial group. When you’re half non-White, people usually consider you primarily the non-White race (in my case, Hispanic). But since I didn’t speak Spanish, I didn’t feel like I fully fit in (though of course that didn’t stop someone in the cafeteria once calling me a derogatory name for Hispanics).

But when I got to community college, two classes completely changed my perspective: Latin American Humanities and an Honors Seminar on Identity. 

In Latin American Humanities, I was immersed in the art, culture, and history of my Latino roots, and I identified strongly. I don’t remember the artist’s name, but I’ll never forget the painting that depicted a Puerto Rican family celebration. I recognized the scene, I saw myself in it, and I identified.

In the Honors Seminar on Identity, we were asked to get into identity groups and give two presentations: one on the stereotypes of our group, and the other on the barriers. It was a small class of only 12 people, but the groups started to form. The Black students made up a group, the LGBT students made up a group, the White students made up a group, the Hispanic students made up a group. I didn’t know where I belonged.

And then, all of a sudden, there was another multiracial student in the class who spoke up. And we formed a group together, unpacking what it meant to be multiracial in a society that still, as much as we’d like to think it doesn’t, places a lot of emphasis on racial identity.

And in the end, according to Dr. Tatum, we all need to unpack our own racial identity in a positive way. We need to discover it, own it, embrace it, and then move forward.

Dr. Tatum really emphasizes the power of positive role models in this development process. Who are we seeing on TV that “looks like us”? What is the message being portrayed? How do our parents communicate our racial identity to us? Who are our role models who share a similar racial identity?

I’ve also been reading a lot of books on the Millennial generation lately (people born 1982-2003), and generally speaking, we are a more accepting generation. We’ve grown up in a diverse world where Martin Luther King Jr. is an inspirational speech we watch in middle school and segregation is something we find shocking and - because of its horror – think happened much further in history than it actually did. We don’t place as much emphasis on race as previous generations. However, racial discrimination still very much exists.

And our generation is perfectly positioned to do something about it. However, we cannot do anything until we understand our own identity, the identity development of others, and the realities of the discrimination that exists in the world we live in today. 

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” reminded me of my own constant identity development as a biracial woman, and, more importantly, helped me gain a deeper understanding of and a behind-the-scenes look into the identity development of other people.  

As a part of the millennial generation, we can fall into the trap of thinking racial discrimination doesn’t exist anymore, or that since we “don’t see color” we don’t need to think about it.

But understanding who we are, where we come from, and what others experience is one of the best parts of college. It doesn’t happen automatically, though. We must seek those diversity experiences for ourselves. Dr. Tatum’s book is a great place to start.

Monday, May 28, 2012

From community college to Georgetown: defying stereotypes

Mark Svensson just graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Government and International Relations from Georgetown University, one of the world's leading and most highly selective universities. Mark is also a community college graduate. 

Mark is also an academic superstar who defies community college stereotypes and whose dedication and initiative makes him a great role model for all students looking to move forward in their lives. 

Mark's success has been featured in the Community College Times and the New York Times, and recently he shared with me a behind-the-scenes look of his success, just for you. Much can be learned and modeled. 

As one of seven children, Mark chose to attend Rockland Community College in New York; when Mark graduated high school he just wasn't sure where his life was going to go. "I was more unsure about my future than ever."

Mark had heard great things about RCC's nationally renowned Sam Draper Mentor/Talented Students Honors Program(MTS) and felt confident choosing community college.

Community college honors programs are incredible, and yet in my work in a community college admissions office, I often heard too many bright students shy away from honors programs because of fear. They were already intimidated enough by college and did not want to make it more difficult. Mark, however, was up for the challenge, and I encourage you to accept the challenge if it is ever offered. 

RCC's Sam Draper MTS program is known for its exceptionally high percentage of graduates who transfer to Tier 1 & Ivy League institutions. 

However, simply entering an honors program is not enough. Going to class and going home is not enough. In today's competitive academic world, you must stand out in order to be accepted into a Tier 1 or Ivy League institution. And Mark did just that.

While at community college Mark earned incredible awards and accolades. He was accepted to Phi Theta Kappa and was named NY State's 2010 New Century Scholar and chosen as an elite-member of the All-USA Community College Academic Team. He won the Rockland County Distinguished Service Award and a Congressional Certificate of Appreciation. 

He was also selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University 2010 meeting held by President Clinton, where he was recognized for his work on the issue of modern-day slavery, as well as an invitation from Dr. Jill Biden to attend the first ever White House Summit on Community Colleges. 

If you're like many students, you read the list of awards above and you feel insignificant. That is how most of us feel when we read the impressive bios of others. But as I hope you know these success-story posts are not about telling you how awesome someone is to make you feel less-awesome. They are meant to help you transform your attitude when you read the bios and stories of others to: hey, if they can do it, I can do it too!

