The Next Step

As I’ve mentioned before, my post-graduate plans have changed a few times as my interests shifted: from politics and law, to writing and journalism, to film and documentaries, to education and service. I am so excited to tell you that I have been accepted into AmeriCorps and will be working with Notre Dame Mission Volunteers this coming fall. NDMV works to empower and build communities and individuals in impoverished areas through education. I will be working in Baltimore, Maryland, teaching and tutoring students of many different age groups.

My time volunteering at One experience during my time with the We Can Tutoring Program specifically impacted my interest in educating youth. There was a 2nd grade male student who I, and my co-volunteers, had a hard time managing in the classroom setting. One day, while the group was working on an arts and crafts project, he had a meltdown when his brother received praise on his project by another volunteer. I took him into the hall to let him calm down. I told him it was okay to cry, and okay to feel angry – he was unresponsive. While he was crying with his head against the wall I pulled out a box of blocks and dumped them out on the floor. It made a loud noise of course, and it caught his attention. I handed him another box and he did the same. I watched him build towers, and archways, and buildings for 20 minutes on the floor in the hall way. He was the most focused and calm I had ever seen him. So, I got the idea to incorporate this into his math lessons. We found our own space away from the other kids and I would give him a certain number of blocks to build whatever he wanted. Then I would tell him to subtract a number from that, tell me how many were left, and build something new. I witnessed a breakthrough with this student, and learned so much from him and about him within just 45 minutes of one-on-one attention.

I realized that in all of those days spent trying to keep him in his seat, with his worksheets in the classroom, we had failed him. He is no less smart or motivated than the other students, he just learns and succeeds in a different way. It suddenly made sense to me why his teachers had never been able to break through to him. He was held back in school twice already and it makes sense. A teacher in a classroom of 20+ students would never get the opportunity that I did to sit down with him one-on-one and figure out what works for him. This event sparked my interest in organizations like NDMV that provide personal tutors outside of the classroom setting. It also has lead me to set a Master’s Degree in Education as a long-term goal. I learned first-hand the power of education when it best suits the individual student.

On Inspiration

I’ve found inspiration in many forms over the past four years. I’ve been inspired by exceptional professors at Shepherd University, my family members, and my co-workers. Not to mention artists like Maya Angelou, writers like Tony Morison, activists like Prince Ea, and politicians like Elizabeth Warren. But the people who inspire me most are my peers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved on two teams at Shepherd University whose members push me to be my best, support me in every endeavor, and give me hope for our future as nation and world.

The first is the Multicultural Leadership Team (MLT) which I talked about in my first blog post. MLT is a group of social justice advocates whose efforts are rooted in service and community involvement. I’ve gained teammates from all over the world, and learned about so many new perspectives and cultures are not covered or represented in my classes. MLT has given me a passion for social justice, and provided me with the tools to be a leader and advocate in my community. Most importantly, it has shown me the power and beauty in diversity – something that I crave to experience, and that has guided me to seek a place with more diversity in my post-graduate endeavors.

The second team that has shaped me at Shepherd is the Debate and Forensics Team. A dear friend of mine roped me into joining last semester and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in college. Not only do I get to surround myself with intelligent, like-minded people with impeccable speaking and arguing skills, but I also found a new form of creative expression that has been an essential part of my life the past year. I participated in poetry and prose interpretation events that allowed me to find pieces I’m passionate about, compile them in a creative way, and deliver them with power and precision. My pieces covered topics like feminism, political awareness, environmental activism, and gender equality.

This semester I spearheaded our Showcase event that took place at Town Run Brewery. After watching all of my teammates nail their performances back to back, I realized how socially conscious and aware every single piece was: from mental illness and alcoholism awareness to LGBTQ activism and more. The event was a blast, it went perfectly (besides losing my phone charger). We even got to collect tons feminine hygiene donations for the Go With the Flow campaign, created by Kaitlyn Miller, a fellow MLT member.

This team, like MLT, is made up of driven, compassionate students. Knowing that I have friends like these who will be leaders in the world very soon, gives me so much hope for my generation and those to come. I have so many sources of inspiration around me, in my peers, teammates, and friends.

Check out a goofy little promo video some debaters made for the team: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJVvgos4a1s

 

On Education

Education is key.

After venting to my dad about how nervous I was to take my first upper division class in the political science department, he said something I will never forget: “Mags, there’s nothing you don’t know that you can’t learn.” These are words I’ve thought back to time and time again – when I get a bad grade, struggle understanding a concept in class, or spend 8 hours trying to navigate the inner works of WordPress. I consider my constant desire to learn more, my genuine enjoyment of my seminar classes, my craving to find the answers to questions, a privilege.

I grew up in a house where education was valued, and where my best performance was expected. I went to a very small private school from kindergarten to 8th grade, and then a large public high school before attending Shepherd University. Education was always a given for me. School was always a place where I felt like I belonged, weather I wanted to be there on that particular day or not.

Unfortunately, this is not the experience of millions of children in the U.S. today. I learned this first hand while volunteering with Children’s Home Society in Martinsburg, WV. The Children’s Home Society has a tutoring program that services students from low-income communities who are referred by their teachers for at risk of failing. Every other Saturday the children come in and work on homework, math, reading, and spelling worksheets, and arts and craft activities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzY5bdmyZ3o

I learned a few things very quickly. First, these kids are not aware of their immense capacity to learn. Second, most believe that they are not capable of producing good work. Third, no one at home is monitoring or encouraging their academic success. It is so easy for these students to slip through the cracks in the public school system. Many students who fail are eventually passed on because the teacher doesn’t have either the desire or resources to get them up to speed.

