Friday, October 9, 2015


Sam Garetson serves with Salish Kootenai College
Sam Garetson has had a lot of success since he started as a VISTA this past January. He currently works from Salish Kootenai College with with the Upward Bound office, helping open the doors to postsecondary education wider to more first generation and low income Montanans. Recently, we decided to check in with him. This is what he had to say:

Why do you serve as a VISTA member?
I think an intuitive as well as learned desire to be in service to others is what drove me to AmeriCorps VISTA. Throughout my undergraduate studies I found myself gravitating towards classes and areas of study that reflected this. My final senior thesis essay on poverty became a turning point in my life. It made me wrestle with some of the most uncomfortable, pre-conditioned beliefs concerning our society and its divorce from humanity. It took me until the final semester of my college years to understand why I had been studying what I had. AmeriCorps provided an outlet for the skills I cultivated in college and an environment to continue to grow academically, professionally and spiritually. VISTA has been a blessing, allowing me to learn the processes associated with community activism, at the same time granting creative freedom in exploring new ways to serve and connect with community. 

Describe a typical work day at your host site.
AmeriCorps VISTA Sam Garetson (pictured far right)
with fellow instructors and students participate in
 Bob Marshall Wilderness trail restoration
 as part of Upward Bound's summer program. 
My day typically starts with me checking emails. Since that lasts a whopping five minutes, I have a lot time to spend on my primary function, which is to research and create sustainable programs and curricula to be used by Upward Bound (UB) in improving communication and empowerment of our students. By the end of the day I have a pile of post-it notes, scratch printer paper, and more ideas than I know what to do with. I spend subsequent days making sense of the previous day’s research, tending to the ideas that work and throwing out those that don’t. Throughout the summer, I piloted student assessment tools that could assist UB in improving student academic success by paradoxically going beyond mere academic evaluations and focusing on character development. My research has spawned a multi-faceted teaching tool that hopes to build on characteristics of grit and resilience, essential to a student’s investment in learning. The long-term goal is to maintain an instructive system that supports the actualization of self-awareness and empowerment for our students.

How have you incorporated your campus partner into your project?
Salish Kootenai College (SKC) has been an excellent community partner. SKC is the hub of academic activity in the Flathead Valley affording me access to college level instruction, Native American cultural life, and important networks that expand my scope of work. SKC also provides transportation and logistics to and from the many college tours, cultural events and programs around the state that support the personal and academic development of our students. Our cooperative relationship with SKC is essential to the operations of Upward Bound and its continued viability in the region.

What motivates you to do a year of VISTA service? 
High School is hard. We often look back on that time, frustrated at our lack of understanding of the bigger picture, wishing we had known then what we now know. The motivation to work with underprivileged students to expand their internal and external life horizons comes from this perspective. Upward Bound is a college preparatory program administered by the government, sure, but to make it effective requires forward thinking. Students need more than a manufactured roadmap to get them to and through college. We have a responsibility to meet our students where they are individually in order to facilitate a deeper ecology of self that will help them become resilient, aware, ethical persons. Working from this mindset brings the student back into the equation allowing us to address the web of personal experiences that effect academic success.

What are your plans after VISTA?
Working at the University of Montana (and MTCC Network Office) as a VISTA leader and supporting new, wide-eyed VISTAs sounds pretty plush. An alternative route would be to pursue a joint master’s program incorporating Peace Corps service and cultural ecology or who knows. In a beautiful way my goals are adaptable. AmeriCorps, and the environment it placed me in, has taught me humility and contentment in the process. Ultimately, losing myself in this process of serving others will be my own selfish life reward.

Thanks for your service, Sam!

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