Monday, August 26, 2019


      Sometimes the best thing that you can do is step back and look at the heart of the matter. Coming to the close of my service, taking a step back and remembering my original intentions for the project was something I wish I would have done more throughout my service. I know that all too often I get overwhelmed from all that is going on in the world and taking a deep breath to stay in the moment is the bravest thing anyone can do. Having a consistent reminder to view others through the strengths-based perspective and use the theory of change to inform my service is the foundation that holds space for the work. This reminder is a challenge all in itself! However, I quickly learned how reframing my mindset with these two tools set the tone for the youth programs I was serving with EmpowerMT.
     Our Youth programs here at EmpowerMT are geared toward providing a safe space to the most vulnerable populations in our community. Within this space, the youth build relationships with peers and adults through open non-judgmental dialogue, transforming conflict, learning how social groups experience mistreatment and develop their skills as youth leaders in action. All of these skills are backed by our partnership with Hello Insight and the Aspen Institute through Social and Emotional Learning. Incorporating theory, service learning, SEL capacities, and EmpowerMT’s mission into the work has been a very impactful experience on a personal and professional level.
       Not only did I have the opportunity to learn about this curriculum and work with an amazing youth team staff, but I also facilitated the curriculum with the groups and watched the youth explore their curiosities, listened as they told their stories, and affirmed their experiences and leadership skills. The social and emotional wellbeing of our youth is a topic that often gets overlooked in comparison to academics. I’m a firm believer that Academic self-efficacy is as essential as a positive identity, contribution to the community at large, social skills with others, and critical consciousness of our systems. Working with EmpowerMT and youth programs have been a tremendous process to explore. My service term with MTCC has also allowed me to find my heart within the work and know what it’s like to give back, feel a sense of belonging, and love service.
     Throughout the entire process, I’ve had to remind myself that I will most likely not see the impact of my service. However, this work is still essential. Serving your community matters. One quote that often brings a new perspective during my time of service is from MLK Jr. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I have faith that I am probably at the beginning of something truly amazing and don’t even know it yet. I can’t wait to see how the youth leaders that I have the pleasure to serve with will shape the future impact and make our communities safer and more inclusive for all.

Monday, August 19, 2019


GUTS campers and Clara at the summit of their hike to Blossom Lake
This summer I had the opportunity to continue my work with the YWCA’s GUTS (Girls Using Their Strength) program as a Summer Adventure Leader. On the Summer Adventure trips middle and high-school aged girls and gender diverse youth explore the backcountry of Montana on week-long backpacking trips. During the trips participants engage in activities that delve into issues around body image, healthy relationships, gender identity, sexuality, and activism. The goal of these trips are not only to provide participants with a basic knowledge of backpacking, but also to develop leadership skills and social-emotional well being in an active and supportive environment.

Last week, I served as a leader on a seven day backpacking trip with ten high-school aged girls on the Flathead Reservation.
That’s right -- seven whole days in the backcountry with ten teenagers and no showers, no toilets, and no cell phone service for miles.
The trip was a reminder of my own capacity to grow and learn, and of the power I sometimes forget that I house in my legs, arms, and heart. A power that allows me to haul heavy loads up mountains while singing and laughing, and to connect with girls ten years younger than myself.
I knew already that teenage girls are powerhouses of creativity, empathy, and unabashed joy, but this trip reminded me of the power and strength that can be found in the goofiness of girlhood and in close-knit bonds that young people form with one another.
Whether it comes from cracking each other up over the dinner of beans and rice that made everyone run off into the woods to poop IMMEDIATELY, or from stopping during a challenging hike to support a group member who is panicked and out of breath, these girls put their whole selves into creating a momentary family of support and love.
On our van rides to new locations  I acted as the DJ; fielding requests for every kind of music under the sun-- from Disney’s “Tangled” to (yes, you guessed it) Old Town Road by Lil Nas X and, at my insistence, a very important group introduction to  TLC and Destiny’s Child.
Each night we gathered in a closing circle to discuss the trials and triumphs of the day. The girls had “courage beads” that they could give to one other group member to show their appreciation for something that happened over the course of the day. During these evening circles I was amazed by the vulnerability each girl would show in their willingness to discuss their personal struggles. I was careful to notice if the beads were repeatedly given to the same person or used to exclude anyone, but instead they surprised me by giving “courage beads” to new people each night just for the comfort of sharing a laugh, having a good conversation, or making it through a tough day.