Because you can. 

I asked Mark what motivated him to do the work that led to all of these incredible awards and his subsequent acceptance to Georgetown:

"I remember it like it was yesterday. During my first semester at RCC, my English 101 Honors professor Dr. Nancy Leech informed the class that we would be going to hear a lecture in the Cultural Arts Building instead of our normal class. What I perceived as relaxation away from class would soon turn into inspiration.
The speaker’s name was Simon Deng. Mr. Deng, hailing from the Sudan, was no ordinary man. Quickly into the lecture, we would learn of Mr. Deng’s plight as a refugee in southern Sudan where at the age of nine he was abducted and sold into slavery. For me, this was the first time I was aware slavery still existed today, and Mr. Deng reaffirmed that in fact there are over 27 million slaves’ today - more slaves than at any other point in human history.
Shocked by the reality of the situation, and the personal anguish Mr. Deng experienced early in life, the lecture closed on an inspirational note. Before finishing up, Mr. Deng emphatically told us all that despite the horrors of issues such as slavery, etc, it only takes one person to help make a difference.
From an uninvolved quiet student, the rest of my time at RCC would be devoted towards taking up Mr. Deng’s call and helping make a difference in the fight against modern-day slavery."
While a student at RCC Mark established the SUNY Rockland Anti-Slavery Committee. Under the banner "Be the Key to Freedom" he led efforts to combat the modern human slave trade in the U.S. by lobbying state officials in New York and urging them pass a resolution that aims to stem the flow of enslaved people into the country. 

According to Mark, "each year an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 people are brought to the U.S. to be traded as human slaves, with New York state functioning as one of the largest trafficking hubs. In 2009, the legislature of Rockland County passed a memorializing resolution co-authored by me and since then several other local town board's in Rockland have done the same."

As a sophomore Mark's work earned  him the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. where he spoke with Congressman John Lewis about advocacy and human rights. 

Mark's advice? "There is really no secret behind my success. No matter where someone attends school, how old they are, etc. amazing things can happen when an individual decides to commit and dedicate themselves to something.
When the speaker Simon Deng said 'it only takes ONE person to help make a difference,' my social conscience awakened, sparking my motivation to want to do more and do better with my life. The sky truly is the limit, and with commitment, dedication and hard-work your dreams can become a reality. You just need to take that first step."

While it seems like all of this happens overnight, Mark's story took place over four years. And while it seems like a lot, it truly does start with the small first steps. Choosing community college. Enrolling in the honors program. Joining Phi Theta Kappa. Showing up for class. Paying attention to a guest speaker. Taking action on your campus. Being that one person who makes a difference.

When you start in community college, as Mark says, "the sky is the limit."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Are you looking for a job, or for work?

When we get out of college we usually say we are looking for a “job.” In fact, this blog is called first “job” out of college. But have you ever head someone say “I’m looking for ‘work’”?

Looking for “work” is typically associated with people searching for blue-collar jobs. But I think looking for “work” is just the right attitude, and one that can help you in your job-search.

Because in its very phrasing, looking for “work” implies that you are willing to work, and aren’t as picky about what you get – you just want to work.

Looking for a “job” implies more of the title than the action. Looking for a job implies we are looking for a certain title, a certain status, certain benefits.

And while there’s nothing wrong with that, sometimes looking for that first job can be overwhelming and frustrating when we can’t seem to find that “right” title or fit.

There is a lot of growth that happens when we engage in hard work. And whether that hard work is exactly what you wanted to do out of college or not, there is a lot you can gain, and give.

So if you’ve been looking for a job for a while and are feeling lost and frustrated, try switching your mindset around for a few days and look for “work” instead. Think about what work you can do even when you are unemployed (e.g. volunteer work). And when you get a job, work. Work hard.

Because I think it’s easy to lose sight of that, myself included. Getting the job is only half the battle, really. It’s the work that happens before you get the job and after you get the job that really defines your future.

So even if you don’t have a job right now, have no fear – you have work. Work to search for that job. Work to discover who you are and what you want to do with your life. And work to chase. 

Never underestimate the power of your own hard work. You have a lot to offer.

Subscribe to the FIRST JOB summer series here to get each new post the second it goes live, as well as personalized help from me for your job search! =)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to be a successful TV news anchor: my interview with Amy Kaufeldt

Amy Kaufeldt has what many people might consider a dream job. It is a job that many desire, but few attain. Amy is a celebrated anchor on FOX 35 Orlando, and she is one of the nicest people I've ever met. 

After my book release this past March I ended up doing quite a few local and national television shows. When I waited in my first green room for my first show in Boston, I literally felt like I was in a hospital awaiting major surgery (i.e. I was terrified). But every time, it was people like Amy who put me at ease.

