By Alexandra Vojtila ’17
IWL Program Coordinator and Advisory Panelist
As the Program Coordinator at IWL, I knew that I would feel connected to the programs being conducted here, but nothing prepared me for the College Connection Program with Bartlett High School. I watched last year as Olivia Barrett, previous Program Coordinator, organized the Fall session of this mentoring program connecting high school juniors with Nichols student mentors for a day of personal and professional development. She pulled all the small details together and I even helped where it was needed. Now, it was my turn.
We began to get ready for the College Connection in the very beginning of the semester by reaching out to volunteers and staff looking for both donated time and donated goods. As time progressed and the date got closer, we had a myriad of lists and jobs that needed to be done. There were a lot of details going into this program and I was excited (and a bit nervous) to see how it would unfold. In the days before the event, we were sorting through Amazon packages, running to the store, stuffing gift bags, confirming volunteers, and making sure that every last thing was in place.
When the day rolled around, we arrived bright and early to unpack, set up, and make sure that everyone was ready for the day ahead. When I got to the auditorium at sunrise, it was locked. I panicked a little, but then realized this was actually meant to happen. Because I was locked out, I had a few minutes while waiting for public safety to arrive to relax, breathe, and get in the right mindset. Another volunteer showed up as well, so we talked a bit and I had someone to help me right from the jump.
All of the volunteers arrived and we piled our goodies from Professor Beaupre’s car into the auditorium. It was amazing to watch everyone carry out their roles and set up either the stage, the chairs, the table, or the welcome desk. No one complained and no one was tired; it was a team. The girls from Bartlett High School arrived off of the bus and it began to pour. However, with every “good morning” that was yelled out from our greeting committee, the students were quick to respond. As they arrived, it was clear they were excited, but I don’t know if they were aware of what they would be accomplishing throughout the day.
As the day went on, it was like watching a flower bloom as the girls became more comfortable within not only the environment, but even within themselves. They were gaining confidence by talking to their mentors and our school’s faculty and staff. They took advantage of the opportunities we provided for them to learn about college, asking questions on everything from housing to meal plans to class schedule. There was one point in the day when I escorted a couple of the visiting high school seniors to sit in on a class. As we walked across campus, it was so natural having a conversation with them and I felt like they belonged there. If you’re asking what this has to do with me, it’s about feeling. One of the main reasons that I chose to come to Nichols College was because it felt like a home from the second that I stepped on campus. Walking with these girls felt natural, and I knew it could be home for them too.
I expected this program to feel like an accomplishment within myself once it was over, being that I organized a lot of it with Professor Beaupre. Instead, I felt happy for the young women who came and I just wanted them to get the most possible out of it. I found myself observing them throughout the day, starting new conversations and wanting to learn more. It was incredible to watch the day unfold and know that I had put something like this together. And I can see now that the title of “College Connection” goes both ways – for the visiting students, and for me and my fellow volunteer mentors.
I believe events for young women should be held everywhere in order to push the idea of growth into their growing minds. Putting this event together made me want to help more in the community and outside of work, and more importantly, it made me EVEN MORE proud to work with Professor Beaupre and an organization as awesome as the Institute for Women’s Leadership.