Our group came from a range of different economic backgrounds, various living situations and  life experiences over the course of their 14-15 years. In response to these differences the girls came together and cared for each other with tenderness, laughter, and a great sense of empathy. I had thought that a major challenge on the trip would be working with the group to bridge divisions, but the girls began that work themselves before I or the other leaders had to step in. They did not shy away from difficult conversations, but rather asked questions of one another and made a conscious effort to include everyone into all activities and conversations.

While laying in my sleeping bag one night I thought to myself, “this is what community accountability and responsibility can look like.” There were tough moments; plenty of tears and squabbles, yet a fierce dedication within the group to work through these hardships together. They made sure to check in with one another every day with attentive and open hearts.

There is something so special about that time in life right before adulthood when your emotions are raw and relationships feel especially fragile. Your relationships with others are what begin to help you make sense of yourself as an individual within a collective. I feel so fortunate to have been with these girls for a week-long journey and to have witnessed them work together through their struggles. Teen girls are a force to be reckoned with.

GUTS Leaders posing on a mountain top

Monday, August 12, 2019


As I near the end of my first year of service, I’m looking at this paper and quite frankly I’m at a loss to capture it all.  There have been numerous things that have had an impact on me both large and small.  There have been days of questions like, “ what am I doing?” and days of breakthroughs where a small encounter helps me feel reassured that I am in the right place at the right time.

I’m late writing this mostly because of all the summer activities that have been happening at the Fort.  We have had two of our own summer camps, the annual 4th at the Fort even, and numerous days and multiple times per day of other area summer camps being involved with many exhibits at the Fort, I sit and look at that and think of all the lives I’ve had 1-3 hours to impact.

Most days, I spend being watchful, caring, warm and educational.  I find myself most comfortable with the individuals dealing with some degree of autism or other learning deficiency.  They tend to be my favorite, mostly because when there is finally a breakthrough it’s such a great victory and I can share in their joy and build that bond with them.

One of my happiest moments has been in getting my new tame tag at the Fort.  It no longer says, “AmeriCorps” it says “Volunteer” a title I earned through sweat, long days and weeks, countless programs and wild days with even more wild children.  I now am finishing up the Legacy, a few more pages some touches to a few pieces here and there.  It is truly a legacy, we have built awesome partnerships, programs and ideas.  I have found new ways to bring the stories of the Fort to children that allows them to connect through art to those have been stationed here or imprisoned here.

I still believe that the service is the greatest reward but beyond that I have come to appreciate the smallest hellos, the opportunity to help someone who may not be exactly the demographic of student looking for college access.  I find a great amount of joy in the days where I can give an impromptu tour of an exhibit and open someone’s eyes.  I interpret well, I use my voice and energy to captivate the audience I use visceral words to bring the emotion right to the core of the audience.  I want them to connect to the story, I want them to feel what the people in the Bella Vista Concentration Camp felt, how the people who traveled west during the expansion, the Natives who felt such pain and anguish at the loss of culture and land.  I want them to feel Corporal Howards extreme tale of Vietnam and how it on a much larger scale than just he affected our country so deeply that we are still following policies written then.

At the museum, I have made a small home, a bag of preferred coffee in the freezer, my hot fries on the shelf, lunch in the fridge, the front desk volunteers who have met my family and I. The list goes on for how I have built such a place of belonging here.  I’ll miss the fort but I’ll be here when I can afford to be and when I can manage a second year of AmeriCorps with wanting to still be active at the Fort.  I am grateful for this experience and hopeful for what the future will bring during my next year of service with Broader Impacts.

Friday, August 9, 2019


As my AmeriCorps service year nears its end, I try to piece together all the new ideas and skills that I've learned and package them into just a few sentences. How do you compact a whole year’s worth of experiences into a few words? Without cutting corners and truly giving it the meaningful praise it deserves, I choose the word "transitions" to perfectly convey what this year as an AmeriCorps Leader at SpectrUM Discovery Area has meant to me.

We all transitioned into new lives when we made this commitment to serve. We left our families and our comfort zones to see new places and faces while trying to make an impact. Personally, I transitioned into a hand holding, spaceship engineering, crime detective, potion making wizard play buddy. On Wednesday I could a brain surgeon then on Friday be a computer programmer designing the next big app. SpectrUM Discovery has allowed me to wear so many hats this past year and learn so many new things, I feel that this place has a magic that not only the kids feel but the adults too. Not only in the museum with our interactive activities and playful exhibits but our traveling projects too. We somehow transform a school gym into a learning place that is disguised as a colorful play area with giant puzzle pieces, spinning chairs and rideable hovercrafts. The smiles and joys these experiences give people are immeasurable.