When I did my piece for FOX 35, they quickly rushed me from the green room to the studio, and put me in front of a camera, with the anchors at their desk far, far to my right. Up to that point all my interviews had been on a couch and I was able to meet the anchors first. This time, I was just facing a daunting camera while the mic was strung through my hair. Yikes.

After I did my bit it was time to go. I unhooked my mic and looked to find my purse, when all of a sudden I see Amy getting up from her news desk to come up to me. She grabbed both of my hands and said "thank you so much for coming on. That was so good, we are so happy to have you." She made me feel instantly welcome and warm. 

And then - I'll never forget this - the teleprompter that had been in front of me during my segment came on, and Amy was due for a voiceover. She quickly turned her head and read her piece like a pro. When she finished, she thanked me again and gave me a hug.

I learned so much from interviewing Amy a few weeks later, but I had to tell you this part because I think it sums up why she is as successful as she is. While some people think being on TV requires developing a certain "persona," Amy proves it's really all about being yourself, and caring deeply about what you do. 

Amy went to college at Miami University in Ohio. "I knew I wanted to go into Journalism right out of HS, and MU had a great journalism program. It was lesser known, but I knew I'd have a great opportunity to work for a national public radio station at the college."

Amy took advantage of that opportunity at her college right away. "I would get up at 3am and anchor and help produce the morning news, and then went to class. My college roommates would just be coming home when I was leaving to go to the station. They all thought I was crazy."

So many people think to be on TV all it takes is getting in front of a camera one day. Amy started honing her skills very early, and has been hustling ever since. As Amy said, "you really have to force yourself to learn beyond the classroom and get real world experience."

Amy also agrees that we all often need someone else in our lives to give us that extra push and to "find that person who is going go push you outside your comfort zone." For Amy, that person was the news director at the radio station, Bob Long; "he was willing to work with students and show them what it was going to be like in the real world." And then of course, it's up to you to follow the advice and "take the leap. If you want to succeed, you have to force yourself to be uncomfortable."

Like anyone I've talked to in media about their first job, they say that being willing to move anywhere and start small are the most important factors. 

"I sent tapes all over the country for an on air job. Great Falls Montana was my first offer. You really cannot be afraid to move if you want to be in broadcast journalism. Start in a small market, learn how to do everything, and really hone your skills."

Amy lived that mantra. At the small station in Montana she was to anchor five days per week and produce the entire show. "I had to roll feed tape and produce everything myself. I learned so much."

Amy then moved to Tennessee, and then to Oklahoma where she met her husband. An important reminder: "the pay is terrible in the beginning."

"Being willing to start small is the most important thing. So many people work their way up and want to start big. You have to be willing to pay your dues in a small town, making very little money."

When we graduate college we instantly forget this. We expect to make a great salary and to be at the top of our game in only a few years. It almost never happens this way, in any industry. 

After her extremely hard work in small markets, she got the call to anchor in Orlando, and has been with Fox 35 ever since. 

Amy had a lot of great advice to share.

What advice can you share that wished someone would have given you when you were in college? "I dont think you realize how technology and jobs are going to change throughout the years. It is daunting to keep up. I would have loved to have known that changes are rapid, they are coming, and you have to be able to adjust with those changes, otherwise you can no longer survive." In other words, the learning never stops, so honing your learning skills now in college will benefit you in the long run."

What advice do you have for students who might want to have an on-air job? "You have to be willing to work hard. Some people believe this business is all about the glamor of being on TV. What we do behind the scenes is hard work. We work crazy hours and long hours. We dont just show up for a show. We have to be accurate, fair, balanced, and ethical. Those are all big challenges."

"People think you just read a teleprompter and have someone buy nice clothes for you, but there is so much more to it than that.  When you find someone on TV that you really enjoy watching, you enjoy watching because you feel like you can relate to them and that they've let you into their lives, and that they are the same person on TV that they are in person. Engage and understand and have a relationship with viewers. If you try to put on an act, viewers can tell if you are not being yourself."

And as I mentioned before, Amy is is herself on and off camera. And she is an incredible role model for what it means to be willing to adapt, hustle every day, and start from the bottom. It takes time. But the rewards can be huge. 

You can find Amy on Facebook or follow her on Twitter

Special note: In the time since interviewing Amy (who works for a local Fox station in my community), I began a freelance relationship writing as an educational columnist for the community section of Fox News Latino (so excited!). Although this post wasn't written in any connection with my work with Fox, I wanted to make sure that I shared my relationship with the organization. I will also keep you posted with any new columns that I write on Fox News Latino - I am very excited to share! :) 

Monday, May 21, 2012

A 24-year old loses her husband, and learns how to keep moving (book review)

I didn’t read this book with the intention of writing about it. Most book reviews I’ve done for you are specifically for college success. Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor was originally a book I picked up just for me. A memoir – my favorite (for those of you who might not be a library-obsessed book lover like me, a memoir reads like a novel but is a true story of the author’s life).

