This month THE MJ PROJECT is excited to introduce you to Rodolfo, a student at The University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is truly a student to spotlight as he tackles a challenging academic course load with a positive, BE KIND attitude that we love so much around here.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you’re studying…
My name is Rodolfo. I’m 21 years old and from Inglewood, California. I study Biology and Chemistry as my main majors at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; they are what my degree plan revolves around. Though, while I was expressing joy for all the possible AP exams offered during my junior year of high school, someone said to me, "You are going to have so much fun with the college catalog." That person must have been a fortune-teller, because I know the UAF catalog like a best friend and so far I am more than halfway done with minors in psychology, physics, and mathematics (though there are many more minors I am planning to start in the future and eventually finish, like the Political Science minor I’ll start this summer!)
How do you get all that done?
It is difficult for me to think about all the work that would go into such a diverse degree. I carry full-time work and full-time school as burdens during the summer to mitigate costs. Tuition at UAF is set to resident tuition for all students every summer, so I stay here every summer and take advantage of the cheap prices for classes. In addition to my classes, I also usually work full-time in the summer as a housekeeper on campus. UAF is also a surprisingly cheap school and is cheaper than many of my in-state options from California.
I have so much love for all of the sciences, and I want to help people access these joys and wonders. I want to especially bring these trinkets of my fascination back to underprivileged communities where many people think that education is a dead-end and that the sciences are for people unlike themselves. As for Biology and Chemistry specifically, I am looking for a cure to aging. I enjoy life and want to continue living it as long as I can!
How did you become connected to THE MJ PROJECT?
The donor support from THE MJ PROJECT was so helpful at the beginning of the current semester when I was terrified of thinking about where my textbooks were going to come from. I didn't know how I would cope with academic pressure. Not being able to follow along in class without reading the textbook beforehand would be difficult. Money was short and with my schedule I had no time to look for money.
THE MJ PROJECT came to my rescue when a high school teacher noticed a post I'd made on Facebook about looking for the textbooks I'd needed this semester. She pointed me in the direction of THE MJ PROJECT, and they helped me buy a copy of a required textbook for my Botany class.
The textbook has since nearly doubled in price, so I was saved a large amount of agony through their generosity. Had I waited to see if I could acquire the money for the textbook over the semester, I would have been shocked to see the newer price, and I would have probably just given up. I make a point of sharing the textbook with my group of friends in the class to spread THE MJ PROJECT love and maximize the happiness achieved from the selflessness of those involved. We even have an online document where we keep our communal notes.
What would you like people to know about THE MJ PROJECT?
Education is a powerful equalizer in our world, and access to it is vital for people seeking socioeconomic mobility. Though education can equalize, the access to education is not equal. Many do not have the tools to lift themselves up using their education, as they are now. THE MJ PROJECT helps to change that and make education more accessible and more powerful in its ability to lift people up. The disparity of wealth is a socioeconomic problem, and it is especially felt by people who have no access to wealth or access to only dilapidated institutions of education to begin with. Donations of any amount mean so much more than words can describe to people in college who worry often about their college payments and textbook costs.
Any cool science facts you'd like to share with us?
Here are some interesting botany facts about a specific plant: there exists a species of tree called gingko. This tree was cultivated by Chinese monks for about 1,000 years. The relatives of this plant were not so lucky, as they all went extinct. This plant is thought to exist today only as a result of being cultivated by Chinese monks. This plant is also the only known plant species to show dichotomous venation in its leaves. The veins of the leaves branch off into two and continue to do this many times until they reach the end of the leaf. Lastly, beware of the female variety of gingko. They are said to smell of “vomit and rancid butter”. This is a result of their fruit rotting.
We’d like to introduce you to Ms. Tirado. A literacy teacher in the San Diego area. Recently we touched base with Ms. T to ask her a little bit about herself, how her love of reading guided her to a career in education, and how that’s being passed on to her students!
Why did you want to become a literacy teacher?
I love to read and when I was younger my parents would not let us what a lot of TV so I would read! I remember going to the library getting to pick up a new book what the highlight of my week. I had a difficult childhood and reading helped me forget about all my problems! Reading just takes you so many places and you learn so much. That is why I wanted to become a Literacy Teacher!
How did you get connected with THE MJ PROJECT?
When I walked into a teacher’s classroom at the Hanford L4L School I saw a wooden bookshelf with an MJ PROJECT logo on it, and it had all these interesting books! I had to ask what the MJ PROJECT was, and I found out it was a foundation that donates books and bookshelves to students! I was so excited and started ordering books for the literacy class that I was and am currently still teaching. Every time we get a new book in for our library it’s like Christmas! I am so grateful!
How has your classroom library impacted your students?
The students are so excited to read and they start talking to other students about the books they have read and then other students want to read those books! It’s so awesome to see so much collaboration, reading, and learning! I feel like books bring people together. Especially shy students who do not have many friends, they start talking about reading books and they become friends!
I cannot thank the MJ Project enough all the books they have donated! I feel like the [classroom library] is more than a book it’s a connection tool, a magic key that can unlock so many doors!
This month THE MJ PROJECT is thrilled to share our March Student Spotlight with you. As a high school student she participated in our Digital Media program and now, as a college student she is pursuing a degree in Film, Television & Digital Media at UCLA. Sure to make a positive difference in the world, Almarosa is working hard to achieve her dreams.
