2010s

  • Thumbnail for USGS Research Supervisor and USEPA Alumni
    Jay Colingham 2012 2013 New Orleans

    In 2009, I started graduate school in New Orleans. I shared a house with a classmate and her boyfriend and eventually her husband, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in the city. That year I learned a lot about AmeriCorps and befriended a dozen other volunteers giving back to the community and continuing the efforts to rebuild New Orleans and help with poverty. One of my close high school friends moved to the city to serve as a VISTA at an organization my school peers volunteered at, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. This organization was facilitating fact based conversations between big oil and local communities living at the fences of the state refineries. After graduating in 2011, I secured the 2012-2013 role my high school friend had served in and continue their efforts to help communities, stop systemic racism, poverty, environmental inequality, and make a lot of friends. We monitoried petrochemical accidents around Louisiana, oversaw air quality monitoring equipment, organized tools for communities and helped plan community events, and provided scientific support for people to address some of the indicators of stressors to socio-economic status. While in this role, I was asked to join another fledgeling NGO in Austin Texas focused on rural water user systems as their founding AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and the program manager for their three initial programs. I started that role and worked with a team of 6 very capable VISTAs. Together, we developed the initial organization, web sites, branding, an online training program, and a veterans scholarship program for water and wastewater treatment.

    Roughly 6 months into my term, I was asked to join the USEPA in San Francisco to work on tribal Clean Water Act programs. This position was extended to me due to my noncompetitive eligibility earned from my year of service in New Orleans through AmeriCorps VISTA! I moved to Oakland California and worked with tribes throughout California, northern Nevada, and western Utah. While there, I had an opportunity to conudct academic research training in North Carolina at a USEPA research facility. After 4 years, I transferred to the USEPA office in Chicago to work on the Great Lakes National Program Office, which oversees all restoration and environmental monitoring of the Great Lakes in the US and coordinates with the Canadian counterparts. Here, I oversaw $50 million in funding annually to Great Lakes programs with federal agencies, states, counties and cities, tribes, and NGOs. This role was a dream come true in my ability to work as a shift supervisor on the Research Vessel Lake Guardian, provide program and project management, write policy documents, and support a mission I truly believe in. It didn't hurt that the team there is full of dedicated, ahrd workers! For a few months, I was able to serve as a supervisor for a team overseeing contracts and the database of all our scientific information (many decades worth!). There, I reaffirmed a passion for leadership and team motivation. 

    After over two years in that role, I was offered a position as a branch supervisor overseeing three research laboratories in Boulder Colorado for the US Geological Survey Water Mission Area. I started that position in December of 2019 and am there to this day! I work with teams in my three research laboratories and help with safety and security concerns for all of the labs in our Boulder facility. AmeriCorps VISTA truly made this career path possible thanks to the ability to gain non-competitive eligibility for my time in service.

  • Alumni story
    Sudeepto Chakraborty 2019 2020 San Francisco, CA

    Ms. Adrian Owens had basically set me loose at the Education, Employment & Training Center (EETC) at Success Centers. I suspect the receding hairline and the greying beard had something to do with it. So when Rey LaChaux approached me about a learning management system (LMS) to deliver the Code on Point curriculum, I thought I might have the chance to write code. Code on Point is a program offered at Success Centers to transition aged youth (16﹣24), giving them access to opportunities in the tech space. I was thrilled at the prospect of applying my training and expertise to a VISTA role. After doing some research on LMS, however, I anticlimactically concluded that I would be re-inventing the wheel. Thus I decided to go with Canvas, a well-established LMS in academia, also used at the University of San Francisco (USF) where I am the VISTA campus liaison. Rey enthusiastically approved my recommendation, and went on paternity leave for three months.

