Academic Journey

I entered university undeclared but in the six-year law program. I had tight plans to complete my bachelors requirements in three years and study abroad for an academic year. The first degree I declared was my minor in Spanish because I wanted to continue the now decade journey of learning a second language. Otherwise, I was taking courses ranging from Geography to communications.

During winter quarter 2016, I took Intro to American Politics. It was my hardest college class yet but I became fully engrossed in the course materials. My first term paper was my own prediction of who would win the Republican Primaries–not surprisingly, I was wrong. But I loved the exercise and course because I felt like for once I was gaining tools to make sense of the world and people around me in a very concrete, applicable way. The following quarter I took Intro to Comparative and Constitutional Law, and declared my major in Political Science. I haven’t looked back since.

While abroad, I embraced my love of learning and opted out of the law program, figuring I could go to law school at any point. I did not want to rush these four potentially formative years. I considered double majoring in Economics but settled on a minor when I felt drawn to more broad course work involving literature and philosophy as opposed to cramming required courses. History courses have been a way to feed my more comparative interests by learning about other countries. History gives me the context to make sense of why the US has occupied the Middle East for my entire life and why China is a returning hegemonic power. I supplemented my comparative politics courses with history to give me more context.

I would be in law school by now if I had not attempted an international law class at Lund University’s law school.  Law’s mechanical thought processes felt limiting in comparison to when I dug into my other curiosities like history, culture, politics, and languages.  I spent some time reflecting and realized that I was more invigorated by my research at World Trade Center Denver than my law class. Winter and spring quarters of my first year, I had interviewed and surveyed people my age about their perceptions of globalization. The questions I asked were historically embedded but presently pertinent.  I made recommendations for how the new WTC Denver campus should be constructed to engage with the younger generation. 

In my popular rhetoric course, I had learned about the vital role that spreading academic research could have in a democracy.  There are many types of knowledge with the potential to feed and build off of each other.  It can only help academic and societal pursuits to democratize that knowledge so that people with lived experience, artistic abilities, or public influence can contribute. When I returned to the US for my junior year, I started working for Professor Wilson on the Christian Legal Movement in order to expose myself to formal, academic research. I read hundreds of newspaper articles and coded another hundred or so court cases. I liked how the research built off other people’s work, like an ongoing, collaborative conversation.  However, explaining this project to my family and community took twenty minutes. Academia could not just be a separate entity isolated from the real world for me.  I had to find a way to wed the community aspect of WTC Denver’s project with the rigorous academic precedent of Wilson’s research.

Fortunately, the Honors Program connected me to CCESL.  I applied to become a community engaged fellow, and now I work with the Graduate School of Social Work spreading research regarding youth experiencing homelessness to the broader community. I care deeply about the youth and evidence-based policy initiatives.  Additionally, I appreciate being a part of the CCESL fellow’s program and learning other ways that my peers and professors are working with community members as authors, data collectors, and experts. I want to produce academic work like this, still in the pursuit of knowledge but with community implications. 

August 2019 I will move to Luzhou, China to teach English at a Kindergarten attached to the Tianli School. I am using this gap year to explore and dedicate time to my PhD applications. My Spanish minor has exposed me to Latin America.  My year abroad exposed me to Europe.  My travel course about the genocide in Rwanda exposed me to Africa.  This exposure is not enough, and I can dig deeper in all of these regions.  However, I recognize Asia as a major gap in my attempted panoramic view.  I need to learn more about this area of the world, and the best way to do so would be engaging with the community by living with the people, while reflecting on my next academic step.