In between those smiles are a few logistics and, the real nitty gritty of it all. The hours of planning and organizing are what make those beautiful things happen. Our wonderful SpectrUM team make magic every day, they are the true wizards of this place.

As I embark on another transition into the unknown future, I hold back tears when thinking of leaving all the kids and people I’ve met in this mountain town. What SpectrUM and AmeriCorps has given me is more than all those smiles and good times, but a true sense of giving and what small gestures can do for a person. After this year I hope to keep with me my sense of wonder and curiosity, high regards for education for all and need to keep moving forward. On to the next transition, thank you AmeriCorps.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


I served with the International Rescue Committee during my 2018-2019 service year. In April, we received an Iraqi family of two parents and their two children who were going to be in middle school. I picked them up and drove them to their enrollment meeting at the local school district. They were excited to attend school, and were kind and attentive to the teachers and staff. They asked questions, were lighthearted and laughing, and being respectful to everyone. During the meeting, the kids were practicing their English with their ESL teacher, and their mother was trying to give them little hints to help. It was obvious how important education was to the whole family.

The next day, I picked up the family in the morning to go on a tour of the children’s middle school. There, we met with the school counselor and the ESL teacher. School tours are often overwhelming and confusing for refugees. There are people talking at you in a different language, trying to explain the whole U.S. school system to you in an hour. Between explaining school bells, lunch and recess, and how many teachers they’ll have - it’s a lot to process. Halfway through the tour, I saw the children looking around, looking a little intimidated. Some kids were walking past us, staring at them. The family stood out, being the only people of color in the school, and the mother and daughter were wearing hijabs. Yet, they continued to be polite, smile, ask questions, and say “good morning” to everyone – even to the kids that were staring.

After the school tour, the counselor was trying to explain that there was an event going on that night, and that the family should come. Understanding the overwhelming nature of school tours and language barriers, I politely tried to tell her that they wouldn’t go, and that that’s okay. After explaining their schedules and what time the students should get to the bus stop, we were ready to leave. The counselor turned to me, a few inches from my face and said “Mm, they look like troublemakers to me”.

Something I’ve worked on in my life, and that I’m continually working on, is to speak up. I wish I would’ve responded to her, asking what she meant by that. I wish I could have called her out on that statement, in that moment. I’ve replayed it in my head on how that situation could’ve gone. Instead, I was silent. I was stunned. We were on the same school tour, and I saw the family being polite, kind, and enthusiastic the entire time.

As a member of the International Rescue Committee, and as an advocate on behalf of the family, I failed them. It’s a continual process to learn how to speak up and confront issues that are, literally, in front of your face. After thoughtful conversations with peers and coworkers, I am more prepared for the next time I face a situation like that because there will be a next time.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


During my two years of AmeriCorps service, I’ve had the pleasure of working at two unique community colleges in Montana - Salish Kootenai College in Pablo and currently Great Falls College MSU. Prior to my first service term, I was completely unfamiliar with the culture or operation of a community college as I pursued my undergraduate degrees exclusively at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Over the past two years, I’ve come to admire the opportunities available for students and professionals alike at these smaller colleges that offer primarily associate’s degrees and only a handful of bachelor’s programs. So much so that I think I may have missed out myself by not beginning my academic career at a community college.

It goes without saying that there is truly a sense of community on these campuses. Both that I’ve worked at have unique quirks but they are the same in the sense that everyone knows everyone, instructors provide drastically more intimate classroom experiences, and the chance for students to achieve individual recognition is greatly increased. Whether we’re discussing scholarship opportunities or involvement in student groups, I found that the students who seek them out benefit greatly from being on a smaller campus.

Now, my service through Montana Campus Compact is of course meant to be specific to college access. At times I found myself questioning how much my day-to-day work was addressing this objective, particularly when time had passed between my interactions with high-school seniors.

At both locations, I eventually came to realize that my service was still very much working within the college access pipeline and would often remind myself that many associate’s students still need an extra leg up to achieve their academic goals. They may need financial education, which I could provide our students at SKC on an informal, regular basis. They may need basic homework help.

In the case of my role with the Digital Design Tech Department at SKC and the Tech4Good program, my days often consisted of breaking away from traditional office work anytime a student needed words of encouragement, a helpful critique on their design work, or most importantly career pipeline advice and assistance.

