Scholar Spotlight: Katelyn Mann

Current Corvias scholar Katelyn Mann recently finished a semester spent studying abroad with the School for International Training in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Katelyn is heading into her senior year at Green Mountain College in Vermont and is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and community development. Her incredible adventures and rich learning in Argentina are a testament to the power of study abroad experiences, and Katelyn agreed to discuss her experience with the Corvias Connects blog so that other members of our community can use her experiences as a way to better understand what it’s like to live and learn abroad.

  • What made you want to study abroad?

As an army brat with both parents in the service growing up, I moved 19 times and never lived in a place for more than two years until college arrived. I attend Green Mountain College, a small (less then 500 students) environmental studies and sustainability-focused university located in rural Vermont. Two weeks into my freshman year at Green Mountain, I moved onto a student cooperative where I lived in the same room and community for two and a half years before I spent junior spring studying in Argentina.  It is an incredible feeling having a comfortable place to settle into and call home, but with my childhood structure I have the wanderlust and ants-in-my-pants lifestyle sewn into my personality. I knew I needed to step out of Green Mountain for a bit to come back for my senior year rested and rejuvenated. I also wanted to expand my educational horizons—I am a huge believer in the power of experiential education and gaining wisdom through exploration. I worked at a dairy cooperative in Peru during a gap year before starting college for this reason. I wanted to step once again into a completely different environment to see how what I was learning about sustainable community development at Green Mountain applied in another context.

  • How did you decide to study in Argentina?

Argentina suffered one of the most recent dictatorships in South America, ending in 1983. In 2001, Argentina suffered an extreme economic crisis. These two disastrous historic periods set the seeds for strong grassroots social movements in Argentina focusing on human rights, social justice, and environmental justice that still thrive today. I wanted to study the growth and theory behind these social movements, especially with the current political environment in the U.S. and the growth of social movements state side. At Green Mountain, I study sustainable community development and agroecology. I love looking into participatory planning, community led facilitation, and other tools for locally led development. Grassroots participation in social movements is a huge tool for positive change.

  • Could you explain to us what the School for International Training is, and how its programs work?

First off- SIT is incredible. Here is their mission statement: “SIT prepares students to be interculturally effective leaders, professionals, and citizens. In so doing, SIT fosters a worldwide network of individuals and organizations committed to responsible global citizenship. SIT fulfills this mission with field-based academic study abroad programs for undergraduates and accredited master’s degrees and certificate programs for graduates and professionals.” SIT has college study abroad programs—semester and summer—all around the world, focused on critical issues such as environmental health and sustainability, just urban development, peace studies, immigration and discrimination. Incredibly important current topics. The programs are run by local staff and the professors are from local universities or organizations, where ever you are. Many of their programs in Latin America are taught in Spanish, which is why I was first drawn to the program. They have a reputation for being an academically challenging, and rewarding, program. I would say that to be absolutely true. During my program, we were based in Buenos Aires at a faculty office space in a building which we shared with a few other research organizations and NGOs. We had lectures and classes by professors that were the experts of their fields- we would be reading articles written by our professors. We took two large trips—around 10-14 days—in which we traveled in the South and North of Argentina to meet social movements and organizations and learn about their place-based issues, work, and campaigns. While in the city, we had opportunities to meet with urban movements and organizations and join or observe protests and manifestations (which in Buenos Aires, happen a few times a week). The topics of the issues ranged, as did the backgrounds of the students, so each of us had the opportunity to focus in on what we were most passionate about. The semester was packed full, and the best experiential education opportunity I have ever had.

  • What kinds of classes did you take in Argentina?

I took History of Human Rights in Argentina, Social Movements Theory, Research Methods and Ethics, Spanish, and in my last month I completed an Internship and mini-thesis with the agroecological cooperative Iriarte Verde.

  • What has it been like to live in Argentina?

