My Kindness Fellow Summer Internship of 2017
I volunteered to join my mentor and ND alum, Ret. LTC Jason Mims, in his ongoing efforts to highlight academic excellence in our community. The MIMS Institute was founded to promote Academic Excellence on San Antonio's East Side. Its mission is to "Motivate Individual Minority Students" to prepare for the nation's top universities.
As the MIMS Institute Kindness Fellow, I was responsible for coordinating weekly academic excellence fellowships. This included sending out invitations, deciding what would be on the agenda, and leading the discussions. For eight weeks, I mainly met with a group of students from Sam Houston High School at a local restaurant on Wednesday evenings. However, I issued an open invitation to each fellowship that included students, community leaders, parents, school district employees and any like-minded individuals. The purpose of these fellowships was three-fold. First, was the promotion of academic excellence by recognizing some of the top students at Sam Houston High School. Secondly, it was to assist the MIMS Institute to market Tier One Universities on the East Side. And, the third part was to strengthen and support students on the rise.
My freshman year at the University of Notre Dame was a year of personal growth. I discovered that my humility is the strengthening force that enables me to tackle challenges that I otherwise would not consider. At the end of my school year, I brought that knowledge of myself home with me. It was something that helped me through a unique Summer internship.
For each fellowship, I created a short icebreaker. I wrote about myself, my thoughts about college, and other relevant topics each week. These short icebreakers were meant to facilitate friendly group discussions. Before each fellowship, I decided what topics would be discussed and created an agenda, which I would send via email to all those invited. Everyone present at the fellowships had an opportunity to read in advance and was welcome to share any thoughts or comments about what they had read. Afterwards, i wrote outcome documents summarizing some of what was discussed, as well as any actions that fellowship attendees agreed to take.
Every time I reflected on what I would discuss at the fellowships, I placed myself in my past junior/senior shoes in high school. My thoughts converged on the things I wished I would have asked, or the advice I wished I had from those that had recently gone to college before me. The path to college is not clear cut and can be very different for each person. I feel grateful that there were people very close to me that could guide me part of the way. At the fellowships, some topics were directly related to my experience on what I call, "the not-so yellow brick road" to college. I was my goal to let rising seniors know that I knew how they felt, and had felt the same anxiety of the unknown. I would like to think that I have made the difference for them by providing an outlet to voice those concerns, but also a helping hand.
Each week, I was surprised by how receptive the students were to the information that I had to share. They were attentive and engaged. Not only that, the students were willing to share information with one another and listen to viewpoints different from their own. I feel that the overall exchange of information made a positive impact on everyone that attended. These fellowships created a platform where everyone could voice their ideas and be heard. It was also a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other.
Another aspect that surprised me was the turnout each week. When I started the fellowships, I did not expect so many to be interested or to even attend. The summer break is usually a time when families take time away, so I assumed that students and parents would be unable to make it due to trips or other obligations. The fact that community leaders were interested enough to take time from their busy schedules to attend was the most encouraging part of the fellowships. The largest fellowship during the eight weeks numbered around 20 people. I value the fact that everyone decided to share their time with me and were open to what I had to offer.
As Kindness Fellow, I consistently had contact with important community leaders, including local politicians and San Antonio Independent School district (SAISD) representatives, via email. Occasionally, I would meet them in person at the fellowships or at other community events. Meeting with these individuals was way outside my comfort zone. While I had known some of the fellowship invitees from my alma mater, I had never crossed paths before with people such as the District 2 Councilman, Mr. Shaw, or the SAISD Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Dow.
This internship gave me the opportunity to speak with community leaders I would not have met otherwise. It was such an amazing, empowering experience. My voice mattered to these individuals. In addition, I learned more about local politics, and about the issues that most affect the East Side. I gain a deeper understanding of the strategies to be implemented in our community. Many of the people I spoke to want to change the East Side by focusing on jobs, transportation, and more. I feel that this approach is a step in the right direction.
Community leaders are often unaware of the great potential that exists within the school system in the East Side. I brought to their attention students that are high achieving. Education is not something that is often discussed on the East Side. There is a low expectation for young adults that graduate from high school. I believe that I created a path to awareness for those community leaders by introducing them to students that care about their education and want to do better for themselves. This was a chance for policymakers to see what is happening within their community firsthand, while connecting with the younger population they serve. I hope that targeting a few comminity leaders will help change the way education is viewed on the East Side in the future. A good education is a powerful tool. Cabale students should have a changce to take advantage of what the top national universities offer.
Besides the networking aspect of my internship, one of my duties entailed creating informational brochures, banners, and flyers. This was very important to me because it gave me an opportunity to delve into graphic design. I gained some beginner;s skills into my possible future career. In the creation of the brochures, I was expected to learn about topics relevant to the mission of the MIMS Institute. To make documents, I had to consider how to best display the information. It had to be presented in an appealing way, but the design had to remain simple enough to keep the information understandable. Colors, fonts, and arrangement of content all factored into the design process. Some of what I learned during my past experiences working at previous internships was very useful here, including utilizing colors and space effectively to present information in an appealing way.
