I was in the middle of my graduate program and although I was enjoying my training in research and theory, I was increasingly feeling like something important was missing from my work and from what I was working towards.
That same spring, my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, experienced a devastating flood. Our basement went under water and boxes full of memorabilia were destroyed. I went home to go through the damaged photos, notebooks, class assignments and awards — everything my parents and I had deemed worth saving. Going through the piles of what was now trash, I was reminded of not only who I was when I was younger, but who I have always been. And, importantly, I saw what was missing. While I was getting some experience teaching in my graduate program, I was not working with young people in the hands-on, holistic way I had once loved. And while my research was geared at understanding the experiences that help young people thrive, my daily life was all ideas, no action.
On the plane ride back from Nashville, I reflected on a conversation I had with one of my advisors a year or so earlier. We were discussing our shared interest in the transition from school to work and how this can be a tricky time for young women. We talked about how great it would be if girls were taught some of the fundamental skills needed in the workplace —skills they are often discouraged from exhibiting. I thought, “What if instead of just thinking about how this would be a good idea, I did something about it?”
The idea excited me, but my excitement was matched with trepidation. I didn’t have the time, didn’t have the money, and this project was not going to produce a peer-reviewed journal article – the one metric of success I was supposed to be focused on. But, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. Then a call for grant proposals popped into my inbox. It was for a university-supported community engagement grant and they were looking to fund graduate student projects. I took it as a sign. My advisor accompanied my application with a wonderful letter of recommendation and I was awarded the grant. With the support of my university and my advisor behind me, I hired two undergraduate assistants and, a few months later, we were hosting our first negotiation workshop for young women in the community.
It has now been three years since I started the Acquiring Skills and Knowledge (ASK) Project and I am currently training a new batch of undergraduate workshop leaders and scheduling workshops for this spring. Not only do I enjoy this work and find it the perfect compliment to my work as a researcher, but it has led to all kinds of exciting opportunities that allow me to bring more of my interests, and more of myself, to the table. I am so glad I took the leap of faith to try something I didn’t know would work, in an effort to find something that would.