AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers working with Iowa community colleges through a relationship with Iowa College Aid help promote college access for communities and gain a better understanding of the issues that prevent students from gaining a college education. But just as VISTAs engage with their communities to help encourage the possibilities that a college education brings, working within the higher education environment provides an opportunity for VISTAs to gain important knowledge that they can apply to helping achieve their goals both now and in the future.
For Iowa Western Community College AmeriCorps VISTA Zac Arellano, that two-way street has meant learning new skills that can benefit students in the LGBTQ community at colleges, while also being able to work with and understand data that can then be presented to communities to better understand the benefits of higher education. Arellano reflects on the things he has learned in his time as a VISTA.
My year as a VISTA at Iowa Western has been pretty incredible thus far. There have been many challenging moments, but I have learned and developed so much, that it has all been worth it.
My supervisor has been really great about providing avenues for me to further explore my interests and utilize my strengths. Many of the professional development opportunities I have come across stem from my own exploration, which has been really engaging and useful. I completed SafeSpace training through the University of Nebraska Omaha and have worked to help IWCC get their SafeSpace program off the ground. This project has been particularly interesting because I am working on a team to navigate different policies to shift the culture and become more inclusive of LGBTQ identities.
Another one of my favorite projects was creating infographics that represent the college. I gathered a ton of student data and was able to learn software which made the information digestible and aesthetically appealing. This project has also been a nice addition to my professional portfolio—and one many interviewers inquire about.
VISTA has been really influential because it has given me a new perspective of higher education. I have gained invaluable experience working with assessment and other site projects with plenty opportunity for networking. Going into VISTA, it was one of my main goals to research and apply to graduate programs and I was able to conquer that (with a much smoother and thoughtful transition than coming straight from undergraduate); I am incredibly excited to be attending the program at the top of my list this fall.