Natalie and her beautiful son Kai
But upon turning the last pages of that book just a few minutes ago, I felt compelled to open up my laptop (late at night) and share this book with you. I just can’t keep it to myself; Natalie also sheds light on many of the themes at the heart of why I love community college students so much.

Signs of Life chronicles Natalie’s experience losing her husband to a carve boarding accident when she was twenty-four-years-old and 5-months pregnant with their son.

Twenty-four years old. Her husband. Who she had an incredible relationship with. Twenty-four…

When I first read that on the back of the book my heart sank. I am twenty-four, I thought. This isn’t supposed to happen to twenty-four year olds. Once I read the book I also noticed that she and her husband got married on the exact same day, to the year, that I got married.

My heart literally ached.

This book takes you to the depths of Natalie’s aching and incomprehensible loss. The memoir was built from her actual diary entries, and there are many moments where it is so, so very raw. It physically hurts to read at times because it is so honest, and that is what makes it, to my mind, such a brilliant book and Natalie, a truly talented writer.

What is most surprising about the book is that, despite it’s heart-wrenching topic, it’s not actually what I would classify a “sad” book. Natalie brings lightness and a humor when you least expect it (she has a down-to-earth made-up Fairy Mom Godmother that helps her survive as a new mom that is brilliantly, laugh-out-loud, funny), and she takes the reader through her grief process with entertaining anecdotes and insights from her profession as a high school English teacher.

The moments she has with her students and the new ways in which she relates to them after going through such an intense hardship herself is incredible. She reads and teaches Gatsby in a new way. Kafka’s Metamorphis. Macbeth. Of Mice and Men. Grapes of Wrath. The Catcher in the Rye. As a self-proclaimed HS English nerd, I fell in love with this.

There is a moment in class where Natalie has her students practice how to create an outline using an article about how and why teens succeed (and don’t succeed) in high school. One aspect of the article troubles the students: the author said research found that “low-income students were statistically low achievers because they get to school with a lower vocabulary than their higher-achieving, higher income peers” (p.79).

Their hands shoot up and Natalie has, what I would like to call because I’m super-into Boy Meets World right now, a Feeny moment (though Natalie has more of that young-teacher-Mr.Turner kind of vibe).

All of the students are engaged in one of those rare moments in high school when you are really mulling over information that strikes a chord – and you really want to figure it out. The students debate on whether where you come from and the circumstances you are born into effect your opportunities, in essence, effect your American Dream.

Natalie blows me away in the way she handles this classroom experience. She facilitates the students to debate, draw their own conclusions, and come into their own understanding, many for the first time, about social class and opportunity.

Natalie could sense some students were really troubled by this statistic, and seemed to be wondering if they would really be able to succeed, or if their background already doomed them, no matter how hard they tried. The conversation evolves into the statistics of success if grow up with only one parent. Natalie could obviously relate.

“[Knowing my son will only grow up with one parent] doesn’t scare me and it certainly does not make me believe that my son will be a low achiever. I think statistics are just that – statistics. Numbers that represent a student that someone performed on a group of people. But they certainly are not my destiny, nor are they yours. So if you come from a low-income house and you look at this article and it makes you mad or it makes you think that you are going to prove it wrong, that’s good. That’s amazing, actually. That means that you are already a step ahead of the game and that you probably will be a high achiever, despite what this article says about you. Because, remember, it’s not even talking about you, it’s talking about people like you. Only you can decide what you are going to do.”

This theme of how your circumstances – especially those you did not choose – affect your future is poignantly threaded throughout this book. And it made me think about you.

Because as the tagline of this blog says, going to community college doesn’t mean you couldn’t get in anywhere else. The stigma is just wrong. Going to community college may mean you had some unfair circumstances stacked up against you. But going to community college means you’re still going. You’re still moving. And nothing is going to stop you.

That is what Natalie inspires in this book, and I highly recommend it.

In closing I have to leave you with two of my favorite quotes from the end of the book:

1 -“I’ve reached a place where I can say that grief is not about recovery or resolution or being fully healed. It’s about living without someone, but still embracing life. It’s about understanding that time is not as linear as we thought, but perhaps it’s more like laying pictures one on top of another” (p.305).

2- Natalie was an athlete. A year after her husband died she competed in a triathlon and, while running thought to herself, “I thought this part of me was dead. I am so happy to know it isn’t. I guess it was just dormant. And dormant and dead are two very different things” (p.301).

Never be afraid to unleash parts of you that time makes dormant. Never be afraid to defy the odds. And never underestimate the power of connecting with a brilliant book. There is nothing like it.

Taylor, N. (2012). Signs of life: a memoir. New York: Broadway Paperbacks.