Once I arrived at Great Falls College my role was working in the area of Student Activities and I had the pleasure of promoting efforts of both the student honor society as well as the student government. The dedication of the students involved blew me away and seeing some of these same students graduate with numerous accolades on their way to a traditional 4-year school once again reminded me that college access doesn’t end after high-school.

What I realized is that the concept of “college access” isn’t limited to after-school educational programs, FAFSA workshops, and scholarship application assistance. These are all important aspects of the pipeline, but in the best scenarios it goes beyond that and continues into our young careers. At this point, I’m satisfied with my decision to spend the past two years focused on service learning. As is often said, being in a leadership position gives you the opportunity to learn just as much if not more than what you teach others. For these experiences and more, I am grateful and excited to continue my career in areas that likely apply to college access in one way or another.   

Friday, June 28, 2019


I like to compare my year of service to a Grateful Dead tune. Just when you think it’s over, they keep on jammin’ on into the next verse. 

Although there has been much less of a psychoactive influence on my year of service than there might have been on a Grateful Dead song, just when I thought I was done growing and learning, I kept jammin’ on into the next verse. 

Throughout my time with the Montana Career Lab I have developed a greater understanding of career development, career theory, and why it is important to explore career development as early as pre-school. I have had hands on experience with age appropriate career activities for students at every level while developing leadership ability and self-confidence. I have had the opportunity to travel across the state and network with many wonderful organizations and agencies all promoting the success of students. 

There are so many ways in which this year of service has benefited me, I only hope that my time with the Montana Career Lab has had an impact on the students I was able to work with. 
My first partnership was with the local Student Aged Child Care (SACC), that ran afterschool programs out of all but one of Helena’s elementary schools. 

I started in two schools and was able to build strong relationships with the SACC coordinators and students. Every student in the program picked a career from our Careers Build a Community curriculum and I assisted them in exploring why they chose that career. We completed hands on activities and hosted community speakers to help them gain a better understanding of what that career entailed. 

Many of the students picked the same careers as their parents but at the end of the unit they all had an opportunity to share what they learned about their chosen career to teach their peers about other careers in their community. 

When I got the “okay” from Helena School District, I started advertising myself to the teachers by putting little handouts in their mailboxes. They must have been rather unappealing fliers or just busy teachers because I only got a response from one school- you live, and you learn. 

Within weeks I was teaching our curriculum in two first grade classrooms at Broadwater Elementary. I would say this was a breakthrough moment for my service and I was really able to get hands on with the curriculum to determine what worked and what needed improvement (of course the activities with candy were always a hit). 

If I am being completely honest, this year I discovered that I S-U-C-K, big time, at teaching. Despite my playful fantasies about having my own classroom that fosters free love and produces miniature hippies, I am much better on a 1:1 basis with students. It’s possible that I am just inexperienced or too anxious, but I can’t think of a better environment in which to learn this about myself. 

Even with my ignorance in effective teaching methods, the students were AMAZING and kind to me. They all came with different levels of knowledge, interests, thoughts, and feelings, each one as unique as a snowflake. I wanted to very carefully cultivate autonomy in every one of these students and help them explore careers that could be personally fulfilling and as unique as they are.

After each career lesson, the curriculum had the students reflect on what they learned about that career: what they liked or didn’t like, who they knew who does that career, or where in the community they might find that career. The very last day the students were able to pick the career they liked best and make a career puppet and a booklet out of their reflection pages. 

The curriculum includes a final community day where students can choose their careers and host a reverse career fair. They can decorate a business front and invite their family and community members to stop by their “business” to learn about their career. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, I couldn’t host a community day with any of my groups. I am holding our future AmeriCorps Leader accountable to invite me to any community days he achieves! 

I can’t say that the students I’ve worked with will remember our 45 minutes a week when they are heading off to college, but at least I can leave my service knowing that I gave them an opportunity to explore careers they might not have thought of before, and that I’ve planted the seed for their “Sugar Magnolia” trees to blossom.  

 “Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” -Grateful Dead

Monday, June 24, 2019


The first week of our Upward Bound Summer Academy 2019 went off without too many issues. Starting over with a new team has been quite interesting, but rewarding and exciting. There are seven of us providing supervision and guidance for the 51 high school students in our care. Part of this commitment is planning activities to keep them occupied and out of trouble in the evenings. This week we carried out an Upward Bound tradition of playing “Bigger and Better” on the streets of Butte.

