Reka the Scholar
Over 15 years ago, I walked the grounds of The University of Virginia during Move-In Weekend. I was embarking on my college experience at the #1 public university. I thought I would major in accounting and be a tax attorney. I wanted to only have to work during tax season and spend my seven months off reading up on tax law on a beach. Clearly, I didn’t research that career option enough, and when I saw the rate at which my peers were failing ECON 201 (the weeder class for the McIntire School of Commerce) I knew that path was not for me. By the end of my first semester, Psych 101 was the only course that really excited me, so I decided to be a psych major. I figured I still had time to figure out the rest of this thing called life and adulthood later.
It was at the beginning of my second year that I heard about the dual-degree program offered by the Curry School of Education. “Two degrees in five years? Be more marketable than my peers with just a Bachelors?” I thought to myself, and myself said, “SIGN ME UP!” By the end of the first week of my first class, I knew that I was destined and called to be a teacher. I don’t know if it was the enthusiasm of Dr. Stephen Plaskon that excited me, the manipulatives that I could play with in our hands-on classes, or the reality that I was one of the only Black students in the class, which was way too representative of the k12 teacher cohort. I am not sure if it was one, or all of these components that fueled the passion and desire to be the best elementary school teacher I could be. I also knew, even then, that I wasn’t going to be in a classroom forever, but that I would forever be an educator.
I graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Psychology and a Master of Teaching. Back then I had no sights or aspirations of any additional degrees. I was the undergrad who used to say “I ain’t writing nobody’s book. Why would I elect to do that much work?” And here I am over a decade later putting countless hours of reading, writing, research, teaching, and service into my doctoral journey to hopefully write MY book (the dissertation) and be able to attain a Ph.D. I am now entering my third year of my PhD program in Southern California. To say that it is surreal is an understatement. So I am here, the former reluctant scholar, diving head first into the second half of my Ph.D. program, during a global pandemic, civil rights and racial justice movement, via virtual learning. Wish me luck and stay tuned!
Reka the Sewist
I learned to sew when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My mother taught me how to sew as it was her passion. She graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Fashion Merchandising and was at the top of her design classes. I, on the other hand, wanted to cut corners and just get it done. Needless to say, I was not patient enough to become the perfectionist my mother was. So I made and altered a few simple things during my childhood, but that was about it. After college, Project Runway became weekly hangouts for my mother and me, and I began sewing a bit more. My mother purchased the Project Runway Edition Sewing Machine for me, and I began to take on small, infrequent projects. I still wouldn’t consider myself a sewist until years later.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I fell in love with sewing. I was experiencing my WORST year of teaching. I had the most difficult class, I was prized as the teacher who could teach all students. I was the one that had the best classroom management, so therefore someone in administration decided to give me all of the students pegged as behavior concerns. With no support. It was rough, to say the least. So, I reluctantly went to school each day and still gave my all. Then I would return home to sew. It was this year that sewing became my happy place. I wanted to quit that year, but as hard as it was, I still loved my job and my school. So I started an afterschool club that taught 2nd-5th graders how to sew. I figured that even if I didn’t have a good day at work, my after-school sewing club would bring me joy. And it did.
In one year, my after-school club grew from 4 students to 24 students and my happiness grew as well. To be able to share more than literacy and social studies with students, especially girls, was heartwarming. It only took a few classes for me to learn that it was about so much more than sewing. It was about stitching empowerment and worth into young girls. I was watching girls leave the sewing club with an air of confidence that was contagious, a growing self-worth, and outstanding problem-solving and critical thinking skills in addition to custom made fashionable garments.
Reka the Sightseer
I was always interested in the world around me, both near and far. However, it wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I boarded my first airplane. I tagged along on my best friend’s family trip and went to New Orleans. It was a fantastic trip, seeing a place I had only heard about or seen referenced in TV and film, and I vowed to continue traveling. I thoroughly enjoy flying too, although travel days can get long and exhausting. There is something so exhilarating yet calming about being amongst the clouds. I felt at peace, and instantly knew that I had found one of my life’s happy places, and travel has become more than a hobby and a passion, but one of my life’s core values.
Every trip, small and big, has taught me something new, about myself, my home, and the world. Since that first trip, I have visited the vast majority of the United States and have visited over ten countries and three continents. I had no intentions of slowing down. In fact, 2020 was supposed to be my year. In January, I already had flights planned for every month through September and was already plotting October through December. Well, COVID19 had other plans for my itinerary, and the world’s for that matter.
After reflecting on your journey to this point, how do you define yourself? What are those core components that make you YOU?