This experience in working to empower youth through education has led me to pursue a career as a teacher, and maybe one day, to impact education policymaking. Every student, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic status, deserves to be given the opportunity I was. Everyone deserves to be told that they are smart, capable, and valuable to our world. It’s my goal as a future educator to make sure each of my students know and believes this about themselves.

~Maggie Cohee Nevin

What I Care About

I have Faith in Feminism.

I am the raging feminist in any given group. You can count on me to call out every patriarchal macroaggression at the party, to go into what is now a well-rehearsed rant any time someone says “grow some balls”, and to beat the dead horse when it comes to whether or not Vice President Pence should have lunch with a female colleagues without the presence of his wife. I can’t tell you the number of times a friend has rolled their eyes I break down the reinforcement of the gender binary, or how many times I’ve heard, “Here she goes again,” as I complain about the toxicity of masculinity in our society.

Feminism to me is not merely the belief and activism for gender equality, and gender equality is not only the belief that women should be afforded the same privileges as men. Feminism to me, is the belief that every marginalized group deserves to have their voices heard, and receive the same benefits that the majority receives. The fight for gender equality means relief for all women from the misogynistic cultural and political systems in which we are rooted, and relief for all man from the pressures of a violent, suppressive, hyper masculinity.

I won’t shut up. I’ll continue start conversations, not at the right time, not in the right place, and not on a popular topic. And some people around me will probably continue to roll their eyes, and turn their heads. But I won’t stop talking until running “like a girl” is considered as a complement, until the phrase “man up” is replaced by “be strong,” and until Mike Pence having lunch with a female colleague is viewed the same as Mike Pence having lunch with a male colleague. I have faith that efforts in the name of feminism will one day bring about this equal culture that we long for and desperately need, but we have a lot of work to do before that day can come.

~Maggie Cohee Nevin

Intern Blog: About Maggie

If you want to know a little bit about me…

When I was 5 my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said maybe a lawyer (like her) or a teacher (like my dad), and that if I couldn’t find a job I’d become a nun because they always have a place to live, plenty to eat, and all they have to do is help people.

My mom tells this story and laughs and jokes that my dad never had to threaten sending me to a convent because it was already my back up plan since day one. Lately, she’s told it more often to lighten the mood in conversations that start with, “So what’s next, Maggie? What are you going to do after you graduate?” The answer to such questions I did not have until very recently.

Needless to say, I’ve changed my mind a lot since kindergarten. Well, I changed a lot in general and I’ve had a lot of different experiences. To name a few: I played soccer, basketball, swam on the swim team, got kicked off the swim team, got reinstated on the swim team, played piano, sang in the choir, did community theater, won a talent show, returned as talent show winner and embarrassed myself, wrote for the school newspaper, and babysat. Upon graduating from Martinsburg High School, I set my mind and goals on law school. So after saying I would never become a lawyer because my mom works too much, and protesting ever attending a small university so close to home, in the Fall of 2013, I started classes at Shepherd University with a major in English Literature and a minor in Political Science. Contrary? Me? Never.

I jumped head first into the pre-legal realm of professionalism: joined the Pre-Law Society, bought a few blazers (which I still rock over my favorite t-shirts), gained some experience from internships for Senator Rockefeller, and Delegate Stephen Skinner. I loved learning about politics, working with and under such inspiring people, practicing writing and research skills, and building a better understanding our government. But I quickly learned that I wasn’t exactly cut out for the 9-5 office life. And thus my first attempt to follow my mother’s footsteps fell short.

My mom is a powerhouse. She took the oath of office this year, and after 16 years of practicing law at Steptoe and Johnson, she is now a Circuit Court Judge. She’s the 12th of 13 children from Glen Bernie, Maryland. She’s as smart and driven as Hillary Clinton, as compassionate as Mother Theresa, as naturally beautiful as Julia Roberts, and as much the life of the party as Snookie claims to be. Talk about the full package. Exactly the kind of person you could imagine an immigrant would stay in the country for. Dad, here’s your cue.

My dad, the middle of three children from Naas, Ireland, came over for a summer vacation that turned into lifelong staycation. Yes, I believe in fate—without, I wouldn’t be alive. I have him to thank for my passion in music (only the good kind), my thick Irish skin, my ability to always get the last word in edgewise, and the belief that there’s nothing you don’t know that you can’t learn. There’s one other very important part of my life that I give my dad the credit for: The Shepherd University Multicultural Leadership Team.

He forced me to apply to the Multicultural Leadership Team (MLT) halfway through my freshman year. I remember dreading it because it was right around midterms, but MLT is one of the most impactful elements of my undergraduate education. My dad has a way of enforcing values that are justified with financial benefits but are rooted in his ethics: Short showers, water isn’t free, don’t throw that away we have a compost for a reason, turn that light off you’re not using it—all of which translate into his consideration for environmental conservation. You need to apply to this team, you’ll get a scholarship—which I like to think was rooted in his wanting me to be apart of a group of leaders who value and encourage diversity and social justice.

My involvement with MLT has given me perspective, a passion for equality, and hope in the future because one day my smart, compassionate, progressive teammates are going to be real leaders in the world. So, while at one point I was going to be a lawyer, then a freelance writer, an entrepreneur, a documentarian. MLT has guided me back to my 5-year-old mentality: All I really want is to have plenty to eat, a homey place to sleep, and the opportunity to help people. I’m grateful that I learned that I don’t need to join a convent to do so.

~Maggie Cohee Nevin