The rules are simple, I give out a paperclip and tell the students that they need to talk to people and trade this paperclip for something “Bigger and Better.” The team must stay together, and they may only offer the item that they have at the time. The winner is then judged on size, value, and creativity of their final item.

As we embarked on our journey, my team immediately ran into someone walking down the street with a backpack (in a weird coincidence it was an EnergyCorps volunteer) who traded us a female hygiene product for our green paperclip. We kept walking and met a lady on her porch and traded our pad for a light up stick. We continued on down the street and met a man on his porch who traded us a lead pipe for our light up stick. After carrying the pipe around town for a while, a lady raking her yard traded us a metal rod for our lead pipe. We then met some men working on a vehicle who traded our metal rod for a larger metal fence post. Eventually we ended up trading the fence post for what I can only describe as a large metal “chimney?” which we then had to carry up Tech hill to the dorm, because we were running out of time.

After listening to the other teams’ stories and seeing what other items showed up, including a dog, a bucket of tacos, a box of chips, a restaurant t-shirt, and hair straightener we were ultimately disqualified because one of my group members was related to the last person we traded with (I warned them we would get disqualified).  

It wasn’t so much the items that each group returned with, but the experience of reaching out to others in the community and learning how to communicate with complete strangers. Upon reflection, which I have had a lot of time for, lately being put in a deja vu situation of sorts, I realized how many small but essential lessons I learned while participating in these same activities with the same program. Building self-confidence, learning how to approach what could be uncomfortable situations, and quite possibly being disappointed by your trade are all “hidden lessons” in what we consider a tradition and fun game.

In essence, we weren’t just looking for the biggest and best item, but working with our students to make them the biggest and best they can be by teaching our hidden lessons of communication, confidence, and self-advocacy. 

Monday, June 3, 2019


Valedictorian and Salutatorian walking to their seats
 at the start of the ceremony
Spring has sprung, as they say, with summer clinging tight to the tail end of this season, ready to move in at a thunderstorm’s notice. All of the seniors at Troy High School have completed their last day of school, checked out of their classes, cleaned their lockers, returned their books to the library and submitted their final papers and projects. With them gone, my office feels empty, though my door remains open. Perfect time to reflect on all that has occurred this year, and the impact the seniors have had on the student body and myself.

In the beginning of September, the GEAR UP team and I divided all 29 seniors into small “focus groups” as we called them, so we could have meaningful, one-on-one conversations about their goals and plans in order to create specific and targeted plans for their senior year. Over the next few months, our groups became share spaces for important information and deadlines, upcoming scholarships, events, college application materials, and other how-to -adult items as they came up. We hosted a FAFSA night, where parents brought in their taxes and received guidance from the GU team, myself and a representative of Reach Higher Montana to fill out the FAFSA with confidence. We had a Do’s and Donuts of Scholarships evening where we shared information (and donuts) about different financial aid options, tips for writing good essays and how to find appropriate scholarships per circumstances. We hosted the largest Career Fair THS has seen yet, and later had a Reality Fair focused on learning how to budget. We funded nearly 20 field trip visits to various colleges, and had additional funding set aside for students who wanted to check out other schools with their folks that reimbursed travel costs and paid for hotel stays and meals. By spring break, all 29 seniors had been admitted to a community college or university, and have applied for thousands of dollars worth of local scholarships. Not all of them plan to attend school right away, but the fact remains that their admittance into schools shows how capable they each are, and how many options they have ahead of them.

Senior Paige giving the introduction for Ms. Maust, the
class’s elected speaker. This class is Ms. Maust’s first
 group of freshmen-senior cohort, making these introductions
and speeches real tear-jerkers. 

As the school year has gone on, our specific focus groups have organically disbanded, and in its place has arisen a broadly welcoming center for all who have questions about life and college, as well as a place to gather to share stories and apprehension at leaving the bubble they’ve known all their lives. My office may feel empty, but my heart has never been so full. I am proud to call many of these students friends, and on their last day I handed out cards full of congratulations and encouragement. I shared a poem that was given to me when I graduated college, and many of them now have it posted up where they will see it every day to pull further encouragement from.

