This month, we are highlighting the importance of service and community by recognizing some College Possible alumni who have dedicated their time to service through the US Navy, AmeriCorps and Peace Corps.
It was an unusually warm September morning when I boarded a United Airlines flight from the Minneapolis International Airport to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. From the airport, a group of fifty or so other Navy recruits and I were bused to Navy Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois. The next 72 hours were a blur and I can no longer recall all the faces of the other recruits in my division. Over the course of the next four years, I would traverse two oceans and visit four different countries. My experience in the Navy was exhilarating and when my commitment with the Navy came to an end, I took advantage of the Department of Veterans Affairs Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33).
My transition from the Navy to college had been just as abrupt as my transition from high school to the Navy. I left the Navy on a Friday and attended my orientation the following Monday. Even though I was only four years older than my classmates, I felt worlds apart from them – and everyone else for that matter. My first year out of the Navy was full of anxiety and fear. I had trouble reintegrating back into civilian and student life. The University of Minnesota offered a Veterans Transition Center (VTC) for its student veterans. The center offered free printing and other helpful resources. It was much needed during my first year. Four and a half years after starting at the University of Minnesota, I graduated from the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Science with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition.
I was the third oldest in my family. Both of my older siblings also graduated from the University of Minnesota. The thought of attending the University of Minnesota following my Naval service was never a question. Although I don’t work in medicine like I had originally planned, I currently work in bio-tech. Out of high school, I was not ready for college, so I decided on the Navy. However, I certainly couldn’t have pursued the professional career path that I am on right now without first pursuing my degree from the college. Both have helped mold me into the person I am today.
Some unfamiliar people came into my 10th grade class. They walked in wearing their green Admission Possible t-shirts, pieces of paper in hand, and started talking to us about college. I hadn’t really thought about college seriously until that moment. I knew I wanted to go to college because that’s what my parents had wanted for me and my younger brother ever since we immigrated to this country in 1998. However, I didn’t know how to get to this destination that was so important to my parents who’d never attended college. My parents’ dream was to have us succeed in this country, and they were sure that college was the way to obtain that success. Thus, when one of the speakers said that 100 percent of Admission Possible students get into college and 98 percent go to college, I was ecstatic. Truthfully, they got me at the 100 percent statistic because I didn’t even know what college would want to accept me at that point, but of course the 98 percent statistic helped me realize that they would help me get to college too. I immediately signed up because I wanted that for myself and my family.
While deliberating on what to do post-college graduation, I had a few options in front of me. I could go serve with Peace Corps, or serve with College Possible. With the options in front of me, I was seriously considering both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. I decided to serve with AmeriCorps because I wanted to give back to the organization that had changed the trajectory of my life when I was in high school.
My College Possible coaches and the other students in the program were the people that kept me grounded and focused on graduation day and optimistic about my future. Their work meant so much to me, my family and my community that I felt it was my duty to go back and to give what I could to them in the capacity that I could. Thus, I came back to serve as a coach at Columbia Heights High School from 2011-2013 and had the most rewarding time of my life. I met amazing students, worked with such passionate coworkers, and gained so much knowledge that I would be able to stand on my own two feet no matter where I went after that position. All in all, I came to College Possible to give back, but again, ended up gaining something much more instead.
My service with the Peace Corps started in high school when my College Possible coach, Erika Huss, brought in Peace Corps bags to an ice breaker activity.
As a refugee girl and the oldest of five siblings, I have always felt like I was never taught to have big dreams and goals in life. I grew up living under the poverty line so my family did not have much. I was often reminded that, after high school, one of my responsibilities was to get a job to help support the family. So that was my plan—work.
It was because of Admission Possible (now College Possible) and the amazing coach I had, that opened my eyes to the endless possibilities. Besides learning about life after high school, I learned about life beyond the United States. My coach, Erika, brought some of her extra Peace Corps bags and gave it to our group. That sparked conversations about her services in the Peace Corps.
Listening to Erika share her stories amazed me. I was amazed that she was a young woman, not married, traveling by herself to another country—a country where there was no family or friends—to work with strangers and to make an impact on their lives. It was then that I knew I could and would do something similar someday.
This was why I decided to join the Peace Corps. I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to do something different and to challenge myself. More importantly, I wanted to serve and make a difference, on behalf of my country. Lastly, I wanted to prove to myself that even a girl who grew up in poverty can serve, as long as I was given the opportunity.
My service with the Peace Corps began in August 2010 as I traveled with over 170 Americans to the Philippines, the country I called home for 27 months. I served as a Community Family Youth Worker. I worked in a co-ed residential facility that helped provide educational, social and spiritual support to youth who were abandoned, neglected or homeless. Joining the Peace Corps was one of the most challenging experiences I had ever encountered. The experiences were emotionally and mentally draining, but it challenged me to grow in ways that I never thought I could. I learned how privileged I was as an American, how my 27 months overseas impacted the youth I worked with and really understood what it means to be an ambassador for America.
I am a firm believer that the universe works in ways to guide you to where you need to be. It was my experience in College Possible that connected me to the Peace Corps, which has led me to different opportunities in my life, that I feel I would not have had if it were not for my service in the Peace Corps. I was able to meet people and build a network called the Peace Corps family. This has provided me with different resources that has helped me land my current job with the federal government.