United We Serve
In this episode (originally aired 5/29/23), we take a trip down memory lane with Miranda Orcutt, an AmeriCorps VISTA alum, who served as a College Access and Success Coordinator in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Champlain College last year. We focus on the ins and outs of Miranda’s service year, how becoming an AmeriCorps member is a unique experience that’s beneficial for most people who participate in it, and so much more!
We started off The College Access Chronicles with this episode’s joke: How does a bee brush its hair? Check out our next episode to find out the punchline!
Miranda Orcutt is an AmeriCorps VISTA alum. She served at Champlain College as a College Access and Success Coordinator in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). She joined us to talk about what it means to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and her own experience serving.
AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program that was created to help alleviate poverty throughout the United States. It does this through a myriad of different projects in many different topics, and Miranda served in the education area to help alleviate poverty through helping underprivileged and marginalized college students find the resources they needed to ultimately graduate with their degree.
But how did she find out about this opportunity?
Miranda had spent the years leading up to her service year in the medical field, helping with in-patient needs at a local hospital during the pandemic. But being in healthcare during the pandemic had taken its toll. She was looking for something to do outside of it that she was also passionate about, and when this
opportunity with AmeriCorps VISTA came along, she jumped on it. “It was kind of what I was looking for at the moment, where I wanted to try something new,” Miranda shared. “I had been looking for ways to immerse myself more in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work, and [this role] was exactly what I
was looking for at the time.”
Another reason the AmeriCorps VISTA position appealed to Miranda was because it was local to where she lived. Often, AmeriCorps members will travel from place to place and serve at different sites, but that’s not always the case. There are a ton of AmeriCorps opportunities in every state, and if you want to stay close to home, you’ll probably be able to find a service site close to where you live. You can find out more about AmeriCorps opportunities near you and apply by going to this site.
“AmeriCorps VISTA members are supposed to focus a lot on capacity building and long term sustainable efforts,” Miranda explained. This translated into her role as College Access and Success Coordinator with her creating different opportunities for learning and student growth, whether that be a signature event
that she pulled together with the help of students and office staff, putting easily accessible information online and on social media, and/or through leaving behind information for new employees and VISTA members to use to create more educational events and resources.
“The Office of Diversity and Inclusion focused on serving students with underrepresented identities and backgrounds including BIPOC, first generation, and low-income students,” Miranda shared. So while she was planning events for all students in the Champlain community to come to, her efforts were focused on supporting students with those identities. One of her favorite events was the book club she helped put together, which allowed her to learn more about identity work, and she liked being able to share that learning with students.
But because Miranda’s role focused on supporting underrepresented and marginalized students, supporting them was sometimes hard. AmeriCorps members uphold the values that AmeriCorps holds and speaks out about, and traditionally AmeriCorps has a neutral perspective in terms of political issues.
Miranda served at Champlain from 2021 to 2022, which was a tense political period in the United States in terms of racial, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues, and balancing being an AmeriCorps member while still supporting students who were affected by these issues proved to be challenging.
“The very fact that the college had a rotating one year contracted AmeriCorps member fulfilling these roles in these identity centers” was something else Miranda noted as challenging. AmeriCorps VISTA members are often only contracted for 1-2 years depending on the site’s project, and so there’s a new
person coming to the service sites each year. This means that building relationships and becoming part of the community was hard because VISTA members know that they’ll be leaving, so there’s this double-edged sword to wanting to help and build this community they care about, but ultimately having
to leave it behind. Working with marginalized students and building that trust, only to end up leaving, felt bittersweet.
But despite these different challenges, Miranda still learned a lot during her service year and had an impactful experience. “It definitely allowed me to explore,” she said. “I got to see what it was like to be in a higher education environment, feel what it was like to be on the other side of being a student. It was truly an immersion into all the dynamics and how that works.” But her biggest takeaway was that it gave her the ability to take a deeper dive into the DEI work that she’d wanted and learn how she wanted to continue working in that field.
In our Bonus Round, Miranda gave some advice for people who are thinking about doing a service year and things she thinks you should be aware of before you sign on. Some important aspects she points out are:
● AmeriCorps VISTA members receive a living allowance to help pay for expenses during their service year, like rent and groceries, and for VISTA specifically, members often live at the poverty level to better understand the experience of the people they’re supporting. Are you ready to live
at that level?
● Something unique about AmeriCorps is their Commitment to Service. This means that AmeriCorps members serve 365 days of the year, give or take, and are expected to show up everyday ready to volunteer to the best of their abilities. Is this something that you think you can uphold?
You can find more advice from this blog post she wrote at the end of her service year.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for–the punchline to last episode’s joke! A math teacher’s favorite tree is a Geometry. Get it? Geome-tree? We love puns at the New Hampshire GEAR UP Alliance.
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