Living in Buenos Aries was hectic, fun, and smelly. I play Ultimate Frisbee, which has a small but loyal following in Buenos Aires. I joined a women’s and a mixed team and made amazing friends on my teams. Argentineans are night owls, so I got very little sleep throughout the semester, even though I am not much of a partier. I bought a teammate’s old bike and we would bike around the city late at night when the traffic had subsided, exploring new neighborhoods and stopping at various plazas to toss a frisbee and drink mate (a traditional South American caffeinated beverage). One of my favorite hangout spots was a bright light lively bar with a vast amount of ping pong tables, free on Tuesday nights. Coming from rural Vermont, living in Buenos Aires seemed like the exact opposite of the setting of my last years of college. Plenty of great restaurants and cafes to explore, various public university faculties that offered open lectures, cultural centers all across the city that hosted free dance classes—you can fill up all your time in a city like Buenos Aires. I loved it, although I did get to the point in which I yearned deeply for a large expansive forest. But the overall best part of living in Buenos Aires was the people—my ultimate teammates and a few students at the University of Buenos Aires that I befriended and I will always keep in touch. I plan to return, and I still send frequent WhatsApp voice memos to my buds to keep my Spanish in tune.

  • Have you been able to travel much previously? What have been some of your favorite experiences?

I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively, mostly for educational opportunities and conference participations. The most impactful experience was traveling to Peru after graduating high school and living in a small rural village in the mountains, learning and interning at an organic dairy cooperative. I was able to help herders milk their cows, see the centuries old method of community water management, and facilitate a discussion about community sustainability issues at one of the monthly meetings. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn from the cooperative and community members. Another highlight was my first time couchsurfing (an online platform that connects travelers with locals who are willing to host travelers for free for a night or two). I was traveling before a conference I had received a scholarship to attend in Australia. I spent a week with an artist in Sydney, who was also hosting a German women and a Polish family. We all went dumpster diving in the evenings at the organic grocery stores and cooked dinners together, sharing recipes and travel stories. It was incredible to see the generosity and curiosity of everyone, and realize how similar we all are, sharing human emotions and sentiments. My travels have taught me to relish diversity and be open to new experiences at every turn.

  • What has surprised you about the study abroad experience?

What surprised me the most was the lack of curiosity some students had for the unknown and new experiences. I would suggest to anyone studying abroad to put a lot of effort into making local friends and practicing the local language. The study abroad experience can be exponentially improved by breaking out of your comfort bubble.

  • What have you missed most about the United States?

The ability to buy hummus and good, inexpensive vegetarian food. In Vermont, I am fortunate to have a proliferation of local farms around, making access to organic fresh produce easier than in Buenos Aires, or in many areas of the United States. I had a difficult time finding good lunch or snack foods for an affordable price.

  • What advice would you give Corvias Scholars who are thinking of studying abroad?

Get out of your comfort zone to make friends from wherever you are. Join a sport, or art class, or try to go on a date—whatever. Just get out there. Don’t ever be embarrassed by your language abilities—just practice and try to speak the language as much as possible. When my Argentinean friends speak to me in English, I always respond in Spanish, showing them my stubbornness and want to improve. And if you like a bike, try finding one. It made my daily commute much easier and opened up access to the city for me.

Scholar Spotlight: Ariana Melendez

Opening

Opening the Match Day letter.

2008 Corvias Scholarship recipient Ariana Melendez recently marked the culmination of her journey through medical school with a successful Match Day! On Match Day, thousands of medical students from around the country find out what residency programs they’ll be heading to for their first positions as doctors. Ariana matched with UC-Irvine’s OBGYN program and will be officially graduating from medical school in about a month! Ariana recently agreed to answer some questions from the Corvias Connects blog and share her experiences with our community.

All opinions and experiences represented are Ariana’s own and do not represent those of any institutions she is affiliated with.

1) Could you tell us a bit about your med school journey up to this point? How did you decide you wanted to attend med school, and where have you been studying so far?

