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Campus News / News

Ashni’s Year in Review

07/29/2020 1:21 pm

As I near the end of my service year with AmeriCorps VISTA at Rockford University, I reflect on a year that was full of unpredictability, growth, and creation.

I arrived at Rockford University fresh from my undergrad studies, unfamiliar with the city of Rockford and the inner workings of smaller universities. At this new university in a new city, I began my new role as a VISTA. My job as a Vista entailed creating sustainable programs, attaining monetary and in-kind resources, and navigating between University departments. Ultimately, this role allowed me to expand on the skills gained from being an English and Spanish major at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

As a recent graduate, I was connected to the students by age and understanding. I began monitoring the success of low-income students and understanding RU’s demographics. From that student perspective, I articulated the need for change within the community and the university.

In that process of documenting and assessing need, RU’s forward-thinking team of faculty and staff supported me. Dr. Weaks-Baxter and Dr. Walker worked alongside me to aid students in-need. Through the Men of Color mentorship program (MCM) and the Rock Solid Success Workshop, I gave students the opportunity to seek help and grow through career fairs, workshops, and study sessions. Through the Jane Addams Center for Civic Engagement (JACCE), I built infrastructure for partnerships and volunteerism. The two scopes of my VISTA year coalesced in beginning a partnership with a local elementary school, strengthening the pipeline between K-12 and Higher Education.  

MCM and JACCE gave me power to understand a diversity of student experiences, analyze retention efforts, and innovate solutions to common barriers such as hunger and homelessness. By analyzing need for a food pantry on campus, partnering with Men’s Warehouse to give students access to professional ware, and connecting students to the community, I sought ways to give students equal opportunities.

With the many successes of the year came unconventional circumstances. COVID-19 brought a quick transition to the virtual, unveiling the once hidden inequities in technology. But as we moved service opportunities, achievements celebrations, and webinars to zoom, protests over racial injustice erupted across the country. These manifestations, again, unveiled the larger systemic discrimination.

Through each challenge, I navigated ways to problem-solve and think critically. During the move to virtual learning upon the pandemic, I put together a webinar showcasing success-tools; In response to the outcry of racial discrimination and injustice, I assisted the MCM group in drafting a statement and devising an action-plan; With the student’s need to continue service, I worked to create virtual volunteer opportunities. These real-world experiences impacted the way I think, act, and adapt on supporting students.  

As I’m at the end of my service year, I reflect on the memories made and their impact on my present and future. I know that Rockford University will always be with me, inspiring me to expand my reach and support those in need. And I hope RU does that for you, too.