Stuart Haruyama is in his second term as the External Leadership & Partnership AmeriCorps*VISTA at the Rhode Island School of Design where he supports the college’s community partnerships program and cultivates student leadership opportunities.
Host Site: RISD
Where did you go to school? Seattle University
What are your personal and professional interests? Aimless walking, traveling, cooking, eating
If you could have any super power, what would it be? Omni-linguist. Now wouldn’t that be handy for community organizing?
Story of Service: Year two of my VISTA service began on August 12, almost without notice. With the whirlwind that accompanies the start of a new school year, there was very little time to take stock on the occasion. But as the dust has settled, I am beginning to recognize where I am now in my AmeriCorps service experience, and where I have come in the intervening 14 months. Wow, it has been a wild ride.
I relocated to Providence and began work at RISD within a one week span in the summer of 2014. Not only was I entering new surroundings in an unfamiliar city, but I also was acclimating to an entirely new culture working at an art & design institution. Tasked with supporting RISD’s community partnership program and developing student leadership capacities, I was thrust into my projects without necessarily having a strong understanding of the communities I was entering. But the pace of our programs left little time to for me to get orientated to my new surroundings. As programs launched and events came and went, I had to learn on the fly and continually adjust and re-adjust. Consequently, I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I was often frustrated at challenges that arose.
In discussions with community partners, I remember many times where I turned to my supervisor with a confused stare, hoping for some kind of parachute to whisk me away form my uncertainty. I also remember often using terminology around students that confused them, and being too unsympathetic to the demands of studio life. It was a steep learning curve, but I am very grateful to the students and community partners who showed great patience and gave gentle feedback along the way.
When students began to arrive back on campus this fall, something seemed different. I felt calmer and more confident in my interactions with students, and this new energy extended to my collaborations with our community partners. Tasks that used to take me days or weeks were speeding by more quickly. For example, in the lead-up to RISD’s pre-orientation service program, I was asked by my supervisor to identify community-based projects that students could work on during the week. The turnaround time had to be quick, so I immediately started calling my community contacts around Providence. Within a few hours, we were able to develop two collaborations with local organizations, which themselves have spawned further student interest in those partnerships.
In all this talk of development, I do not mean to say that I have become an expert – in fact I probably make more mistakes than I did before. But I can better identify the issues and deal with them effectively, and I find that I can better cope with my imperfections and faux pas.
While recognizing where I have come in the last year, I am also conscious of where I am going. It is a blessing to be able to spend two years learning and professionally developing at an organization, however I am also aware that my role as an AmeriCorps*VISTA is not a permanent one. Recently, at a conference for new higher education professionals, I was given a sage piece of wisdom: “Community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” As I become more deeply invested in the students that I lead and the organizations that RISD partners with, I am considering how to make these programs and collaborations sustainable for the long haul. This is a tremendously difficult task in itself, but one way I have been trying to encourage it on campus has been placing an extra emphasis this year on letting my students determine the pace and content of our programs. Taking this hands off approach will hopefully accelerate momentum and allow for more student ownership so that these programs will continue to grow stronger after my time at RISD.