Ericka Vasquez is a First Year Fellow serving at LEAP for Education as the STEAM Coordinator 

1. What benefits have you been able to take advantage of as a Massachusetts Promise Fellow and how has your experience been with those benefits?

Having access to health insurance has been one of the biggest benefits that I have taken advantage of. There have been numerous times where I have put my work first before my health, and as a result, I’ve had serious repercussions. However, the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship has provided me not only with the tools to be a better youth leader, but has given me access to doctors to stay on top of my strength and well-being to be 100% present for my youth members.

2. Describe your favorite project at your host site and why.

My favorite project at my host site was developing and instating The Art of Printmaking curriculum. I was able to encompass STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) components into my art-oriented classes, which included 3D Printing, Screen-Printing, Suminagashi and Ebru. It felt great to be able to pull this off and share my passion for the arts with participating students.

3. Share a story of how your service has impacted your host site/youth this year. 

Being able to speak Spanish has proven to be a major asset to my service year. I’ve been able to incorporate Spanish into my curricula for participating ESL students and I’ve been able to reach out to and build a great rapport with Spanish-speaking parents. Spanish was especially beneficial while I was conducting a Spanish-only focus group. The ESL students that were engaged in this focus group had the chance to fully express their feelings and concerns about their school environment in a way that they might not have been able to in English. We were able to provide that necessary platform for our students to express themselves without a language barrier. This serves as crucial information for LEAP, considering our student body is predominantly made up of ESL immigrants from Latin America.

4. How is MPF preparing you for your future career aspirations?
My dream career of choice is to work at a non-profit that promotes art education for at-risk communities. Art programs are the first to be cut out of public schools if budget cuts are necessary. As a result, many students, especially at-risk youth, are missing out on these valuable art opportunities. MPF has given me professional development, mentoring, and cultural competency trainings that have increased my ability to advocate for art education and share my passion with the youth I serve. In addition to these amazing trainings, I have been given the initial opportunity to tackle this issue by creating dynamic STEM classes that incorporate art appreciation. I would have never been able to create these lessons if it weren’t for MPF.
5. What has been your favorite memory so far, this year of service (either at host site, monthly meetings, etc.)?
The best memories that I have had serving at LEAP for Education have been my 1:1 conversations with my students at the Expanding Horizons after-school program. One particular conversation that left a powerful impression was with a student during a trip at the Peabody Essex Museum.

She was dissecting a work of art at one of the exhibitions, looking fairly perplexed.
“Ericka, how did this artist create this piece? Why did he create it?”
She was standing before the art piece, Brainbow Hippocampus in Color created by scientist and artist, Greg Dunn. I started to give her more insight on the artist’s’ background in Neuroscience and how most of his art technique and work exemplified neuron activity in an average person’s brain. Instead of using a paint brush, Dunn blows droplets of ink onto paper in order to portray the shape of neurons and their branches, called dendrites.
After my explanation, a huge wave of relief came over her face.
“I would have never known that if it weren’t for you.”

Although her questions seemed trivial at the time, it made me realize the importance of facilitating conversations around artwork with youth members. We live in a society that places significant emphasis on testing and standards but not enough on individuality and creativity. By promoting these conversations about art, we can encourage students to utilize their individuality and to think creatively.


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