The summer before my senior year of high school I had a list of what my ideal college entailed. It had to be a liberal arts college where I would be taught in a small classroom setting. It would allow me to form connections with my professors, as well as my peers, both academically and personally. I wanted to have productive discussions about what we read and learned in class that allowed each person’s voice to be heard.
I already knew what I was looking for, what my home for the next four years should be like. Or I thought I did.
As I visited colleges, I realized I was looking for one thing in particular that I could not find in a catalog or a website, something that I could only see while I was there. I was looking for a college with a town.
Not all colleges have towns. I have visited colleges where the campus itself was the town. But that was not what I wanted. I wanted a campus in which students were not the only people walking around, one in which not every house was owned by the college. I wanted to be able to engage in a community outside of the college itself. I found that when I visited Oberlin April of my senior year.
Residents in the town could be seen walking around campus with their pets and children. Tappan Square, a focal point for both the college and the town, bridged a connection to make Oberlin one community instead of a campus in a town. During my visit I also had an engaging conversation with the director of the Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research, Beth Blissman. I learned that while at Oberlin I could be both a student and a member of the Oberlin community. Oberlin was (and still is) my ideal college.
The Bonner Center was instrumental in my participation with the Oberlin community. As soon as I arrived on campus as a first-year student, I participated in the Day of Service, a day of community service in Oberlin and the surrounding areas that introduces new students to the community at large and to different opportunities to participate in it. My site that year was Oberlin High School, where a group of incoming students and I worked in the school’s courtyard garden. That day, I met the district superintendent, who welcomed us to Oberlin, and I learned about the education system in Oberlin over the past few years—the conversion of all the public schools to the International Baccalaureate program—and the general educational difficulties at Oberlin City Schools. I had some background working toward educational improvements in underserved areas in high school, so I was immediately interested and excited to find a way to participate in the community’s educational efforts.
My first experience was as a tutor with the America Counts program at Prospect Elementary School. I was paired with a student in the fourth grade. We met every week on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and a half to work on his homework and different mathematical skills.Tutoring was a challenging experience that was both rewarding and frustrating at the same time, but as a tutor, I learned as much as my tutee did. Learning how to assist someone’s learning, especially someone who has a different learning style, helped me better understand how I learned and how to teach. After my experience with America Counts, I knew that I wanted to continue tutoring at the public schools in Oberlin.
At the end of my first year, I applied to be a tutor at the Ninde Scholars Program, which began in 2005 with a $450,000 challenge grant from Dick and Nan Ninde to assist Oberlin High School students in their aspirations to go to college and obtain degrees. The Oberlin community and other communities in Lorain County met the challenge and raised the necessary funds to create the program.
As I enter my third year at Oberlin, I am still a tutor with the Ninde Scholars Program, and I will conduct research on the work the program has done over the past seven years. Being a tutor has become part of my Oberlin experience and has helped me find what I am passionate about. As I receive my own education I have the opportunity to help others obtain theirs.
One thing I have learned at Oberlin is that one person can make a difference. Even after I graduate Oberlin, I want to continue helping others fulfill their aspirations and make a difference in their lives. Maybe one day I will be that professor or teacher forming connections with my students.
I did not grow up in Oberlin, nor did I set foot in Ohio before I visited Oberlin my senior year of high school. But the community here and the education of the children in Oberlin mean as much to me as they do to any other Oberlin resident.