Pearls for the Girls: Words of Wisdom for your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE

 

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BY KIARA

Let’s face it. Life ain’t always easy when you’re in a constant balancing act — balancing school, work, a social life, planning for your future, taking care of your family, keeping your finances afloat, maintaining your relationships and more. All these things bring challenges, especially while on your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. Struggle, hard times, low points and times of doubt are all part of the journey. 

You’re about to hear from 8 women who are movers and shakers, doers and go-getters, hustlers and game changers with one thing in common: they’ve all tackled their challenges head on. Now, they’re offering you their pearls of wisdom — advice for the toughest days of your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE.



racheida

Racheida Lewis, M.E | Ph.D Student at Virginia Tech | BS in Electrical Engineering (VCU ’13); M.E. in Electrical Engineering (UVA ’15)

“The most meaningful advice I can give to a young woman in engineering (especially first generation) is that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I started out as 1 of 4 black people in my major and 1 of 4 girls. I come from a poor background with no exposure to engineering prior to attending college. Like me, I’m sure that there will be times when you feel like giving up. There will be times when you feel like “this isn’t for me” because you may be behind your peers. There may be times when you’re intimidated by the fact that you’re 1 of few, or the only one like you in your classes. You may feel like a different major is a better fit. And it’s ok to experience those feelings. You’re not a quitter for feeling like a failure sometimes. It’s how you get up and take your next steps that count. Make friends within your major and outside your major (because you need a sane place to escape to). GO TO OFFICE HOURS and DEMAND the assistance you seek. Some professors may be jerks and it’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day they are just as much responsible for your learning as you are – don’t give into the negativity of “this isn’t high school anymore”. Find something that brings you joy – an organization, a hobby, volunteering, etc. Lastly, find support that keeps you grounded – this can be your family, friends, church, the place and people you can feel most vulnerable with without feeling the pressure of judgment. College is difficult and being in a technical field doesn’t make it any easier – but there are strength in numbers and there are so many who have come before you that are rooting for your success. If you decided that this isn’t for you because you’ve found passions elsewhere then that’s perfectly acceptable – but whatever degree you decided to pursue, you make sure that by any means necessary you don’t leave that university without it!”


caitlin

Caitlin Eberhardt | Graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law | Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Hawaii

“One proverb that I hold close to my heart is, “Be not afraid of going slowly. Be afraid of standing still.” Following that thought, my advice to women struggling in school is not to measure your progress against that of your peers. Everyone starts at a different level and learns in different ways. As long as you are better than you were yesterday, that is success.”


mariah

Mariah Williams | Virginia Commonwealth University Graduate Student | Founder, Black Girls Meet Up

“I remember being in middle school and listening to some girls say, ‘I don’t get along with females’ or ‘girls can’t be trusted so I don’t hang out with them.’ I never understood that because so many of my great friends were other girls and I loved being around them, especially because I learned so much from them. My advice for girls in schools would be to surround yourself with girls and people in general who uplift you. In the age of social media, it is so easy to be distracted from your purpose or to allow things like Facebook and Instagram to affect your friendships negatively. Don’t let it. There is so much you can learn from the women around you! Don’t see other women as a threat. Empower each other. Encourage each other, especially in the classroom.”


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Christine Marie Quilpa | School Counselor at Augusta County Schools | UVA Graduate (2012, B.A. Sociology with Asian Pacific American Studies minor; 2016, M.Ed Counselor Education)

“Some circumstances and some people, including yourself, will try to put you down, but don’t let your spirit to be crushed. You were born to be great, and in order to find your greatness, you will learn a lot of lessons and experience a lot of experiences along the way. There will be many times when you will feel disappointed, sad, angry, hurt, and other emotions, but instead of letting these challenges set you back, be open to them. Use your emotions and experiences to become a bolder, braver, better you. And if you ever feel uncertain about where your passions and purpose may be, think of a problem that has made you upset – and let yourself be the solution to it.”


“The best advice I could give would be don’t forget to live while you complete your

ashleybond

Ashley Bond | Teacher | Graduate of University of Richmond

education.  One of my biggest struggles in school was that between not
having the academic skills I needed to do my work quickly, and having to work on the side to pay expenses, it took up nearly all of my time.  I would put in 18 hour days between school and work, and spent little time doing things that I wanted to do.  After
a while, I became very burned out, depressed, and bitter with my situation.  I was angry at the whole world for making my life so hard when it was really me who wouldn’t allow myself to take a break.  I moved from Utah to Virginia to go to school largely because
I had always wanted to see Virginia and the East Coast in general.  I didn’t take nearly enough time to go see the sights and experience the culture.  Looking back, I wish I would have spent less time on studies, let my grades fall a little bit (Getting C’s and D’s isn’t the worst thing in the world.  You will still graduate and end up in the same place; I promise.), and taken the time to enjoy myself.  School would have been so much more meaningful if I had,  and I may have avoided some of the terrible choices
I made after I graduated from school in an attempt to escape the life I hated.  A broken nose from a fist fight, an unplanned pregnancy, and a long journey later, I am finally in a place where I can start feeling at peace.  I have a job that I’m happy with, a great kid, and the best family ever.  And I can finally let go, relax, and spend time doing things for myself as opposed to being consumed by my academic and career goals.  Life really is too short to not spend time living.”


tanya

Rev. Tanya Boucicaut | PhD Student at George Mason University | Adjunct Instructor and Research Affiliate, Virginia Union University | Founder and CEO, Perfect Love Community Theatre

“Dear Sister of Any Age:

First of all, you need to know that you matter.

