I came in as a transfer student at UW Madison about a year ago. I was a standing Junior, and I was struggling with a sense of purposelessness. I know my purpose should have been scholastic success, but with very few friends in the area I spent a lot of my free time alone in my dorm room. My free time at community college was usually spent volunteering with high school students—I was accustomed to serving something outside of myself. The desire to feel that again, the feeling of contributing to something. That is what lead me to apply to work with the YWCA. I wanted to be in a room full of diversity and serve people who were unlike myself.
Diversity of body and mind was ever-present in the high ceilinged room at the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison. Though the YWCA had recently relocated to a new building, we had to hold class in a different building as construction was taking place at the new site. I sat before a group more diverse than ever had before. The instructor, Rasheid, was asking each student to describe themselves by telling him what animal they would be, what color best represents them, what word describes them best, and where they would be if they could be anywhere in the world. Each student gave answers that were creative, charismatic, and unique. I began to quickly get a sense of the kinds of students I would be working with.
It was only the second week of classes, but already theses students were cracking jokes and establishing an environment of comfort and respect. I could see friendships forming, and students were reaching out to one another for support. It’s quite likely that under different circumstances that none of these students would have encountered one another.
The YWeb Academy is not only giving these students the opportunity to enrich their lives and increase their employability, but it is also providing a space for nurturing friendships and creating valuable professional relationships that they could rely upon long into the future.
One could assume that a boot camp focused on technological skills would have a narrow focus, one with its eye on technology and website building skills, but as a YWeb associate I would be responsible for working with the students on building professional skills, resume building, and to create individualized action plans for the students. It’s honestly amazing to me that this program could be so multifaceted. Every student’s unique situation is taken into consideration, and I have always felt that is the only way to go about any kind of education. Every individual will struggle with different things, and each student will learn in a completely unique way.
As Rasheid lead class I saw that he commanded respect from the students’ while showing them that he is relatable, flawed, and human in the same ways as his students. Julia, the coordinator for the YWeb program, works in a synergetic team with Rasheid as they keep the program running smoothly. On my first day with the program Julia and Rasheid talked to the class about confidence and self-worth. Rasheid told the students that they are the “authority on themselves”, and when they are talking to a potential employer they have accurately display themselves. Julia chimed in a discussed the reality of being a woman, or a person of color, when approaching a person of power; she insisted that each student know their worth and recognize that each of them are capable of everything anyone else is.
– Sarah Eckhaus