Hello fellow VISTAS! I’m Rachel Blomer and I’m serving with the Wayne County College Access Network. This is my first year as a VISTA, and my first professional job (yay to wearing nice clothes!). It’s been a much needed and wonderful adjustment, and I’ve really gained so much professional and personal experience. I’m from Illinois, so moving and becoming acquainted to Michigan and the Detroit metro area has been interesting and a lot of fun. I’ve always had a sense of adventure, and this is just an added experience on top of my position. I even got to see one of my idols live, Iggy Pop; so that alone has been worth it!
Now onto the Wayne County College Access Network; the network is dedicated to increasing the college attainment rate in Wayne County to 60% by the year 2020. When we say college, we are referring to all post-secondary education including professional/technical certificates and academic degrees. We are also trying to lower systemic barriers preventing students from pursuing education beyond high school, and improve coordination of higher education access services particularly to those who come from low-income families or who are first in their families seeking postsecondary attainment. The network is only on its second year, so it’s not well established yet, but quickly growing and taking on momentum.
My position within the network has been to assist with grants, obtain data pertaining to our population, start and maintain a social media presence, and get our name out there with schools and colleges. I’ve come across some challenges, particularly when it came to data collection. I had to complete an asset and landscape map, and I had no idea what they even were. Needless to say, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to even start it. Thankfully, we had a Michigan College Access Network training in Traverse City where I received tons of information pertaining to all aspects of LCANs. Basically, the maps show what programs and classes schools offer when it comes to college access and success such as academic supports, affordability, persistence, etc. With this information, along with a data dashboard I also created, we present it to our leadership team (made up of important people in the community such as superintendents, businesses, chamber members, etc.) to decide what needs to focus on and how we can make a real difference within out-Wayne communities. We aren’t at this step just yet, but its right around the corner. We’ve had some setbacks with the grant and we’re still dealing with issues, but we’re going to be done this week or next! It will be a very gratifying experience and I can’t wait to be done with it, but we are also working on another grant we’re applying for due soon. Time is a flat circle, y’know.
After that hurdle, the rest of my time here has been a breeze and a lot of fun. I’m the facilitator of communication between us and all the schools, so I’m constantly going back and forth with counselors about useful information or helping them with whatever they may need. We also have talent tours as a part of the Youth Department at SEMCA, so I assist in helping with matters outside of the WCCAN. We have a Criminal Justice/ Law Talent Tour coming up at the end of January which will be a lot of fun, so I’m excited for that. I’m working on my VISTA initiative idea of instilling a book club for high schoolers, too. I believe that getting students to read in a book group setting will really engage them in critical thought, increase their reading skills, writing skills, and prepare them for the college classroom. The reading list I chose contains literature relevant to their lives, and I wanted to use works not typically used in a high school English class to really capture their interest. I’ve just started with that, so I’ll be getting into the thick of it soon. I’ve discovered that I really enjoy the activities that involve the students and spending time with them, which surprised me. A lot of the students that I’ve encountered are really impressive, talented, and intelligent. It’s honestly always an enjoyable experience whenever I do anything with them.
So far in my service, I’ve had the chance to utilize a lot of talents that were going unused there for a while. This opportunity has been great for developing certain skills and is also a wonderful addition to my resume. Overall, it’s been a great experience and a true testament to see what I’m made of. I’ve accomplished a lot already, and I still have a lot ahead of me as well! I know the work that I’m doing will contribute towards helping a lot of people with college access and success, which is so important in the development of not only the economy, but for peoples’ lives and well-being.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!