In this month’s MEITE Minutes Alum Spotlight, we are highlighting 2019 MEITE alumna Kelsey Van Dyke. Please enjoy the dialogue below: A conversation between MEITE program advisor Aliyah Benton and Kelsey. Thank you for joining us Kelsey, we truly enjoyed speaking with you for this MEITE Minutes segment.
Aliyah: Let’s start with you telling us about yourself, including your professional and educational backgrounds, and where you grew up.
Kelsey: I am going to start way back in elementary school, which is probably a little unexpected. I went to a Montessori elementary school, which had more freedom and was not your traditional classroom setting. There was a lot of freedom to explore the ideas that you were interested in and pursue those and then work in small groups at the pace that you were learning. I held onto that as I was growing up, was always interested in that, and the difference that learning environments can have on your experience.
I went to UNC, for college. I majored in journalism and psychology and picked up a psychology major to get a deeper understanding of what makes people thrive in different environments. I ended up always having an interest in education, though I was not sure that I wanted to pursue a teaching career. After a couple of years, I started reflecting on what I wanted to be doing and what impact I wanted to be making on the world. That led me back to my long-term desire to be part of the educational world, but not as a teacher, but as someone developing products or programs.
Aliyah: When you were in the MEITE program, what did you like most about it?
Kelsey: I really loved the dedicated time to focus on this one thing and get deep into it. It was challenging for me as well. It was this part anxiety, part excitement because you’re exploring an idea that you’ve been thinking about for eight months, and then you have time to go full force and experiment with it. Also, I was not fond of public speaking. Doing well during the final pitch was a rewarding way to challenge myself and finish on a good note.
Aliyah: Can you talk about your work and what you are doing in your current role?
Kelsey: I am currently working for a small social impact consulting and implementation firm located in Charlotte, North Carolina. We work with education organizations and nonprofits, on solving whatever problem they are experiencing. Often the organization needs guidance, and we assist with making the plan, executing it, and carry them through the findings. I am really focused on family empowerment and family engagement. I work with seven schools in Charlotte. Six of them are in the Charlotte Mecklenburg school district, and one of them is a charter school. All these schools have expressed that they are working on building their family engagement and family empowerment, empowering parents to be involved in their child’s education. What I do is get to know these parents, through surveys and focus groups to understand what they need to be engaged or what the school can do to help them get engaged.
Aliyah: How do you think completing the MEITE program has aided in your success?
Kelsey: It has given me more confidence to pursue the ideas and projects that I want to pursue in a smart and strategic way. I think the MEITE programs focus on design thinking has really helped me through that. The design thinking piece is so beneficial to designing anything, whether it is an experience or a program for families. It helps to get that focus on getting feedback and not just guessing what you think the problem is.
Aliyah: Thinking about our current MEITE students, what are some tips or pieces of advice that you would give to them?
Kelsey: I would tell them to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, even if you are a little hesitant to engage them. Also, do not be afraid to reach out to people who you are interested in connecting with. I think it is so much easier to have that student lens when you are reaching out to people. Then people are more willing to give you advice, let you shadow them, or something like that, or more.
Aliyah: With all our classes being online now, do you have any tips for being productive at home?
Kelsey: Having your video on makes it so much more engaging in whatever type of event you are attending. It keeps you from multitasking or whatever could distract you. I have tried to stay true to that.
Aliyah: Do you have any hobbies or anything that you have been doing around the house or read any books in this time?
Kelsey: I started making mask chains, accessories, and jewelry. Really soon, I am going to be launching what I’m calling Beads for Reads. In my work, I work with an organization called Promising Pages in Charlotte, and they buy books, and people donate books to students that are attending Title I schools. They make sure that they are building out libraries for all these students. And just working with the organization over the last year, I’ve noticed that a lot of the books that they’re distributing, I mean, any book is great, but there’s not a huge presence of diverse characters or diverse authors. I am trying to combine my side project with making crafts, so that everything that is sold we will donate a book featuring diverse characters by a diverse author. By donating to Promising Pages, we can increase the number of books that are reaching the students.