We sat down with our dynamic coach duo Ivette Rodriguez and Archarida Sajjapala to talk about their service term, and wrap up our 2020 AmeriCorps week at College Forward.
1. When did you know that you wanted to be an AmeriCorps coach, and what were the factors that impacted your decision?
Rodriguez: I knew I wanted to pay it forward and serve students when I was a laboratory assistant and noticed many first-generation students were struggling to adapt to their new environment. As a fellow first-generation student, I could relate to the experiences they were going through and wanted to use my own experiences to aid future first-generation students. Although it was a slightly difficult decision at the time, going into a service term or continuing my graduate studies, I am definitely thankful I made the decision to become an AmeriCorps coach!
Sajjapala: I knew that I wanted to become an AmeriCorps coach through my own experience and the people who served me. During high school, I had the chance to work with an amazing coach from College Forward who not only guided me through the post-secondary process but provided support and cheered me on throughout my whole journey –we still kept in contact years later as she would always celebrate my accomplishments. Because of her role and actions as a coach, I decided I wanted to build that same bond with students and knew that If I were to become a coach, I would want to provide the same amount of support for my own students as she did with hers. However, the biggest factor that confirmed my decision to become a coach was honestly my own mistakes and failures that I made and encountered as I really wanted to use it as a learning curve for others.
2. Describe your coaching style in one word.
Rodriguez: Flexible, I’m easy going but definitely want to make sure students meet their deadlines!
Sajjapala: Innovative. Through coaching, I’ve learned and experienced that the obvious solution definitely isn’t always a “one size fits all” and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily always work exactly or even similarly for another student, coach, or sometimes even a whole campus. I’m constantly putting myself in an innovative/creative mindset so I can come up with new tactics and options that will best serve my students individually. I try to think outside the box a little to make sure we progress towards our student’s goals and milestones.
3. How have you gone above and beyond in your service this year?
Rodriguez: Serving with College Forward and its partnership with My Brother’s Keeper has given me many opportunities for personal and professional growth. Juggling a caseload of 60 students, continuously meeting all of them in person, ensuring they are all on track and updating online databases with their progress has made this service year very active, and showed me I can handle multiple tasks at once!
Sajjapala: I think that this year, I’ve made sure to gain as many experiences from my service year as I can. Within the organization, I took on a unique caseload through our special partnership with the Greater Austin Area’s My Brother’s Keeper. Through this partnership, I am able to provide mentorship and promote success in higher education for 50 high school juniors who are young men of color. I also joined various committees such as College Forward AmeriCorps Selection Team (CFAST) and the Mentor Committee while also diving a little more into my AmeriCorps side of service and becoming an ambassador for the ServeAustin collaborative. These additional roles have given me a unique opportunity to assist in the engagement and selection process of future AmeriCorps members and student mentors of College Forward while also sharing my own experiences as an AmeriCorps coach.
4. What is your favorite part of working with your students?
Rodriguez: Getting to see their academic and personal growth as the school year progresses. I love to see their excitement when talking about their future college plans and realizing that in a few months they are going to be entering a new phase in their lives.
Sajjapala: My favorite part about working with my students is definitely getting to know them and how unique their personalities, goals, and dreams are. Emphasis on the unique, they can sometimes be a WILD and goofy bunch of boys, but they honestly make the job really fun. It’s crazy because they may not always know exactly what they want to pursue in the future, but they all have this huge confidence in themselves that I wish I had. I love working with them almost every day and just genuinely learning more about them and their interests, they are definitely way cooler than I am haha.
5. What are your goals for the rest of your term, and beyond?
Rodriguez: For the rest of my term, as an access coach, I want to ensure all my senior students have a plan after they graduate. I want to continue to build my relationships with my students and really ensure they know someone’s rooting for them to succeed! After my service, I plan on attending graduate school and continuing my studies in Forensic Science. Eventually, I would love to work in a crime laboratory or government laboratory as a Toxicologist.
Sajjapala: Throughout the rest of my term I hope to be able to continue to work with my students and provide all the resources I can so that they can be prepared for their senior year and applying to programs. I want to build stronger connections with them to make sure they know that they are always supported and have a coach, team, and whole network of people who are rooting for them. After my service term, I hope to further my own education and pursue the medical field. It’s almost a completely different path than education and teaching, but the two worlds are crazy parallel to me as I hope to someday become a practicing physician who supports and builds strong relationships with my own patients and the community.
6. What is the best advice you have ever received?
Rodriguez: If it’s not going to matter in five years, don’t spend the next five minutes stressing/worrying about it.
Sajjapala: You can’t succeed if you don’t try, and if you don’t try, you already lost to the challenge.
7. Can you share something that you wished your students knew about you?
Rodriguez: I wish my students knew how deep their impact has been on me. Seeing how excited they are about moving forward, continually reminds me to keep moving forward myself and reach for my goals.
Sajjapala: Sometimes I wish my students truly knew more about some of the academic and personal struggles I went through during high school and undergraduate. I try to expand on it and bring it up to validate their own experiences a little, but because I’ve “made it already” it’s hard for them to see that it wasn’t all pretty pictures and rainbows. My main focus is always putting their goals first and their current obstacles, but in my coach-mindset, it’s hard to steer from that a little. I want them to know these things (and believe it) so they understand that no matter what happens in the future or present, they definitely can overcome it as long as they believe in themselves and push forward.
8. What advice do you have for the next generation of AmeriCorps coaches?
Rodriguez: Definitely come in with a positive mindset and flexible workstyle. There are going to be situations in which a last-minute change occurs and you have to learn how to roll with the punches to get your job done. Keeping a positive mindset and not focusing on the small imperfections/issues will greatly aid you in having an awesome service term!
Sajjapala: My biggest advice would be to make the most out of your service term. Be present and involved and reach out to others when you need support too! Our students are our superstars and the actions that you make now can and will impact big steps for someone else’s future. Even though we may not be in the spotlight, also don’t forget that you have people around you who understand and are willing to support you as well.
9. Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your term?
Rodriguez: My students! Getting to see them every day on campus and seeing a direct impact of what my service term is doing for them pushes me to continue to grow and evolve into a better person and access coach.
Sajjapala: My biggest inspiration throughout my term has 100% been all of the people and everyone I’ve gotten to meet through AmeriCorps and College Forward. The biggest and most obvious source is my students, however, the whole spectrum of individuals I’ve met have each been inspiring in their own ways. Many of our students are so bright and have such a strong sense of wanting more for themselves and their families, our Corps members are all extremely compassionate and creative, and everyone from our organization and all the various communities we’ve worked with are so supportive of each other that it’s literally so hard not to be inspired. Learning about everyone and their ambitions always inspire me to continue to reach for my own and I always feel like I’m constantly reflecting on myself and am able to learn something from everyone I’ve met.