This is a bit of a doozy – unlike a lot of people, I wasn’t totally set on medical school before, or even when I graduated from, college. It was something I had always considered, but I wasn’t sure it was the right path for me, and at the time of college graduation, I couldn’t iterate quite why medical school was a good fit for me. Having said that, I always loved the sciences, so I majored in Biology at the University of Chicago. As a part of that, I had the opportunity to take some classes on the ethics of medicine that really inspired me. Following college graduation in 2012, I served with Teach for America teaching high school biology and physics. While I absolutely LOVED my kids, I realized I missed being a part of the process of scientific discovery. Combining that with wanting to continue to serve under-served communities and being involved in advocacy, I felt like medicine could be a great fit. I started medical school in 2014 at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago.

2) How exactly does ‘med school’ work? What makes it different from, say, a university experience?

Alright, stick with me here – it’s a long process and I didn’t know how a lot of it worked until I got there. Most medical school programs are four years of training. Roughly the first two are classroom years – lectures on the basic sciences (think biochemistry, genetics, physiology) and combining that knowledge with medical basics (immunology, pathology) to begin to formulate a basis for making diagnoses. We also take classes on how to be good doctors – how to conduct patient interviews, write notes, and concerns specific to certain populations. At my school, we also spent some time involved in patient care during those first two years. Then, we take our first board exam – Step 1.

The third year, we start clinical rotations – essentially, we work at hospitals and clinics in a variety of fields – surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry, and my favorite, obstetrics and gynecology. During third year, we work a lot with residents – doctors who have graduated medical school and are onto their next level of medical training in a specific specialty. We also work with fellows (doctors getting additional training in a sub-specialty following residency), attendings (doctors who have completed their training), nurses, physical therapists, social workers, and everyone else who makes a hospital run. As students, we see patients, assist in procedures, and help the team function administratively.  

During our fourth year, we take our second set of board exams (Step 2 CK and Step 2 CS), do additional rotations – usually starting on rotations in whatever specialty we’re interested in, and ending on rotations we need to graduate and elective activities such as research – and interview for residency. Some people take additional time in medical school to get additional degrees – MPHs, MBAs, and more – and others take time to do research to help them be more competitive residency applicants.

Overall, medical school was pretty different than college for me. The last two years of medical school are much like having a job, and not like college at all. In college, all of my classes were mandatory, and most of them were small seminars. In medical school, many of our classes were large lectures for our whole class (~185 people) that weren’t mandatory. This meant I could stay home and watch lectures online at a speed that was better for taking notes or comprehending the material. Additionally, we do a fair amount of small group team-based learning in medical school, which helps develop our abilities to form diagnoses. My college experience was a lot more focused on understanding processes and having discussions based on specific topics, whereas my medical school experience was much more rooted in mastering a large volume of information. We often joke that med school is like drinking from a fire hydrant – a lot comes at you fast and you have to keep up! It’s hard, but it’s so worth it!

3) Could you explain how the “Match Day” process works?

The Match Day process is actually just a small part of the longer residency application process. Everything you do in medical school is part of your residency application, as can be experiences you had before medical school (work experiences, research), however, the application opens the summer before fourth year begins, and we can begin submitting our applications in mid-September. There are also separate earlier matches for people participating in the military match or applying to specialties like urology and ophthalmology.

Our application includes a personal statement, letters of recommendation, test scores, a CV, personal information, and a list of all the programs we’re applying to. Most people only apply to one specialty, but some people apply to two or even three, and some specialties require doing a preliminary year in surgery or medicine before starting their official specialty.

After we submit our applications, residency programs offer candidates interviews. The interview season goes from October-January, and can involve a lot of travel! It’s a lot of fun to see and meet different programs, but the process can be exhausting too!

In February, both applicants and programs submit a rank list. For candidates, that’s a list of the programs we interviewed at in the order we want to go to them, and for programs, it’s a list of candidates they interviewed in the order they want them. After our lists our submitted, an algorithm runs a matching process which pairs applicants with their top program that also ranked them. Then, we wait!