I’ve read countless entrance and scholarship essays, shared life advice, and called numerous college offices with my students to help them get questions answered about dorm life, financial aid, class registration, and how to make friends at school. I’ve come in after hours and on days off to meet with students to answer questions, responded to middle-of-the-night-panic emails, and written several letters of recommendation. On June 1st, 2019 I had the privilege of attending their graduation, and watched all of them walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. One of my students wore a pair of heels I gave her that I wore at my own high school graduation, and another wore a dress I gave her. These students have worked their way through tremendous odds to make it to the point they are at today, and have the resilience to continue facing anything that tries to stand in their way. With the support of programs like GEAR UP and MTCC cheering for continued education, countless students across Montana will be encouraged to make their dreams into realities year after year.
Seniors tossing their caps at the end of the ceremony.

Congratulations, Troy High Class of 2019. You are officially 2019% done with high school! :’)

Thursday, May 23, 2019


After years of waiting, the Boys & Girls Club of Richland County moved into its new building in March. Amid the pristine white walls, shiny steel kitchen, and ample programming space there sparkled a host of hopes and expectations for what we would accomplish free of our previous limitations. In May, the last month of school, I planned to channel these goals into my art program—to take full advantage of our new resources and involve our entire club community in a collaborative project.
I decided the project would take the form of a village; in an attempt to engage the interests of as many members as possible and to encourage creativity, I didn’t set any stipulations on what was made—just that it had to fit on the allotted space. The result was a middling motley of creations that varied greatly in effort, construction, and style: a Cenex station with no cars to fuel, a number of one-walled houses, and only one lonely person to enjoy it all.
I was a little disappointed in the end. Should I have been more structured and strict in my requirements? Would that have just made the kids lose interest in the project? I struggled to find a balance between agency and instruction; I didn’t want to dampen the students’ imagination and creativity, but I also wanted to give form, shape, and a definite lesson to the project. For example, though I tried to push kids to make more buildings and to put more effort into their creations, they often wanted to make a small animal sculpture or quickly move on to something new.
Ultimately, around 20 members participated, which is about a third of our daily attendance. There were definitely bright moments of the collaboration and creativity I hoped to achieve: discussion about the layout and placement of the village, cooperation between grade levels on unique ideas. It’s hard to measure what the kids learned and how much fun they had doing so (which is more important than the end result), and I’m not entirely sure what I learned myself—maybe there’s some deeper lesson about community buy-in or the eventual futility of gasoline—but going forward into summer camps, I hope to educate in a way that’s both informative and fun.

Monday, May 13, 2019


When I was little, I didn’t have the normal childhood most kids have growing up. I was diagnosed at age 5 with chronic pancreatitis. I was the youngest case Vanderbilt Hospital had, so they didn’t really know how to fix my pain. I had multiple surgeries and hospital stays throughout those years. It is kind of surreal to think about now. Yet, despite these struggles, I did learn that I had a love for science and serving people. I saw my doctor, Dr. Wallace Neiblit, constantly thinking outside of the box to help me. He also had a crew of resident doctors that would come in, read off my case like on Grey’s Anatomy, and brainstorm with Dr. Neiblit. My doctor was devoted to helping me and was able to do so (put simply) through science.

Fast forward to present day, and I am an AmeriCorps Senior Leader serving with MTCC. I get to serve students and help spread my love for STEM Education. Especially due to my past, STEM Education is close to my heart. Now, I want students to understand their potential and see how much fun STEM programs are. As such, I treasure any chance I get to work with students and cultivate their appreciation and love for science.

The most rewarding experience I have had thus far in this pursuit was creating science fair projects with students at Hot Springs School. Each student got the chance to show their personalities in each project. One had a love for animals and did a project testing bacterial growth of her dogs’ mouth compared to her own. Another project was focused on water quality of lakes in the surrounding areas. There was such a wide range of ideas and interests among the four projects, but, at the end of the day, it was brought out through having a passion for science.

Seeing all of their projects on display at the SKC Science Fair Festival helped remind me that making science fun can show students that STEM careers are fun. It reminded me how Dr. Neiblit used science to help me get better and why I eventually chose a STEM career in Agriculture. I hope to continue to spread my love of science to students wherever I go. You never know how students will respond to your lessons, but sometimes it can be the best surprise.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


