Coyote Chronicles: Learning, Laughing, and Launching a Future

My time at California State University, San Bernardino, henceforth CSUSB, has been a highly enlightening and educational experience that has given me an opportunity to develop academically, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Reviewing the American Association of Colleges and Universities High Impact Practices, henceforth HIP’s, has given me an opportunity to reflect on my growth over the course of the past two years and really highlight the specific methodologies and practices I have taken part in that have contributed to said growth. While I do not belong to an historically underserved demographic in higher education, I have nonetheless benefited by participating in various activities represented in these practices. Throughout this reflection, I will highlight and provide anecdotal experiences that align with various HIP’s. These include capstone courses and projects, collaborative assignments, diversity learning, the construction of portfolios both digital and physical, first-year seminars, learning communities, service learning, and writing intensive courses.

I will begin with perhaps the most clear and obvious experience of the above practices, capstone, or senior projects, creating a physical and digital portfolio, and writing intensive courses, of which this reflection essay is a part. I am enrolled in CAL 5900, which is a writing intensive senior assessment class. I have been asked to put together a portfolio that will hopefully find use as I begin to search for employment upon completing my degree. This portfolio includes a cover letter and letter of interest, resume and curriculum vitae, recommendation letters, sample lesson plans, connecting previous works to program learning outcomes, this reflection, and a further reflection that links this reflection to the accomplished program learning outcomes. It has been an incredibly useful experience that has given me an opportunity to reflect on my past works and further develop my professional philosophy that I will carry into my time as an educator. It also serves as a practice in my organizational skills and time management. This seminar and project are entirely asynchronous, without any due dates, or any structural scaffolding via learning management software. While I appreciate the practice and exercise in the above skills this affords me, I do think students would benefit from the course being integrated into some form of learning management system, such as Canvas. That said, this project is one of the last projects many of us will do before stepping into postgraduate classes or the workforce. So, this experience of having a writing intensive course without any due dates or anything beyond a loose structure, is a great practice for what many of us will experience as we move on from the university experience.

Perhaps one of the more enjoyable experiences I have had, and there have been a lot of them, have been the opportunities I have been given to work collaboratively with my fellow classmates. While I am not a shy person and am more than fine taking lead on a given project, I can tell when I am paired with a person or people that are not accustomed or comfortable working in groups. As someone who wants to devote my life to educating and helping people, it is really a great feeling when that shy person comes out of their shell and the rest of us get to witness their strengths flourish. Furthermore, as a future educator it is important for me to flex that social muscle and improve my abilities at working well with others, as it is something I will be doing with fellow educators and students alike. When I think about collaborative work I have done during my time at CSUSB, my mind is immediately drawn to a couple classes. At the end of the Fall 2022 semester, my 3D Foundation art class assigned us a group project to build an interactive project. Even though one of my group members was rather shy, we genuinely meshed well together and had an absolute blast working on our project. We built a modified version of “Hungry Hungry Hippos” that played on themes of greed and the desire to win at all costs. My group members were extremely intelligent young women who were filled with brilliant ideas and listening to their ideas during our brainstorming sessions really highlighted what can be gained by listening to others. The other collaborative experience that stands out as I reflect is my time in the Math 30XX series. I took these courses with a group of women who helped me grow academically, emotionally, professionally, and really contributed to my growth as a well-rounded individual. During group assignments, we would take turns rotating who led the group, and we all got to experience different styles of coordination and collaboration. These four women were essential to my success and provided me with what is absolutely the most important HIP I experienced during my time at CSUSB: the friendships.

The friendships and community I built during my time at CSUSB is truly something that touched my heart and will remain with me for the rest of my life. During my first semester at CSUSB, I noticed I kept seeing the same faces in many of my classes. We got to know each other and began working together on assignments. When it came time to register for the following semester, we got together and attempted to register for any classes we all needed together. This process continued through each and every semester and continues to this day. We went from acquaintances that worked well together, to developing friendships that will last for years to come. We helped each other when the stress of school or life affected us; none of us were ever alone. There was always a friend nearby willing to help in any way. My time at CSUSB has been made easier by this makeshift community, especially one friend in particular, Yesenia Briceño, who has been a life changing blessing to me. I truly cannot imagine what this experience would have been like without her, and more broadly the rest of our little community. I think we really showed each other the importance of building a support group in anything we do, and my experiences with them really highlight how much stronger my work can be when I have colleagues around me ready and willing to be a part of both my successes and failures.