The Monday of Match week, we find out if, but not where, we matched. Sometimes people don’t match, and they enter a process called the SOAP, where they can try to match at programs that did not fill all of their spots. That Friday, or Match Day, we find out where we matched!

Reading

Reading to find out where she’d matched.

4) Does this mean that we get to call you ‘Doctor’ now?

Not quite! But after I graduate in May, yes! (Editor’s Note: It’s official! Feel free to refer to her as Dr. Melendez at the next summit 😀 )

5) How did you actually find out where you had “Matched”?

At my school, we have a ceremony where we’re all given envelopes containing our match results, have a countdown, and open at the same time surrounded by friends and family. Some schools have students go up one-by-one and open their envelopes at a podium. I was really anxious going into the match and could hardly speak after I opened my envelope, so that would have been really hard for me. Overall, it’s really interesting because some people are very excited by their matches (like me!) and others have more bittersweet experiences (like some of my friends who have to move away from loved ones, or who didn’t get one of their top choices.)

6) How did it feel to find that you had matched with UC-Irvine’s OBGYN program?

I was absolutely thrilled! The process had been very stressful for me, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. UCI was my first choice, and I think it’s going to be a great fit! I had a lot of people rooting for me throughout this process, and they kept telling me it was going to work out, but the voice in my head was less sure. One thing I learned through this process was that I should listen to the people around me a bit better! Because I was going through this process with my husband, I knew he was also really relieved to be going back to his home state, so that made it even better!  

7) How are you feeling about moving to the West Coast?

I LOVE Chicago, but given that it snowed here a day ago (it’s April!) I’m ready for a change of pace! My husband’s family lives in California, and his job is based out there, so it works out well for both of us! Of course, moving isn’t easy, but as a brat, this is old hat. 😉

After 2

Feelings after a successful Match!

8) Now that you’ve matched: what comes next? When will you start transitioning towards your residency, and what will that process look like?

At this point, I’m just wrapping my last course of medical school, then graduation is in about a month, then we’re taking a vacation before heading off to our new lives in California. For now, it’s filling out a lot of paperwork, but once I start I’ll hit the ground running – full on doctoring – with support of course! Another point of clarification – a lot of people wonder if internship and residency are the same thing – interns are just first year residents. It’s kind of like squares and rectangles.

9) This is, in some ways, a culmination of your experiences in medical school. Have you been reflecting on the experience lately? If so, what has been coming to mind?

Yep, this is definitely the end, and I’ve been doing tons of reflecting. Overall, this experience has been hard and has taught me a lot about myself – how to take care of myself and my mental health better, what my identity is an adult, woman, and doctor, and how I can best help those around me. I’m also really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to learn from those who have done it before me – I’ve had residents, attendings, other medical students, and patients serve as mentors and teachers. I’m so excited to finally be in a position to help others reach higher in the medical field!

Additionally, one of the biggest things that comes to mind is something I was told my first week of medical school – that I would meet some of my best friends here. At the time I didn’t think it was likely, but now I’m leaving with a tight-knit group of friends I couldn’t have done this process without! Even though we’ll be going all over the country, I know I’ve made friends for life – some of whom were even my bridesmaids – and I can’t wait to plan trips to see each other!

10) How did your experiences as an Army brat shape your experiences in medical school?

Resilience and compartmentalization both play huge roles in medicine. We’re often tired, but the world doesn’t stop turning and people don’t stop getting sick. It’s our job to be there when things go great, but also to keep patient care going when things take turns for the worse. It’s a real privilege to be able to be there during some of the most emotional (good and bad) parts of people’s lives. By being an Army brat, I think I developed a pretty strong sense of emotional maturity at a young age, and I think that’s served me well. Doctoring is hard, and experiences often come home with you. Having healthy ways to process strong emotions – whether success, failure, helplessness, or any number of other things – is really valuable.