As the spring floats in briskly with the cloud spotted sky, Missoula slowly waves goodbye to winter. In with the sun through the windows of EMPower Place, we find ourselves at the after school club, on a Thursday evening. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, EMPower Place hosts programming with cooking classes for kids, science activities and much needed post formal education play. Thursdays are my favorite day of the week, because I get to host the science activity. These children usually go bananas over the activity, it gets a little out of hand. 
 A couple of weeks into April, we were running an activity on DNA extraction of strawberries. This is one of the more difficult activity for the small ones, who are usually the crowd at EMPower Pplace. Mind you, most of the kids that come to after school club are preschool to second grade. The DNA activity also requires patients, which we all hopefully get to learn throughout life.  As you may remember, being cooped up in school all day, doesn't make listening very easy. Our poor parents can probably attest to this claim. 
So, how do we make sure everyone receives a positive experience before heading home you ask? We’ll I have to be prepared and it helps to have my colleagues back me up when I’m struggling, which I was that day.  
DNA from strawberries? You mean you want to make Jam with second graders? So the process is, have the kids put previously frozen strawberries in a landfill bag. Ok, now, zip the plastic closed and mash up those berries with a solution of water, dish soap and a bit of salt. The kids love this part.  Next, you put the strawberries in a coffee filter and wait for the mixture to drip through to the bottom of a beaker. Ok, add isopropyl alcohol and wait. Essentially you are breaking down the strawberry to a more basic form. If you actually want to do this, you can find videos on YouTube for precise measurements. 
After a few cycles of kids extracting DNA, one of the children that had been assisting me, asked me a question that I wasn't ready for. She paused on her tenth extraction of the hour, while also helping other kids and exclaimed, “Are you a real scientist?” Some of the other kids around the table became apparently aware of the conversation and awaited my answer. Before I could even think of a response, that same second grader who asked the question said, “I think you are a scientist.” She smiled and went back to what she was doing. It's almost as if she could tell I was stressed that day and I needed a confidence boost. It reminded me, how a simple encouraging comment can mean so much. Sappy? I know right? I didn’t feel like a scientist, with my liberal arts degree and my zero hours of lab work. She reminded me that we can be whatever we want to be in life, that we just have to believe in ourselves and others. 
As much as I would like to say that I am serving this community with my forty hour weeks of service, I feel as though sometimes, I am the one being served. I look forward to Monday mornings, because I get to hang out with curious growing toddlers. Science Tuesdays, I get to hang out with Dr. Amanda. Wednesdays are easier to get through when I can conversate and receive life advice from mothers, post Tiny Tales. My colleagues are some of the sweetest and understanding people. Honestly, every day of the week has its appeal, sometimes it just takes a little reminder.   

Monday, April 8, 2019


Service work is not for everyone, but for some it’s their calling. Bill is one of those people who was meant to help others and dedicate his life to it. We met for the first time at Serve Montana Symposium earlier in March and I was taken back by how laid back he was considering his resume. He talked more about other people than himself and he is quite humble for someone who served this country on a national level for over four years (along with lifelong experience in the field of service in general). Someone that has dedicated his whole life to public service. Someone who worked closely with Barack Obama and Joe Biden for years, people who are also advocates for doing national service pathways like AmeriCorps
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After symposium was over I wanted to learn more about him beyond what was said in his talk and beyond what is on the old White House’s website:
 I wanted to know how a Rhode Island native, that participates in winter sports in my home state of Vermont, came to be the accomplished person he is today. So I reached out to my colleagues to get his contact information, sent him a message, and was shocked that he answered so quickly. Next thing I know we are on the phone chatting and networking. 
 When I asked him about how he became who is he is today, he never thought he would make it to such a high position and is grateful everyday for his experiences. He just took any opportunity he was shown and all of them built up to the biggest position of them all. While in his position he worked closely with the former president and vice president of the United States to strengthen AmeriCorps while helping give awards to veterans for their service. Throughout our conversation after that he was determined to help me be the most successful after this current service year and gave me so many helpful tips/resources to use. It was obvious how much he cares for service leaders and members as a whole even after leaving his larger position.
Bill retired from the position in 2016 and didn't want to fully end his career in public service so he continues his service at Washington Campus Compact daily along with volunteering weekly to help the homeless in Seattle. He has a lot of wisdom and I thought that I would share a few things that I learned from him:
1. Motivation is hard to measure, but the ability to to try new things is extensive
2. Being equal and being fair are two totally different things.
3. Never pass up on new opportunities; there is endless potential there.
4. The purpose of service is to understand the struggles of the community you are serving, not to try to solve everything. We get lost in trying to find solutions when we can just have compassion for people, giving them the hope for a better tomorrow while we support them.
 Also Fun Fact: Bill is a college basketball fan and is big in March Madness 
I will take Bill’s advice of, “Always Aim Higher” as I continue on in my service year and hope to be even achieve a fraction of what he’s done for our country.  Thank you Bill for your service.

