Education Scholars: “Transition To Passion”

Passion. Like love at fist sight I believed my passion would be an epiphany rather than a discovery. Though this elusive concept may have inconveniently evaded me during the college interview process, I was certain I would enter Davidson, stumble across it unexpectedly, and just know. This summer proved my assumption incorrect, and by extension, probably explains why I’m still single.

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So Laura, tell me about your passion…
Uh, cheesecake?

I entered Education Scholars postponing my search for passion in favor of experiencing another equally powerful word in our program’s description, “impact.” Impact connotes change through contact and is a verb I experienced within the educational context both as a student in need of outside tutoring at Eastover Elementary, and as a student tutor at Davidson’s Ada Jenkins center. Whether I was mentee or the mentor I was changed by the experience, because in the truest sense, impact is a force that affects both sides of the encounter simultaneously.

My summer placement in Communities In Schools’ central office allowed me to experience impact from a perspective I did not receive as a student or tutor. Working with our facebook and twitter platforms gave me the unique opportunity to view CIS’ direct impact in the same way as an outsider, through the removed lens of social media. As the communications intern I envisioned my role as closing the gap between the direct and removed, by conveying to potential volunteers, donors, and community partners what we do and why it matters.

In order to impact an outsider you have to reach them. My arrival provided CIS with the time and manpower to broaden the scope of their online presence through social media promotional plans for major events like Dine Out for Kids. While the reports I additionally created showed that we increased our reach by 275% in comparison to last June, I knew this wasn’t enough. Spam mail is proof that it isn’t hard to appear on someone’s radar. What is significant is getting them to engage, to open the email and to click on the image because they to want know more.

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In order to close the gap between direct and removed, you must transition from reached to engaged. Pictured above is a graph of CIS’ Daily Facebook Engagement Rate from June 2012 to June 2013.

What I discovered is that the audience doesn’t want to know a what, they want to know a who. They want to know the stories of CIS students, and so these stories I tried to tell by conducting interviews and writing profiles for our website that went beyond the word limits of a Facebook post or 140 character tweet. In this process of conveying CIS’s impact, I was impacted.

When talking with students like Anna Purdie I saw some similarities. Like me, Anna is a 6 ft tall, high school basketball-playing graduate of CMS. Unlike me she attended a Title 1 school, came from a single parent household, and lived in a neighborhood characterized by poverty. We are both CMS “Success Stories,” but our roads to success are far from equal.

I graduated from Myers Park in  ‘09 with an IB Diploma, three varsity letters, and a college commitment. Did all 756 of my classmates do the same? Absolutely not.  Did I realize this? Occasionally, yes. For the most part, no.  You see, the reason I panicked when college interviewers asked me to talk about my passion, is because deep down I already knew what it was. I wasn’t passionate about caring for people, I was passionate about competing with people. My thoughts were so consumed by my peers in the top 10, that I overlooked the other 746.

As a high school senior I was obsessed with competing because that game, that grade, and that acceptance letter either confirmed or denied my self worth. I assigned my value though extrinsic comparisons. As a Davidson senior set to graduate this December, it is finally starting to sink in that my life is not an assignment, I am not being graded, and at the end of the day, I’m not going to ask someone else how I did, I am going to ask myself if I was happy. I going to ask myself if what I did mattered beyond the superficial.

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Impact does not always mean immediate change, but change over time. Despite this summer’s end, my transition is still in progress.

When I was a student in the direct throes of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the surrounding inequity reached me but did not engage me.  It took four years and one summer of removal for me to view these same inequities with fresh eyes, know that they are wrong, and feel compelled to act.

If I return to the language in our summer description, I see that impact does not stand alone but lies within the phrase “transition to impact,” because unlike the impactful collision I envisioned, my change was not necessarily immediate. Growing up, I had the luxury of avoiding major problems within CMS, and today I still have that privilege.

Only now, I am passionate about not taking advantage of it.