I also think there’s a lot to be said for diversity in medicine. As a brat, you meet so many people from so many backgrounds, and as a doctor, the same is true. It’s so important to take the time to listen to hear people’s experiences and to know their perspective on their illness. As military kids, we have a lot of opportunities to move between communities. Medical school has allowed me to be a part of even more communities – not just as a medical student and future physician, but as an advocate for women’s health and for equitable treatment of people with disabilities – two things I always innately felt, but didn’t really have enough knowledge about to speak on. Growing up in a multi-ethnic family and having lived in Puerto Rico for three years as a kid has also helped with my Spanish, which is really valuable in letting Spanish-speaking patients know their concerns are valued too!

I talked to a lot of people throughout this process, and it was funny how many people compared the match to getting orders in the military – you bloom where you’re planted was a phrase that came up a lot on the interview trail and describes a lot of my life experiences pretty well. At the same time, from my perspective as a brat, I never got a choice of where we were going, so having a choice in my rankings was certainly a luxury, but also a really tough decision to make!

Finally, as military children, the statistics aren’t always the best in terms of pursuing higher education because there is so much transition. To be able to represent the perspective of someone from a military family as a medical student and future physician is really exciting, and I hope it motivates others from minority backgrounds to keep reaching for their dreams!

11) We know that many Corvias scholars are also working towards careers in the medical field. What advice would you give people who are interested in working in medicine or are already studying medicine?

I think the best advice I can give is to stay humble and actively try not to get jaded. It’s easy when you’re exhausted to take the easy road or not give 100%, but that devalues patients and leads to errors. Sometimes it’s a conscious effort to check yourself, but it’s an important thing to do. For people who are already in medical school, I’d say to keep doing your best – if you got in, you deserve to be here! There are so many rich experiences in medical school – friends, extracurricular activities, faculty, rotations, teaching, and patient experiences – treasure those!

To everyone, medical school isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay, but if you think it’s for you, don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way of your success! Take the time to take care of yourself – emotionally, physically, mentally – you can’t give to others if you can’t take care of yourself. It’s okay to step back and prioritize yourself and your health! Remember that while it can be hard, medicine is not the only hard thing in the world and we are privileged to do what we do. Finally, and I think this is true of all fields, the perfect “work-life balance” does not exist – work and life will never be in equilibrium, but they can be integrated.

After

Reaction after reading the letter!

 

Scholar Spotlight: Tonia Tyler

The Corvias community is filled with amazing individuals who are constantly doing fantastic work to better themselves and their community, and each Alumni Summit we are dazzled by the stories of some of our outstanding Scholars and Alumni. One Corvias Alum, 2007 scholarship winner Tonia Tyler, is currently in the midst of a project to take her own story to the big screen through the creation of a short film. In addition to owning and running the video production company Mal Compris, Tonia is also finishing her studies to receive a Master’s Degree in Film from the Savannah College of Art and Design.  She is currently working on a short film titled “Cautious”, which depicts an encounter between a happy family heading out on a Christmas trip and a rookie police officer on a first patrol. Tonia agreed to take some time away from her production and fundraising schedule to answer some questions for the Corvias Connects blog, and we’re thrilled to share this update from this exciting member of our community!

 

What was your motivation for creating this specific story?

My husband and I were pulled over one night. An officer told us we made a right on red where a sign was clearly posted. Long story short, there was no sign and we got a ticket. That wasn’t the biggest takeaway for me that night. We were pulled over shortly after the most recent in-the-news traffic stop that ended in a victim’s fatality. The fear of that moment, I can’t describe but I knew I could piece together with visual imagery. I was afraid, confused and even angry that I felt we were wrongfully pulled over and now had a ticket to pay, had to make a court appearance – and there was no sign. I sat in the passenger seat fighting the urge to tell the officer, “There’s no sign back there, we live over here.” In the midst of my emotional rollercoaster, I looked up and made eye contact with the officer. I saw fear, I saw anticipation of what would happen next, and I saw a man that felt he was doing just doing his job. That tore me even more. The situation was so complex! I started writing that night.

We’ve heard that this will be your ‘thesis film’ for grad school. Could you explain what a ‘thesis film’ is?