The most meaningful advice I could ever give you in school is to celebrate small victories, advocate for yourself, and embrace the struggles. I share this analogy with my students all the time; one that I’ve heard many times, school is a marathon not a dash.

Celebrate your first test, your first paper of the semester. You deserve it! School is not easy or convenient for most of us, but that doesn’t mean isn’t worth it. School, at its best, in my opinion, is to help grow into our best selves. As you we celebrate, we also recognize that we are celebrating moments of growth. So please, even if it is just, having a meal (I’m foodie) or posting a status on social media, do it! Celebrate!”


anise

Anise Burkholder | University of Richmond Graduate | Active Duty Service Member, United States Navy

“The best advice I could give a young woman struggling in school is to keep your eye on the prize and realize this struggle is only preparing you for your purpose! It might seem hard right now but there’s something this stage in your life is teaching you. Don’t give up because you can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t compare your walk to someone else’s. Just focus on yourself, your future and your dreams.”


roseann

Rose Ann E. Gutierrez, M.A. Candidate, Seattle University | Research Associate, Center for Community Engagement | Project Manager for Community College and STEM Research | Resident Director, Cornish College of the Arts | Co-Editor-in-Chief of MAGIS: A Student Development Journal 

“Know who you are inside and out because when you have that sense of integrity and are honest with yourself, you can’t be false to anybody else. When school becomes challenging, remind yourself of your motivations whether those be intrinsic and/or extrinsic. I keep photos of my parents on my desk to remind me of why–why I continue to persist and remain resilient in the face of adversities. I am the first one in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree and on the pathway of attaining a master’s. I witnessed my parent’s arduous efforts, as they worked multiple jobs only receiving three to four hours of sleep for years to provide for my needs and wants. I have the educational privilege to not only give back to my parents, but also give forward to my community and others. We, women, need to leverage our education as a tool and see ourselves as social agents to truly impact society. Moreover, find strong mentors who are women, who share the same identities as you. My mentors have been pillars of support, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t guided and advised by some of the strongest and best.”

 


tiara

Just Another College Student Working Hard to Become Who I’ve Dreamed of 

 

“Hi Beautiful! Yes you! You know what your dreams are. You know what goals you’ve set. Now accomplish them. Pray to whoever you believe in, keep the faith, and WORK. Work hard to be that successful woman you’ve dreamed of becoming. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it. Don’t give up. You got this. “

 

 

 

 


 

 

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Kiara Lee, M.Ed | Founder, #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE | Editor, theblackertheberry.org |PhD Student, Virginia Commonwealth University 

“I think the most useful pearl of wisdom I could offer girls and women in the midst of their #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE is to never be afraid to think outside of the box. There is no one way to get from point A to point B, to earn a degree or even to achieve happiness and satisfaction in your life. If plan A doesn’t work, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of the less popular plan B, or C, or D or E. It’s your path and your path only. Own it, with all of its quirks, uniqueness, spins, turns and detours. At the end of it all, you WILL arrive at your destination, with gratitude and with grace.

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The Best Teacher is the Student

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BY KIARA

I’m a first year doctoral student.  Pretty soon, I’ll be teaching my very first university-level class as a full-time student. It seems that just as a fast as one exciting new chapter started, another fresh new chapter has arrived at my doorstep, and I’m bursting at the seams to open it.

The nitty gritty of it all is very simple – I’m currently a teaching assistant (TA), but another instructor has to leave mid-year and my department feels that I have demonstrated the leadership and wherewithal to conduct my own class and fill in for the instructor who’s leaving.

I am very excited about this opportunity. The reason I’m pursuing the big D-R in front of my name in the first place is to teach at the university-level. Some people say I’m taking on too much too soon and that I need to focus on being a student. But I feel quite the contrary. I feel like the best teacher is the student, for more reasons than one.

The struggle is the same – and it’s real.

He’s got papers to write, and she’s got papers to write…and I have papers to grade (and write also). I’m not far removed from the hustle that is school – matter fact, I’m still in it myself. Who would be better to empathize and push students than a person facing the very same obstacles? I’ve been up late studying for exams just like they have. Maybe I’ll be more open to pushing assignments back and giving a little wiggle room than the older, more rigid and farther removed professors. I also have just about the same amount of energy of my future students, and I know they know how to hustle just as hard as I do (and probably even harder).

