What was the most impactful aspect of your OTF experience?
The entire experience was impactful, it was such an eye-opening experience to see how many different areas and topics were being covered; it really opened my eyes that there are so many more areas in the geosciences than I had ever imagined. Overall though, I think the most impactful thing at the conference was how supportive every person I interacted with was. I was incredibly anxious and scared about attending, and then presenting my work. Those who stopped at my poster presentation were incredibly supportive and eager to hear what I had to share. That was a new experience for me; having the life experience I have had, I was worried about judgement, or not knowing all the answers to questions people may ask me. But the responses I had, and questions that challenged me, made me eager to continue my school to explore some various new areas for my career, and it made me want to make sure I worked to find a way to come back next year.
What do you remember most from GSA 2022?
I think one of the things I remember the most was getting to sit down at the GSA and talk with my geology teacher. While I was at my internship over the summer, I was with a group of students who knew sooo much about geology, it was overwhelming and honestly intimidating. They were naming all of these things about rocks and whatever else, while I was standing there confused about how there was more than one type of rock. (That was day 1 too, so imposter syndrome came up quick!) But throughout the summer I heard them talk and share their research too, and although I did not understand a bit of it, something clicked and I rearranged my fall schedule and signed up for my first-ever geology class, and I mean first ever. It turned out that my professor was going to be attending GSA as well and she made a point to offer me guidance, support, and came to my poster presentation. I got to take some time one day and sit with her outside the exhibit hall and share my experiences that had led up to my participation and talk to her about my path. In this conversation too, she shared with me some of the details of the effort she had to put forth to be able to attend the conference and the cost, something I had not thought about. It just made me realize how thankful I was to be a part of OTF and to be able to experience the conference in its entirety. Plus the opportunity to share conversation with my professor about her passions and knowledge and get to discuss everything we were seeing and hearing; it just was an experience that made me really happy and so thankful for how things had worked out to lead me to that point. (All of this also led me to fall in love with my geology course and now pursue a double associate’s degree in engineering and geology.)
What was your mentorship experience like? Would you consider returning to serve as a mentor?
I did not work with a mentor specifically at the GSA; I would absolutely do it next time if I had the opportunity to. The fear of the unknown made me really unsure about exploring that option. But the mentorship that I received in the internship where I did my research was amazing, their support is what made me not completely talk myself out of the conference, and their support while I was there contributed to my eagerness to try again. I also would absolutely love to serve as a mentor in the future; I believe that sharing those vulnerabilities, like being scared to attend and present, can be just as if not more important than sharing one’s knowledge and experience. Sometimes we just need to know that there is someone out there, feeling what we’re feeling and that they got through it, so you can too.
After your OTF experience, how do you see OTF influencing or impacting your future?
OTF gave me a hands-on experience that I would not have otherwise been able to experience or possibly have been brave enough to try. Since the GSA was in my hometown, it was extremely hard to talk myself out of going, though I tried, and I had done small presentations at my community college, but nothing like this. When I was presenting, I felt very proud and accomplished; I remembered how much work I put into my internship that got me there. Also while I was there, I learned about so many interesting areas of study, like geophysics, and I got to see others’ work which resembled my own, which combined geosciences with social sciences and focused a lot on the impact on people and some crossover with areas like climate change, which encompass much of what I want my future to revolve around working in. If I did not have the OTF support, I would not have been able to know the infinite options that are out there for me to explore, and I always like to share that if one lacks the knowledge, how can they access the information.
Why should donors support programs like OTF?
I come from a low-income background, I’m a first-generation college student, and first one in my family who got a GED, even after dropping out shortly after completing middle school. The area of STEM is not one I knew a thing about, until I came back to college at 28 years old with two kiddos and a ton of responsibilities I was trying to balance. It is not easy trying to work through any one of those hurdles individually, but especially coming from a background where you never have access to anything remotely similar, and where there is no other support system in place for exploration of these type of areas. A program like OTF allows someone like me to feel valued and heard; being selected out of a sea of applicants, it’s the first step in validating the hard work, sleepless nights, and definitely the tears that go into your work. It feels like someone is standing on the sidelines and just saying, “Yeah, Jamie, you got this! We know you are doing great things, breaking those cycles, overcoming those hurdles, and you are worthy of being here.”
There’s so much conversation around equality and equity nowadays; sure programs like OTF can’t overcome 28-odd years of inequity I may have experienced, but they sure help to give me hope for the future and feel support that I can still accomplish great things despite any of my circumstances, because there are strangers out there rooting for me just as much as I’m rooting for me. Donating to OTF could do for someone, what it did for me, took that little spark and fanned it into a full-blown fire, where I am so eager to continue studying, going to school, and starting my career, plus it has allowed me to take my own experience and share within my own community. I went back to school and restarted our engineering club with a focus in the area of geosciences, I also created and presented my own REU workshop for our STEM students, sharing many of the resources shared with me at GSA, and it allowed me to provide some one-on-one peer mentoring and support in these areas with students at my college. I believe investing our most vulnerable communities is invaluable; it can create a generations-long ripple effect, and I plan to one day be on the other side, investing in the future of others just like myself.