    I kept mostly busy in the interim. After getting involved in some necessary, and some unnecessary ideological disputes with certain colleagues, I finished writing up the math curriculum for the Green Construction Program at Success Centers. Following a brief period of thumbs-twiddling, I decided to focus on the assets-mapping project with Engage San Francisco at USF which entailed mapping out assets, such as buildings, spaces, organizations, and institutions in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco. While I was scrubbing the extant assets-mapping data, I collaborated with Liz Jackson-Simpson and Vivian Faustino-Pulliam on the Community Partnership Innovation Fund (CPIF) grant application to conduct an entrepreneurship workshop at Success Centers. Liz requested that I write up the history of collaboration between Success Centers and USF as part of that grant application, and so I did with help from Ms. Adrian. Then I proofread the whole application, and pestered Vivian with sundry suggestions.

    From time to time I would help with math tutoring at the Early Morning Study Academy (EMSA) at Success Centers, and also attend a weekly case conference led by Maria Rinaldi at EETC. During this time Teandra Johnson expressed the need for a Cantonese interpreter at EMSA, and I subsequently met and communicated this need to Kim Chan, a Cantonese speaker, who graciously accepted the role. Soon after my office was moved to the Career Center, the CPIF application was approved, and Success Centers was awarded 5000 USD. Encouraged and emboldened by this, I applied on behalf of Success Centers to be the recipient of retired desktop computers that were being donated by Information Technology Services at USF, and consequently Success Centers was awarded 8 Dell OptiPlex 3020 SFF desktop PCs. When Rey returned from his paternity leave, I was completing a proposal for creating info-session and orientation slide decks for Success Centers, and was also in the process of formulating a case for creating a Chief Information & Technology Officer role at Success Centers.

    In the meantime, I had finished scrubbing and updating the assets-mapping data. Nolizwe Nondabula and I decided to reach out to Education Technology Services at USF seeking guidance on visualization tools for the assets-mapping data, and on Canvas tech/admin support for Code on Point (CoP). That’s how we met Daniel Perez, who gave us a crash course on Tableau, and also floated the idea that CoP could be taught as an open access course at USF. I immediately emailed the Computer Science chair at USF, and also relayed this possibility to Rey who was simultaneously elated and alarmed. Elated because of the possibility of a significantly wider impact, and alarmed because of the less-than-enthusiastic feedback from the graduating CoP cohort. I heroically offered to take on the mantle of instructor, only to quickly disrobe and humbly take on the behind-the-scenes role of instructional designer. The reasons will become apparent in what follows.

    CoP had a partial syllabus, had next to no course material and no structure, no permanent classroom, the instructors were disgruntled and basically winging it, and the new cohort was due to start in a few weeks. The first few items we achieved consensus on was to delay the start date of the program, and to procure a permanent classroom. The next thing that happened was that as soon as I was proclaimed the team lead for CoP, we lost one of the lead instructors. He described the situation as being “like watching my girlfriend going out with another man”⏤CoP being the ‘girlfriend’, and I the new ‘boyfriend’. At the time I expressed amusement at the analogy, but had I explained to him that his girlfriend was malnourished, and that she was not dating another man, but rather consulting a doctor, would he have stayed? Not being a Success Centers staff, I was a team lead without any real authority, tasked with leading a reluctant team. 

    Notwithstanding, I pointed the way, and the CoP team complied with decreasing resistance, and increasing energy and numbers. Rey, Dawood Marion and Quincy Reid were there from the outset, and then came Glen Ortiz-Cisneros, a computer scientist with the soul of an artist. We started to have meetings, brainstorming sessions, task assignments, deadlines, and demos. We began creating a curriculum matrix, outlines of topics, daily outlines, list of equipment, 3D models of motherboards, and even the dreaded lecture slides. We had agreements, and we had arguments. Eventually, out of the nebula emerged class structure and three distinct modules: the IT, Design, and Web Development (Web Dev) modules which gradually made their way into Canvas. I created a CoP folder on OneDrive which acquired organization, and began to fill up with course materials, meeting minutes, project and workflow management documents, and other fruits of CoP teamwork. On my advice, Rey and Liz paved the way for Valerie Knight to take ownership of the IT module. Shortly afterwards, Joaquin Rinaldi started offering pedagogic advice and creating course content, and Jakari Montgomery began helping with the slides. 