I feel that this experience has reaffirmed my chosen career path. Working with computers and design software is something that I enjoy. Not only that, this internship has given me a chance to begin building a graphic design portfolio. Some of my best work for the MIMS Institute can be showcased when I begin applying to other internships. Good graphic designers are in high demand. All companies need capable people to put out marketing materials. Websites, social media, logos, and more are also an important part of a company's identity. This unique Kindness Fellow experience, alongside my portfolio, will help me become a more competitive candidate in today's design market. I am looking forward to continuing to work with design as I learn more about the art industry.
One of the special projects that I assisted with was fundraising for a Sam Houston High School 2017 graduate. Tierra Starks, Salutatorian of her class, was accepted to Pomona College in California. She is making history as the first student in my alma mater to attend that institution. However, she and her family had a financial hurdle to overcome. Some aspects of the fundraising efforts for Tierra were my responsibility.
I helped attract attention to Tierra's story by speaking to community leaders, passing out brochures and by telling her story to various news sources such as the Rivard Report (an online local newspaper) and the San Antonio Observer. Also, I worked on a promotional Facebook post to encourage donations to Tierra's GoFundMe. Because of these efforts, some donations were collected, lessening the burden on Tierra and her family. I felt that Tierra was a great student that would thrive at Pomona. Financial hardships did not stop me from attending Notre Dame, so I wanted to help ensure that finances would not be too much of a burden on Tierra and her family. I am glad that I had this opportunity to help a fellow Sam Houston High School alum and rising college student.
Fundraising is an area I had little to no experience in. Perhaps, I had some preconceived ideas and assumptions on what fundraising entailed. In my mind, a fundraiser was a bake sale or other physical event meant to raise money for a cause. Working on the Tierra's fundraising efforts introduced me to the world of crowdfunding, soliciting donations, and petitioning sponsors. I did not expect it to be so difficult to attract attention to such a worthwhile cause. Because Tierra was a high achieving student, I assumed that people would be willing to help her achieve her next educational success by contributing to the fundraiser. That was not the case. Despite the effort put into promoting Tierra, both on and offline, the number of donations received mas much lower than what we all expected.
While many great things happened throughout my Kindness Fellow internship, the road was not always smooth. One major obstacle I encountered was difficulty attracting attention to the positive things happenings in my community. Shootings and other violent events on the East Side are often shown in the media and are the center of attention. Unfortunately, positive things, such as East Side students attending Tier one universities, go unnoticed. Another hurdle I had to overcome was getting responses from my fellowship invitees. Sending an email and waiting for a RSVP response was often not enough to get an accurate head count. I had to find other ways to get replies from those invited, including creating an even on Facebook and texting invitees individually.
By leading fellowships throughout the summer, I helped the MIMS Institute work towards their goal. I shared my experiences at Notre Dame, a Tier One University, with students from my alma mater. Doing this encouraged students and parents to consider options for colleges that they may not have considered otherwise. Students could share their thoughts about college and had a chance to ask for help with the college application process. Community leaders got a better sense of what problems are affecting their communities today. Awareness of Tier One universities among the community was raised. I have faith that all three of these things combined will change the educational landscape in the community over time.
Overall, this internship experience has given me more confidence when addressing large groups as well as individuals in positions of power. I feel that I am more comfortable with sharing my ideas with others. The fact that my voice made a difference in the lives of a few students will continue to empower me during my time at Notre Dame. My written communications skills also improved. I had little to no experience drafting formal emails. After corresponding with leaders within my community, my emails sound more refined and professional.
This summer was very insightful for me. I feel less apprehensive and more comfortable in my ability to succeed in college and the world beyond. Communication is something that is valued in the design industry, especially when working in groups. I have taken the first steps to becoming a strong communicator, and will continue to practice this skill in the future.
My work this summer ties well into Notre Dame's commitment to service. I am the only current Notre Dame student working to promote academic excellence and Tier One Universities on the East Side. By sharing my experiences during fellowships, I am giving back to my community in a meaningful way. My contribution is valued because I could show students that attending a Tier One university is not impossible. Many students believe that they cannot attend places like Harvard or Notre Dame because of financial issues or other circumstances. I am proof to these students that they can attend Top National universities, despite being from a low-income side of town.
I made the experience of going to a school away from home seem less scary by discussing aspects of college life. I understand how many of these students feel. Choosing a university can be very overwhelming. However, these students need to realize that they are not alone throughout this life changing process. There are people in the community that care about their education and are willing to guide them along the way.
---Yahterie-Anne Sykes Ortiz