Thursday, March 26, 2015

#TBT: Jaishri Shankar: A Love Letter for All Things Gems

Hey there, Gemstone! Most of you probably don't know me, but my name is Jaishri. I graduated from UMD and Gemstone (Team SWAMP) in 2013 and promptly moved to South Carolina to join Teach for America. I'm now in my second year as a TFA corps member, and I teach 8th grade Science to a very energetic and dynamic group of young men and women in Kingstree, South Carolina. I'm placed a very rural area at the local middle school, and everyone in town knows me as the crazy 8th grade Science teacher who loves turtles just a little too much...wonder why...? ;)

While I was in Gemstone, I listened to everyone around me tell me about how valuable team-building skills and team dynamics would be in real life, what a great leadership experience it would be, blah blah blah. I definitely heard them, and sometimes listened, but I remember wondering how I could ever use any of those skills in a classroom after graduation. At the risk of sounding like one of those people who told me all through college...YOU USE THEM EVERY SINGLE DAY. I know it seems weird to think about, but I walk into my classroom every single day and rely on so many skills and experiences from Gemstone. On my team, I implicitly became the person to keep us organized, on-task, and on deadline...and that's carried over pretty obviously into my classroom and teaching. What I didn't count on was the importance of team-building and learning to work alongside others, especially across lines of difference. I can't tell you the number of times our team had late-night meetings, and the 14 of us would get into heated arguments about things like protocols, APA citations, deadlines, etc. Walking out wasn't really an option, and we weren't about to quit, so we were forced to learn to work through things the good old-fashioned way -- talking it out. That's been such a huge impact for me in the classroom and outside the collegiate world. Every single day, I come across people who differ from me -- my town is culturally and religiously different from me, my students have different backgrounds and experiences than I do, and being in education, I am eternally coming across people who have different morals, values, and beliefs than I do. What DOES stick out is a singular similarity - we're all working in pursuit of our students' futures, and that common goal keeps us grounded. Along the way, I can use some of those team-building and leadership skills (courtesy of my team and Gems Camp!) to facilitate the tough conversations and ease the tension with a classic Human Knot!

Okay, I'm done telling you all about how useful Gemstone is. Yes, it's useful. But the truth is...I miss it every single day! I miss the people - my team, my mentors in 0100 Ellicott Hall, my fellow section leaders, camp leaders, everybody! I miss running through Leah's office and leaving a hot mess (think: rings on her desk from my 4th Starbucks iced coffee of the day and crumbs from my Subway for lunch). I miss seeing my GEMS100 freshmen once and week and reconnecting with why I was so excited to be a part of Gemstone in the first place. I miss my GEMS102 project sheet experience from the section leader side of things, especially getting to see the crazy innovation and deep thought that went into each project. I miss walking around campus wearing my Gemstone turtle shell sweatshirt (especially giving tours in it, because then, everyone wants to know about Gemstone!). I miss the Honors College ice cream socials, Dean Hebert's emails, GSC meetings, Gems Camp trainings, GEMS CAMP, and just about everything in between.

It's not all sad, though! One of my favorite parts about being an alum a bit far from campus is that I get to hear about all the awesome stuff happening in Gems via social media! I'm the one who started the Gemstone Twitter (you can only imagine how much FUN it was to have control of that Twitter and make some #researchismyJAM hashtags...), and I now avidly stalk it and retweet it...from BOTH my Twitter accounts. Not at all sorry about that. Funny enough, I also helped start the very blog you're reading right now! I also stalk the Gemstone Facebook, plus I stalk GSC, Leah, and Jessica Lee on get the point by now, right? Here's what this all ultimately leads to: I may miss Gemstone, and though I've moved on, what I learned will always be with me. The best part about being an alum is being able to see the incredible work the current student body is doing -- everything from those of you who are killing it as Section Leaders and Camp Leaders to those of you leading the charge for cohort culture as a part of GSC! My second favorite part is hearing about all the incredible heights teams are reaching, and how Gemstone's message is spreading across campus and beyond. My ABSOLUTE favorite part is hearing from former Gems about their experiences in the program and how they impacted them - Gems Camp and the stand-ups, GEMS100 and the team-building, senior year and the thesis experience, overachievers like Jessica Lee graduating from Gemstone...and then RETURNING to Gemstone as staff!?!?!?! All these pieces are what keep Gemstone near and dear, even though I'm almost 500 miles away. Keep doing what you're doing, and keep killing the game. The going may get tough (read: you may be spending nights awake until 3am to work on your thesis, the team you section lead for may be having difficulty, your project may be falling through...), but I have confidence that you'll see it through, with a little help from your friends and biggest cheerleaders in 0100 Ellicott Hall! I'll keep incessantly retweeting, favoriting, and liking every social media post I can find (x2 because I have TWO Twitters!). I'm cheering for you all every step of the way! Enjoy the final weeks of your spring semester, and to the graduating class of spring 2015 especially: I miss you, and good luck with thesis conference! When I'm home, you can probably find me making a mess of Leah's AND Jessica's offices...some things will never change.

All my Gems love,

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