    Talks with USF about CoP began to gather momentum as Nolizwe and I persuaded Karin Cotterman and David Donahue at the McCarthy Center to take the discussion up the USF hierarchy. Then COVID-19 struck, stay-at-home orders were issued, USF imposed a system-wide budget freeze, Nolizwe resigned, and the talks faltered and stalled. But CoP mutated into a new strain, and transformed into a synchronous online course with live video lectures. This was made possible thanks to an Instructure-Microsoft collaboration that integrated Teams within Canvas. I had to give the CoP team a crash course, in addition to one-on-one consultations on the use of Teams and Canvas. Following our example many of the Success Centers programs were moved online. 

    Eventually the time came for CoP to roll out, and Success Centers welcomed its current cohort and the program was launched. Valerie commenced teaching the IT module, and started submitting slides to me for review. Meanwhile, we decided to excise the Sketch curriculum out of the Web Dev module and transplant it into the Design module, where we all concurred it properly belonged. We also agreed to replace the MEAN stack with the MERN stack in the Web Dev module, since React is steadily becoming the front-end framework of choice. Dawood, Quincy, and Jakari rapidly redesigned the whole Design module; Glen, Joaquin and Jakari churned out Web Dev slides for the front-end and version control curriculum; I rotated between watching LinkedIn Learning tutorials on the MERN stack, making them freely available to the CoP team, and creating the outline for the MERN stack curriculum; and Quincy and Nelson Ramos (a later addition to the CoP team, and currently also a CoP participant) worked on producing lecture and activity content for the MERN curriculum.

    Now my service term is nearing its end. CoP is in its 9th week, the students have taken the CompTIA ITF+ certification exam, the Design module is almost through, and the Web Dev module about to commence. I am gradually relinquishing all responsibility to the CoP team. Joaquin is replacing me as the instructional designer, and under his able leadership the team is gliding towards the finish line. Insanely enough, we are also interviewing candidates for the full-stack instructor position for the Web Dev module, with Rey and Dawood leading the search effort...and I have just received word that preparations are underway to onboard Jason Davis, the new full-stack instructor! CoP in its current incarnation is a testament to this team’s adaptive and creative willpower. Phase 1 of CoP is nearing completion, phase 2 (project based learning) and phase 3 (subsidized employment) are still in the making. CoP and the team will continue to thrive in my absence.

    Before I leave, I have to create a USF blog/website for David Holler’s book, Changemakers. And last but not least, as per Ms. Adrian’s request, I have to submit a portfolio of my accomplishments during my VISTA service term to whom it may concern. This blog will help, so thank you Leslie Lombre for prompting me to write it all down. 

    The work undone, there’s no reprieve,

    Thus bit by bit, this web I weave,

    And bytes to go before I leave,

    And bytes to go before I leave.

  • Alumni story
    Chaketha Samilton 2018 2020 Oklahoma City

    I began serving in  2018. I had a medical emergency so I only served 5 months. I just started a new assignment May 2020. I'm happy to have the opportunity once again.

  • Alumni story
    Stephany Medina 2019 2020 Virginia, Minnesota

    Joining AmeriCorps VISTA meant taking a leap of faith for me. I was able to land a wonderful VISTA position with St. Louis County Public Health in Northern Minnesota focusing on Opioid Prevention. I knew I wanted to be in public health, but the opioid epidemic seemed like such an overwhelming health concern to tackle.

    My early days of service involved a lot of research and trainings about the multitude of layers involved in the opioid epidemic and how to administer the opioid overdose reversal drug, Narcan. I built partnerships with community members and organizations working towards the same goals and I was proud of all the action taking place in my community; however, I didn’t quite know where I fit into the strategic plan. When National Take Back Day neared, I knew this event promoting safe medication disposal would be a great place to start.

