The Underdog

Nearly two months into this job, I can say without hesitation that I have never worked this hard or put this much effort into anything in my entire life. Luckily, my time in the Corps has already been one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences of my life. My name is Dillon Frechen and I am a split adviser in the MSU College Advising Corps at Holton and Oakridge High Schools in Muskegon County.

Two email accounts, two Remind 101 accounts, two calendars, double the rep visits and campus tours, double the presentations, and half the face-time: these are some of the symptoms of the split adviser position. Twice as many lives to impact, two different learning environments to experience, a quick way to correct one practice after being unsuccessful at the first school, and having more resources to support you: these are also some of the symptoms of the split adviser position. To be blunt, there are pros and cons of splitting the week in half between two schools. Sometimes I enjoy being able to work with two different student bodies, and some days I wish I only had one group to devote myself to all the time.

Throughout all of the chaos and confusion of bouncing back and forth between schools, there is one constant that holds true if I hope to make a significant impact with the students: be a “yes man.”

The day after we all returned from Atlanta, I left for Chicago with a teacher and his “Senior Issues” class from Oakridge. I was invited to attend the weekend field trip as a chaperone.  In the class were some students that I talk to almost every day I am in the school, and others I had not yet established relationships with. We stayed at a church that rents out space to an organization called RefugeeOne, whom we volunteered our time with. RefugeeOne is an independent not-for-profit refugee resettlement organization based in Chicago. The students and myself were fortunate to have the opportunity to work with young refugee children from the Middle East and Africa. We helped them with their homework, drew pictures together, helped them read, and had a recess period to end all recesses when we were done working. In addition to serving others in need, the best part about this trip was being able to witness my students both in and out of their element at the same time.

Upon entering my schools, I was very surprised to hear how so few of the students have ever gone to Grand Rapids, which is only about 40 miles away, or even left Muskegon. As you might assume, this was the first time many of the students have been to Chicago, let alone left Michigan. Being in the big city away from mom and dad for possibly the first time took the students very much out of their comfort zone, while at the same time left them in the position of many first generation, underrepresented students; a place of vulnerability, empowerment, and curiosity. You would never know that most of these young people had no family members that had ever went to college, that some of them have never left Muskegon, or that they all had never been in a room with this many people of color.  Or would you have known it? Was it so obvious to recognize when you forgot they all owned smart phones because they were too busy living to see what was going on in cyber-land? Was it so obvious to recognize when each student took it upon themselves to give a refugee child a home, even if for a several hours? Our students are hungry for life and learning. I am constantly amazed by how open to new experiences my students are. The level of engagement they displayed while volunteering with the refugees was incredible. While it’s true that opportunity may be more readily available to those with adequate resources, it is ultimately up to those with the desire to better themselves and the world around them that seek out those moments and own them. Finding the courage to step out of the small world of Muskegon and into a bastion of culture such as Chicago is an act that deserves recognition.

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The next day, as we all sat and watched the Michigan State – U of M football game, I was reminded of the ideals we represent and the students we serve. Whether it is the MSU football team winning the Big Ten Championship and then back-to-back BCS bowl games, or our students gaining victories of their own in the classroom and often not noticed nearly enough, outside of school and at home, the two situations have one thing in common: MSU football and first-generation, low-income students always seem to be the underdog regardless of their tremendous victories. As we all lost our collective minds at the end of the game, I was reminded of the importance of playing until the whistle. Whether we like it or not, our students are underdogs, and commentators will talk about them as so. It’s our job to help them persevere and in the end, let their work speak for itself.

Dillon3

MSUCAC: Beating the Odds One Student at a Time

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