I first met those women who would eventually become very close friends in a first-year seminar designed for transfer students, CAL 2970. This was an interesting course that acted as a sort of precursor to this senior seminar. For me it was one of those classes I looked forward to attending each and every day. At the time there were moments where I struggled to understand the relevance of certain assignments in the class, such as an occasion when we were placed in a group and asked to put together a video about one of the buildings found on campus. However, when I look at the assignments and experiences in the class with hindsight, the course, its assignments, and their relevance, become much clearer. One of the more mentally challenging and exhausting assignments throughout my entire time at CSUSB came in the class as we read through Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This book is not what I think most would consider light reading, however the topics it covers are particularly relevant to educators and even the most rudimentary understanding of the topics Friere discusses will be useful to any aspiring educator. The book discusses, among a multitude of other things, how it is crucial for education to move away from the banking system, oppressive behavior, particularly within education, and how marginalized populations are often not given the same academic opportunities. This is something I felt CSUSB has excelled very well at, ensuring an environment that is welcoming, inclusive, and socially aware.

When I transferred to CSUSB, I was in the unique position of having already fulfilled the brand new ethnic studies requirement. While the class I had taken at RCC did not count initially, eventually the head of that department took a close look at a class I had taken, which was now classified as a class that fulfilled the ethnic studies requirement. They determined I did not need to take the class at CSUSB. On the one hand, I was happy that it was one less class I needed toward reaching my goal. On the other hand, as a future educator I did feel like the awareness and empathy an ethnic studies class can impart on students was vital. Fortunately, the vast majority of the classes I have taken at CSUSB are socially conscious and make an effort to ensure students are educated in social justice practices and the historical treatment of marginalized populations. Some classes handled these topics beautifully, while others engaged in discussions and activities that left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. See, I am earning my degree and entering a field that is filled with people that predominantly identify as women, so as a white, heterosexual male, I am the perfect example of someone that has benefited from the systems in place that keep others down. I understand that and am always willing to engage in conversations about these topics. There were classes, like CAL 2970 or ENG 3030, where these discussions were held in a manner that was respectful and insightful to all parties involved. That said, there were also classes where I, being the only cis male in the class, was used as the example for why women need to always carry pepper spray or travel in groups when entering a parking garage. While I think it is unfortunate that we must talk about these things, I do understand the importance of these discussions. However, when I am used as the example for what women walking to their car alone need to be afraid of, I could not help but feel a bit gross. It was a much more fulfilling, educational, and productive experience when I was given the opportunity to be an active participant in the discussion rather than the temporary example of the “rapist” or villain.

One practice I felt I was given a few opportunities to practice, but was mostly denied, through no fault of CSUSB, was service learning. Unfortunately, I took all the classes that actually put you out in the field during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of my aforementioned friends are currently taking classes that ask students to step into an elementary classroom and observe and/or participate with the class. Because I took these classes when schools were shut down and doing remote learning, my experience was significantly different. Rather than enter a classroom and observe students, I was given a list of YouTube videos to watch and simply told to summarize what I had seen. Now there were some great ideas and activities I witnessed while watching these videos, however the experience is much different, and I do wish I had been able to step into a classroom. There were classes that did provide an opportunity for me to engage in service learning. For example, in CAL 2970 I participated in a group project that asked us to go to a building on campus and create a video about the services that building offered. It was a great exercise in collaboration, teamwork, and community engagement, and upon completion I was given the opportunity to reflect on the project and chronicle what I had learned from the experience.

Overall, I have loved my time at CSUSB and will carry its lessons, both academically and extracurricular, with me for the rest of my life. When I applied for transfer from RCC, I applied to every school in my area, and was accepted to all of them. Initially, I chose CSUSB because I had previous experience at this school (2006-2007). In hindsight, this was probably not the best reason to choose a school, but I am glad I did. I felt challenged and pushed to grow in the many ways I have discussed above and developed relationships I am hopeful will last the rest of my life.