A thesis is a document created to support consideration for an academic or professional qualification. In film school, you have to do a written thesis research paper in addition to spearheading a creative from conception to post-production. That creative can be done in the form of a music video, short film, documentary etc. Both are submitted to several departments and reviewed for a candidate’s graduation.

What does it mean to you to make this film?

It means a lot. It’s a challenge because there are supporters of various movements that don’t necessarily agree with what I’m doing. I honestly don’t think they fully understand it. I don’t really get the chance to explain it sometimes before it’s shut down. Even in those moments, it reminds me how much more understanding the entire world needs when dealing with and communicating with one another. Creating this film, examining another perspective is not my way of diminishing any other perspective. I have no doubt that some people have personal biases and reflect those in their decision making on the job. I’m not denying that, I’m just not creating from that perspective. I feel like we’ve seen that already. This is an already ignited topic, but with a conversation that has hit a wall. My goal has always been to create things that become bigger than the original idea in terms of the positive impact it has on our world.

Where are you in the filmmaking process right now?

The production team just called our selected actors to thank them for being a part of the audition process and invite them to join the cast. We’re having our first rehearsal Thursday night and I’m so excited to get started with performance aspect of it all. Up until now it’s been grind work, trying to network, setting up the campaign, meeting with crew, etc.

What’s been the most exciting part of this project so far?

It’s exciting for me when I get to share about the film with someone and they’re on board, immediately. They understand it’s importance and support everything it stands for. At the callbacks the other day, I released the script to the then potential actors we were considering. At that point, they’d only seen a few lines of the character’s they were auditioning for. I gave them a few moments to read the entire script. The wave of energy that went through the room as each person finished it, it swept over me in waves.

What’s been the hardest part of this project so far?

I would say the hardest part has been finding funding, honestly. A lot of the people I know and have worked with  are struggling artists. As much as they want to help, most of them can’t. I’ve really been reaching out and trying to expand my network to get the project in front of the right people. Funding is so important because as a student filmmaker, you don’t have money and you fill whatever roles with whoever you can. For this film, there’s certain positions that so vital to its success. For example, the sound mixer, the colorist they have to be great, not even just good at what they do. People that are great at what they do and have the required experience, cost money.

We know that many Scholars have taken on projects that involve a fundraising component. Could you explain a bit of how you started an IndieGogo campaign, and what that process has been like?

I started the campaign by making a video explaining the project and the inspiration behind it. That involved facing my fears of being on camera! It’s been interesting. I’m doing so much research, writing so many letters. Just trying to be concise but informative about the goals and purpose of this film. All while trying to attract an audience to the film.

We know you’re an incredibly busy person: how do you balance this project, grad school, and everything else you’ve got going on in your life?

I actually don’t feel like I’m busier than the average person pushing for their dreams. I’ve always been around people that are moving and shaking the world. So when I’m not, and it’s not a time of intentionally focused rest, I feel weird. I want to do things. I have to move and shake things up to feel “normal.” We live in a world where there’s so much potential for growth and change, that alone motivates me to push. I remind myself of a quote often, “Your dreams don’t care if you’re tired.” When it’s hard to get out of the bed, I’m playing  inspirational/motivational videos. They help a lot. I have a super supportive husband, who is also in the industry. So it’s not something I have to explain and try to get him on the same page about. We both get it, in terms of how busy things can be sometimes.

Who are your biggest influences at a filmmaker?

My biggest influencers are all the brave filmmakers, newly well-known and those underground that are telling stories we haven’t seen before. The ones that are giving voices to those who haven’t had a chance to be heard or seen in film. They’re trailblazers and I admire all of them.

What comes next for you–both in the process of making this particular film, and after this film is complete?

After making this film, I’ll be making sure it has a successful run in the film festival circuit. In the larger scheme of things, I’ll be finishing up the other requirements to officially attain my masters in June. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and creating.

Cautious: The short film is conducting a fundraising campaign on IndieGogo for the next 15 days. If you’d like to contribute, you can find out more or make a donation here.