Monday, March 25, 2019


Scientific magazines, documentaries, and science fiction have all been a weekly, if not daily, part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even then, I wasn’t sure until my second semester at college whether I was going to be able to pursue a STEM based degree. The self-doubt and uncertainty for if I was good enough to even try was off put in the end by the simple desire to learn more. And as I learn more about different forms of education, and have been working more and more with youth in the community, it is a topic that seems to come up weekly.

My motivation for moving to Montana and working through Montana Campus Compact was in part to learn if I wanted to pursue the path of becoming a teacher. Part of my service here in Butte, MT is to assist with an after school science program at M. Leary Elementary School. This program has offered me the insight and experience I sought, but it also has emphasized to me the importance of supporting the curiosity of the youth in all communities and a teacher/academic mentor’s ability to direct innate human curiosity into a desire to learn.

Human curiosity expresses itself in the students on a weekly basis. From going off-script while working with snap circuit boards to produce the same result in both more complicated or simpler ways, to making homemade thermometers and working with them to figure out if warmth or cold (and how to achieve those conditions to test) will make the red liquid move up or down the straw. The reasoning for why these experiments work the way they do is sometimes obvious for those of us who are older and know at least basic examples of liquid expansion (water to ice) or principles of force and air pressure (ever squeezed a juice pouch when you were younger to get the juice up the straw?). And even if in a group you are not able to fully explain these principles to every student, I have seen how even experiencing these phenomena in an academic setting and encouraging questions is enough to begin developing a desire to learn more.

It’s not learning the answers to every question that makes you learn the most in life, or become a brilliant academic, and yet the very principle of having the predetermined answer to every question is what we are increasingly judging students by. The desire to learn is a skill, a mindset that transfers across all subjects in life. So through personal, and now observation based, experience, I am left wondering what indeed are the best ways to approach the education of our country’s youth?
I believe that through the services we provide as AmeriCorps leaders that we can create a variety of safe and engaging spaces for students within a range of topics, and that this space should be not only to aid them in succeeding in the district and federally determined academic standards of education. Rather, if we make sure to implement the value of learning and provide experiences for them to develop a desire to learn more about any subject then we are better preparing them for any array of futures. 

Every set of community, school, and class dynamics will differ as greatly as an individual’s experiences and perspectives in life. There is no silver bullet to education, and any number of factors need to be considered when planning a course let alone a restructuring of the entire system. Besides social, political, and structural changes which would allow for the shifting of our entire education system. I have come to view our work as AmeriCorps members to be a very important one. The work we do is not always groundbreaking, but, as has been highlighted in recent weeks by various news articles and speakers at recent conferences, taking a year or two out of our life to aid dozens if not hundreds of students who cross through the threshold wherever we serve is something that does not go unnoticed in the larger scale of things. This leads me to two additional thoughts about our work in AmeriCorps. One, that the pure number of hours and range of locations that members serve at is something that in and of itself shows the breadth of possible good done by another under-paid and under-utilized sector of our society and economy. And two, that it is a grand shame that it is necessary for a small sub-sector of the government to attempt to remedy the larger inequities and failings of the government at large to support not just the broad sector of ‘social services’ but specifically the education systems which are the backbone to every aspect of our society since it is how we learn about the world, our country, our community, ourselves, and how to best support the very places we live. 

A desire to learn is innate in every human when we are born; we are blank slates, sponges, who observe and absorb everything in our environment. And yet we have managed to progress to a society where this is not acknowledged, where the growth of all our children is not emphasized. And furthermore, where knowledge is taken for granted and not emphasized at the level of the general population.

At a time when misinformation and snap decisions can have lasting impacts on larger communities than ever before, my service through AmeriCorps has shown me the importance of giving aid at an individual level, and how even students who are considered smart and don’t have issues at school aren’t given the space to develop further skills and instead stagnate. It is fairly well known that schools in this country are constrained by having to focus on the lowest performing students, at the consequence of having their schools lose funding and potentially being shut down. The education focused groups within AmeriCorps can work to relieve this pressure on districts by working in classrooms, creating and working at after school programs, but the numbers don’t add up to these efforts being the solution to the problem.

Thus the question remains, through all of our experiences serving in AmeriCorps, how can we take what we learn, what we see, and what local people and educators tell us and culminate it into real change? Is there, or could there be, a format for this work and experience to mean more? What will it take for our country and society to put the education, and therein personal and economic well being, of her citizens first?