    I was able to utilize my research, partnerships, and health promotion experience to inform community members about the importance of removing unused medications from the household and educating them on where to find collection sites around the county. After the event, the Sheriff’s Department informed me that we more than doubled the amount of medication collected from the previous year, totaling more than 125 pounds!

    Seeing the results of this event, I realized that it’s the small, community-driven efforts that can make an impact on the harms related to the opioid epidemic. Since then, my service year has been filled with community coalition work and various projects chipping away at each layer of the opioid epidemic. I’m happy to say that I found my place in this field and position. Looking forward, my hope is that the manuscript I co-authored with pharmacists and public health professionals in the region on how to increase Narcan access to community members will be published.

  • Alumni story
    Nedrea (Bee) Scott 2018 2019 Baltimore

     

    To begin, I have never had anyone trust me with anything so fragile, and this experience will forever be etched in my memory. I was given a task so big that even I was in suspense the entire time. I learned a lot about Project and Program Management, and most of the time, this was all I did daily. However, one of those times I received an assignment that was very sensitive in nature, and it was attached to the Maryland United for Youth Conference in which I had been a part of planning (Pre-Post) for 2019. My response when I first got the assignment was: Why? I found out two weeks later that the assignment had originally been given to the Operations Manager and in the back of my mind, I was thinking that this must be pretty serious because they are trying to fnid the right fit. They want the right person for this and apparently I am that chosen one. 

    So air goes I have the assignment. I look at the task itself, and I sized it up. After I decided how I would proceed, I began working on the assignment. I prioritized how the project would be laid out, timelines for specific deliverables and wether or not I would need assistance. I then chose times when I would send the Team Project updates and elicit assistance if ever necessary. After I came up with a definitive plan, I begin working the plan. This all occurred in February 2019. Fast forward and it is now April at this point. I would discover how huge of an undertaking this was and I elicited some assistance, which was later approved. However, that help did not come until late May 2019. I continued to work the project to the point of revisioning deadlines and obtaining all necessary information to demonstrate deliverable statuses to higher-ups. It then became a team effort to bring the project to a completion. Moving forward, the project was completed and sent off two months a head of my original and revisioned forecasted projections, which were originally set for May and then reset to June and later July.

    The project then flipped and busted wide open what others of Conference Planning Team had not done, when the head of the Department for the State of Maryland's MSDE sent the project back with lots of questions. I was totally blown and blind sided. My only mistake was not including in my plan, a cross-sectional aspect of deliverables from other conference committee's and other independent assignment teams. What I learned from this is that I should have been getting other teams to share with me what they were working on, and where they were on their deliverables. Their deliverables would have shown me, what they needed to do before my project reached the point of being finalized. In this, I started looking to see what Conference Committee's I could help, and researching how other committee's would potentially impact my committee and my indenpendent team's assignment. We used the questions from the state to assess which conference committee we needed to approach and offer team assistance to. I put on the Calendar to address not making the same mistakes again for the next year - (Conference Debrief) learning curves, and then I put on everyone's Calendar all Conference Committee and Planning Team Meeting. This would help us compile the results of where we were, how to move forward, and what our next best steps were. We knew we only had a small window of time to act to help others of the conference planning team, so we came together as a Team with me at the helm of the assisgnement I was taked to complete. This was only a small setback that I felt we could overcome, and eventually we did. Once everything was reworked, I sent the project back off to the Department of MSDE for the State of Maryland and we were approved. This was still done 1 to 2 months a head of my forecasted projections and the State's. I was very proud of the work the Team did and what I had done. I was and still remain humble about this because I needed help and I did not do the work alone. I had help! I may have carried this on my back, but again I say I had help. 

