Q: You spent several years mentoring and teaching in South Dakota on Sicangu Lakota lands and now consider it one of your favorite places. How was that time formative for you as a person? What was your favorite part of being there?
Teaching Middle School ELA was my first job out of college. I’ve worked in retail and done other jobs throughout my college career, but teaching was my first real step forward in terms of my career. That first year was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. I remember calling my parents crying, telling them I had made a huge mistake; I don’t know if I could do this. My mother pushed me, saying I committed to the school and the kids, and the community. At least finish the year out, then revisit. And so, after finishing my first year, I thought, why not? I’ll do another year. That second year, I began to feel more comfortable not only in the classroom but also in the community.
I learned from my mistakes the first year and kept pushing forward. By putting myself out there more, I felt more of a bond with the local community. That made teaching so much more real to me, as the partnerships and friendships I built made me truly realize what was at stake and the importance of my role as a classroom teacher and mentor. I was pushed to the brink and was challenged every day, and I am incredibly thankful for those experiences. Although the nature out there comes in as a very close second place, my favorite part was the community. Feeling welcomed and building those life-long friendships will always be something I cherish. To me, there is nothing more tight-knit than these small rural communities, and I was honored to be a part of it all.
Q: You are a musician, an avid outdoorsman, and a fan of working out. How do you think these non-work activities contribute to your outlook on leadership and the work you do now?
I’m still learning. That is something I always tell myself when jamming on guitar, figuring out the best way to catch that prize largemouth, or incorporating more difficult lifts into my routine. It keeps me humble but also reminds me of how far I’ve come. Thanks to my younger brother, I can now do multiple chin-ups, where I could not even do one six months ago. And so, this contributes to my outlook on my career and leadership. I am still learning, always wanting to get better, but I should always celebrate the victories I have won along the way.
Q: What made you decide to join the One America team?
After finishing up my previous fellowship, I wasn’t sure where I would go. I enjoyed my new role in policy and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to the classroom. Looking to move out of NY, I found the posting for this job back in August and read more about the organization. I have been in many circles where it is next to impossible to have meaningful conversations about various potentially charged topics. It became demoralizing for me, and so I just altogether avoided having those conversations. Reading about the work One America Movement has done piqued my interest. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with the CEO and Leadership Team directly. I want to learn from everyone on the team and am very excited to be a part of an organization that is diving deep into this work.