Sam is serving at Providence College as co-coordinator of the Providence College/Smith Hill Annex and also supports Providence College’s EXPLORE! Program. Sam graduated from Providence College with a degree in Public and Community Service Studies and a certificate in Business Studies. After VISTA, Sam will begin school at Providence College to work toward her Masters of Education in School Counseling. Sam is originally from southern New Jersey and had severe separation anxiety from the Philadelphia Phillies when she first came to Providence five years ago but has been holding strong.
What were my expectations at the beginning of my VISTA year? I had a few; I would be able to make some great connections and network a bit, I would be able to maintain previous relationships while developing new ones, and I would hopefully be able to take the time during this year to figure out my next steps. All I was certain of was that I would not go back to school, at least not yet.
I’ve always struggled with school, not because I don’t like to learn, I just find it difficult to do so in traditional settings. My grades were okay– but it always seemed as though I had to put much more into school than everyone else around me, specifically in high school and college. I wanted to be a chef when I grew up because I love cooking, but also because it sounded like the least amount of “school”. In college, I was given the opportunity to study in a department that welcomed different styles of learning and embraced everyone as individuals. But my business school experience assured me that my program was an exception. Ironically, my interests in college were geared toward education and trying to provide the most holistic experience for students. My VISTA year has only affirmed my passion for education but when offered a salary-paid administrative position at home, I struggled turning it down even though it had nothing to do with education. I know where my passions are, where my strengths and weaknesses are but I was willing to ignore that to pursue something that was much easier and something that was given to me pretty freely, without much of a quest.
The students in our EXPLORE! Program are no different in that if you ask them their favorite subject, they will give you an answer- they like learning, they are just a little afraid of it. It’s a lot of pressure to potentially be the first person in your family to graduate from college. There are a lot of people hoping for you to succeed, maybe even depending on it, yet you are surrounded by people who have failed in that respect. High school students are drowning in opportunities, positive and negative, on a daily basis. I was lucky enough that when I started drowning, I was surrounded by people to pull me up– but some students might never find those people. When we take EXPLORE! participants out of their respective schools, bring them to Providence College and surround them by highly motivated people, they begin to imagine themselves in college and the possibility doesn’t seem all that distant. When we ask them what they want to do when they grow up and tell them some steps they will need to take to get there, they sometimes change their mind. They don’t suddenly have a change of heart; they get scared that they aren’t capable of successfully graduating high school, let alone college in the same way I got scared that I wouldn’t be able to get into or complete grad school. Many people would assume when walking into the classrooms of our EXPLORE! students during the day that they don’t care about school, and if the students hear that enough times, they might even start to believe it. Our job with EXPLORE! is to make the remainder of high school and even the thought of going to college a little less scary.
When the EXPLORE! students came to campus in April, I was having a conversation with one of the young women over lunch. She asked what grade I was in and when I told her that I work at PC but will soon be a grad student beginning in September, she asked why I love school so much. It was hard to not burst out laughing but I responded honestly, as I try to always do, and said I actually really dislike school but I’m not going to let that stop me from doing what I want next. I see our job with EXPLORE! as providing a safe space for students to ask those questions, to feel as though they can trust us when they say they’re scared and to take that emotion and turn it into positive action toward their future goals.