    When we got to the conference, I saw the fruits of our labor when Packets for CEU's - Continuing Education Unit's and/or Credit's were handed out to the VISTA's first and then Conference Attendees. Whenever we were  not working the conference, we were considered Attendees. We reaped the benefits of this work and earned CEU's ourselves. Ultimately, the State had backed the MD4YC2019 Event with a CEU Seal of approval. I have never been given an opportunity such as this before and I am so proud of the work I committed to doing for this conference. 

    I am Bee Scott and this is my VISTA Alumni Story!

  • Alumni story
    Wacinque Amistad Kaizen BeMende 2019 2020 Socorro

    With a service term that begins in the end year of a decade and continues to the beginning year of a new decade I thought I would approach my story on that basis. This is a story build on hugh potential.  The service assignment is at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and is a piller in the community. Tech is known worldwide for it's excellence in education and produces more PHd's per student enrollment than every college in America anddrawing student from around the world.  Our mission name is STORM FORCE: STEAM OutReach & Mentoring Fueling Opportunity through Relationships, Community and Education.  Our mission foundation is Collective Impact using the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.  The specific social problem we seek to address is poor academic outcomes in Socorro which trails both national and state performance outcomes by a significant measure receiving D or F for both 4th and 8th grade Reading and Math.  Changing this outcome is a worthy challenge.  It is with this foundation that I launch my service tour.

  • Alumni story
    Baker 2012 2017 Harrison Arkansas

    I had never heard of VISTA before 2012, although an organization in town supported a team of VISTA for years. The distribution Company that I had worked with for 30 years decided to close, displacing roughly 500 people in our surrounding communities. Our local and state officials came to us to educate us on opportunies and to let us know there IS life after such a rude awakening. Our local workforce center was there with surveys, asking each of us to fill it out. One question on that survey that leads me to this point is..”What do you want to do with yourself now that the company has let you go”? We received a great severance package as well as unemployment benefits for 6 months. My answer was to volunteer somewhere. This answer displayed a “red flag” to one of the workforce employees. She called me and talked at great length about the VISTA program in town. I applied and was accepted. I was 56 years old, did not want the education award, so I served 5 years, thinking I might retire. NOPE, I’m now working with a non-profit in town, one that had supported a VISTA for years prior. That’s it in a nutshell!!!

     

    Thanks for all you do

  • Alumni story
    Quiroz 2019 2020 Mar Vista

    When I first joined VIsta, I was fresh out of college. I thought I wanted to go into law but I figured I'd give Vista a try in the meantime. I ended up falling in love with the organization and now, 6 years after serving, I am back again! I am excited to apply the skills I've gained in the past few years to better empower the community I serve. 

  • Alumni story
    Wendy Alvarado 2019 2020 Los Angeles

    I graduated from college 2019 with a Single-Subject Teaching Credential in English. As I look for a city and school district to drop anchor, I want to make a positive direct impact in my community. Serving as a volunteer recruitment and retention coordinator will allow me to learn about how out of school support systems operate and ultimately help facilitate student to refine their reading and writing skills. As a future educator, I want to be resourceful for students inside and outside of the classroom. The non-profit organization I have been placed at will allow me to learn the nuts and bolts of how to launch and maintain support programs for students. I look forward to serving this year as a Vista Member.

  • Alumni story
    Leif Olandese 2016 West Palm Beach/ Fort Myers FL

    While I currently serve as The VISTA Leader in Florida's only Promise Zone, my story is focused back in my 1st year as a VISTA in West Palm Beach. I worked with the Children's Home Society designing and implementing a vocational program to assist single parents in the job search for compatible employment given the complexity of their daily demands. But my greater contribution came, I feel, from my FEMA Training. I ordered disaster preparation materials for all three offices in English, Spanish and Creole. With permission from my site supervisor, I also did presentations on building disaster safety kits at each office. I say this was my greater contribution because 2 months later the area would evacuate for Hurricane Irma. I like to feel I helped prepare some residents of the West Palm Beach area for that tragedy.

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