My students will tell you I’m pretty much an open book. And that I like to keep it real. And that I’m not shy about asking what you ate for breakfast or encouraging you to do a quick down dog. I’m also a total introvert and so while I love connecting with people, I revel in my quiet, focused time I try to make happen everyday.
It’s crazy to think I’ve been running a federal grant and working with some of the most awe-inspiring students I know for nearly fifteen years now. Seems like just yesterday I was interviewing for this job, not even knowing what a first generation college student is – and that I’m one of ’em!
I’ve done a ton of pretty neat things in my life. I’m from Wisconsin, grew up in Milwaukee, definitely working class family, I love that my Dad was a firefighter for the City of Milwaukee for 35 years – how cool is that? My family also spent a lot of time “up north” and we’re super lucky to have had our “Zanski family cottage” since about 1985. Lots of wonderful memories in the Northwoods.
Good student, went to a small liberal arts college and got turned on to International Studies. Never thinking much about what I would actually do with it, I loved learning about international events and different cultures. For a period of time from about 1991 – 1995, I went abroad to a different country every year! I did a semester in China and then shorter trips, mostly social justice oriented and mostly in Central America. My conservation interests came into view my junior year after taking an Environmental Science class and realizing we’re destroying the planet.
I eventually got myself into grad school, quite blindly I might add. I took the GRE (paper/pencil-style!) twice and didn’t know what an assistantship was when I got one. My friend, Nina, helped me write my personal statement. Spent three glorious years at Ohio University studying poverty, conservation, native plants, community development and more. I wrote my thesis on the life of an herbalist/organic farmer bent on restoring 80 acres of highly degraded strip-mined land. That was pretty cool.
The thing is I got out of school, again, and still felt lost. I meandered here + there, worked at Tufts University, thought I was going to grad school – again – this time for Landscape Architecture at Madison (oopsies, not), instead worked on a perennial farm, did wedding flowers and did some historic preservation work with the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Found myself in Mount Pleasant, Michigan because of my Kenny, and somehow landed the McNair gig not knowing, anything really. Fast forward three kids later and about 150 scholars, I still have to pinch myself that I get to do this work. Supporting low income, first generation, underrepresented students in their path toward higher education has been the greatest gift. I learn so much from our students and I cherish the time we get to spend together.
Empowering young people is probably the best way to describe what I do. I’ve woven in the critical topic of health + wellness into this work and I’m convinced that helping our students incorporate self-care into their academic journeys is key to their success. This has really become my passion.
And so I’m setting out to continue doing this important work, at least for as long as we can given the extreme uncertainties of our government and the world. I’m also setting out to further explore this passion, go deeper into how I can be of service and create avenues of opportunity.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my story. I really appreciate that.