Students can see themselves in my shoes

When I TA, I see the students’ faces light up – not because I’m special, but because I’m not too much older than them. I work with freshmen, and they’re young, indecisive and easily influenced. For them to be able to see a student who is only a few years older than they are leading class, giving assignments and running the show so to speak serves as motivation. They respect me as a TA but they also look up to me because they can see themselves in me. In general, they can see themselves as a professor or any other leader a little more easily. And the ones who look like me can see themselves belonging in an environment we have been traditionally excluded from. 

We’re all evolving…together.

I am far from having it all together, and I want my future students to know that. I’m 25 and still finding my way. I have educational and career goals that tend to fluctuate just a little as time passes. I try to define myself with my writing and I dream of starting a family in the next 5 years or so. I spend a  lot of time in deep thought, mulling over the worlds’ problems. And amidst all these serious thoughts, I change my hair and my nail polish all the time, expressing the different sides of Kiara and enjoying my dynamism. To boot, I still like to play jokes on my friends and ride in the shopping carts at Walmart. My students will be young adults still learning to navigate the university, attempting to find themselves in the majors and minors available. Some of them are grappling with living on their own on the first time. Others are discovering their sexuality or their spirituality. All of them will be trying to figure out how to enjoy themselves between the hustle and bustle of their first year in college. I’m evolving, they’re evolving and we’ll all be evolving together. We’ll all be learning from one another. No judgement will be passed and all standards and expectations regarding this evolution will be null and void in my classroom.

They say learning is not a spectator sport. Why should an aspiring professor spectate from afar and wonder what she could do with a classroom full of students? Why should a student sitting in a crowded classroom have to spectate and wonder why nobody who teaches her classes looks like her? When the student is the teacher, the sport is no longer a spectator sport.  I’m in it. They’re in it. We’re all in it.


meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.

When School Hurts More than it Helps

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BY KIARA

(from theBlackertheBerry.org)

Go to school. Get your education. Be better and live better because of it.

But what happens when school is imprisoning instead of empowering?

What happens when your teachers tell you of all the things you can’t do instead of what you can do? What happens when good grades become bad and bad grades become good, all in the name of peer pressure, manhood and being “hard?” And how complicated it becomes when grades are no longer black and white – when they are associated with race, when “acting black” and “acting white” and “acting” other ethnicities blurs positive and negative images, attitudes and ideals – full of gray area. Or when you’re too hungry to concentrate…to make the grades to get out the hood that’s keeping you hungry. Or when the school keeps testing you because you can’t pass the tests – but for your failure, they have no answer. Or when in general, school seems like the strangest, most distant foreign land, because nothing about it resembles who you are or where you’re from.

What happens when these things and more not only exist, but are also exacerbated under the school’s roof? What do you do?

You fight back.

If knowledge is power, you have to be willing to fight for it.

Kids don’t know the fight as well as we adults know it, as many of us have been there before, so essentially, the fight for our kids’ education is in our hands.

We can’t take everything for gospel, simply because a teacher, a principal or another official says it. My parents were told that I may be deaf and/or autistic at a very young age because I started to walk, talk and develop in general at a later age than most children. But then, all of that was debunked. But then I started school. I was tapped for the gifted program in school. Then, I got honor roll, and much later national honor society and other honors and today, I’m an author with an advanced degree from one of the best schools in the nation and God willing – it’s only the beginning. So many people I know have eerily similar stories, and they’ve gone on to accomplish a whole lot.

All kids are capable of greatness. We can’t let naysayers dressed up with fancy titles tell them otherwise.

We have to be willing to sacrifice for education, for if we don’t, we sacrifice our children. If he or she is struggling where you’re at and you’re convinced he or she would fare better in another area, do what you have to do within reason to make that move. Before I was born, my folks were young and struggling, and opted to go without furniture for a year to send my older sisters to a private school in Long Island because it offered them a safer environment and better opportunities. An uncomfortable year it may have been, but the advantages of that sacrifice will last a lifetime. If we don’t buy into education, they surely won’t. Buy into it, no matter how much it costs. Temporary discomfort beats the permanent setback of the generations that follow us.

 Praise them in school. Many scholars reference the transition from third grade to fourth grade as problematic for kids, particularly African-American boys, as the nurturing from the teacher (the doting, the “babying”) drops significantly during that transition and as a result, grades drop . But technically, it’s not the teacher’s job to nurture our children – it’s up to us. The praise matters. We have to recognize their efforts and reward their accomplishments. We have to be active and interested in their studies. We have to be their backbone and their biggest cheerleader, especially during the younger years. The smallest strides need recognition just like honor roll and graduation. Don’t act like you don’t remember how good you felt as a little boy or a little girl when an adult noticed your good work.

When school hurts more than it helps, the story isn’t over. If we play our cards right, it’s simply a bump in the road. If we play our cards right and put up a good defense, we’ll win the fight.


meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.