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
My name is Almarosa. I am a junior studying Film, Television, & Digital Media with a concentration in Cinematography at UCLA’s Film School. My passion for film began when my father, who works for a few movie directors, brought home an old Canon AE-1 35mm camera. Since then, I have spent time studying film ceaselessly on the internet and taking pictures on my adventures. When I first laid my hands on a digital camera, I found a new obsession. I could not stop myself from taking videos and editing them. My interest in cameras led to my passion in cinematography, and now I aspire to become the director of photography for significant films, television shows, and music videos.
Give us a little insight into your background...
I was born and raised in Inglewood, California. Both my parents are from Mexico and immigrated to this country in search of the American Dream. My older sister, Maria, always reminded me of the sacrifices my parents made for us to pursue a higher education. This kept me motivated in my school work and shaped me as a person. The lack of resources in my hometown revealed the importance of reaching out to nonprofit organizations that aid students like me. As a result, I joined academic programs that provided the extra push and helped me succeed. My accomplishments could not have been possible without the support of my peers, and now I hope to do the same for others.
We hear you've got a busy schedule!
What else have you been up to?
I am currently volunteering for the All Ways Up Foundation (AWU) and MMLA. They both are recreating documentary series that tell their purpose, story, and goals. For AWU, I was featured in their most recent short documentary along with 5 other scholars. I shared my background and obstacles I overcame to succeed. On the other hand, MMLA made me their co-producer for their informational videos about the organization and a minute long commercial. For the past couple of months, I have attended several meetings and shoots for the videos that are currently being edited. This is a commitment of mine that I have had the pleasure being a part of because this program is one of the reasons why I am studying film today. I hope to create more opportunities for students to get involved with film making.
Tell us about your involvement with THE MJ PROJECT...
I attended Animo Inglewood Charter High School and am fortunate to have stayed connected with my teachers, who are a part of THE MJ PROJECT. On UCLA’s campus, I ran into my former drama high school teacher. He informed me on the mission of THE MJ PROJECT and the scholarships offered to support students in need. I took this opportunity to apply for a scholarship that could help me fund a camera purchase. Soon enough, I was the recipient of the scholarship and was able to buy the camera I wanted. I am thankful for the project’s support because it enabled me to expand on my creativity by owning the essential equipment a film student needs. This will allow me to solely focus on crafting my senior thesis for the upcoming school year. The MJ PROJECT is a great resource for low-income students who face hardships with affording technology or books for school use.
What do you love most about THE MJ PROJECT?
THE MJ PROJECT is run by the most amazing people I have ever met. I cannot put to words how humble and helpful the board is. Creative career fields are poorly supported in under-served communities, but THE MJ PROJECT is changing this by funding student films.
The following blog post and corresponding pictures were submitted by students who are concurrently involved in both the AICHS Journalism class and THE MJ PROJECT sponsored Digital Media program. Both students are high school seniors on track to graduate in June and pursue their passions. It is an honor for us to showcase their hard work and creativity on our blog.
A Guest Post by high school senior Vanesa M.
On Feb. 1, 2019, The MJ Project, a nonprofit organization that supports teenagers in traditional and digital literacy, gifted a personal classroom library to Animo Inglewood Charter High School. The library, housed in 11th grade English teacher, Romel Nusdorfer’s room, aims to inspire students to reach for a diverse collection of books that they can genuinely enjoy.
On Friday afternoon during the last class of the day, curious students waited outside of the classroom as Leslie Lipton, co-founder and treasurer of The MJ Project, filed the brand new books into an orderly row. Her eyes wandered excitedly from the bookcase to the doorway as students peeked into Room 403.
Eagerly preparing for her class, Nusdorfer adjusted the brand new shirt that wore “Be Kind,” across its front. Only a few minutes passed before the students took their seats while confusion and wonder settled into the classroom.
“MJ...Mary Jane Nelson...was my husband’s mother, and she was just the coolest person ever,” Lipton began.
When Lipton taught at Animo Inglewood Charter High School, she and and her husband, Tom Nelson, co-founder and president, provided books and encouraged students to seek out literature that interested them. They continue to honor Mary Jane Nelson by dedicating their resources to students and classrooms in need.
The MJ Project also sponsors the school’s Digital Media program, exposing students to film making and the world of television and media within their communities.
“We believe that all kids should be able to communicate and understand— not just books— but different forms of communication,” Lipton continued.
Throughout the class period, students began to select books like The Hate You Give, Homeless to Harvard and I am Legend. When Nusdorfer called the last row, furthest from the bookcase, students anxiously anticipated their book choices. Edgar, a junior, approached the bookshelf and pulled a new, polished copy of The Shining by Stephen King.
“I think it’s a really good idea to offer kids books...not everyone can have [them],” Edgar stated.
As the class period drew near its end, Nusdorfer admiringly glanced over to her beautiful, newly filled bookcase.
“It’s nice to see that [the students] will be able to check [books] out. There are multiple copies, and I think more kids will come back to [check them out],” Nusdorfer stated.
Special thanks to the teachers who put in the extra work to make this blog post happen, Ms. Johnson, Composition & Journalism Teacher, Ms. Violeta Reina, Digital Media Program Facilitator, and Ms. Nusdorfer, English Language Arts Teacher.
THE MJ PROJECT is excited to shine the student spotlight on Monse this month. We caught up with her recently, and she shared with us her story about how growing up in a small and troubled town resulted in her love of reading.
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
My name is Monserrat, but I go by Monse. I’m currently in my first semester at Fresno State for my BA in Graphic Design, and recently graduated from Reedley College with my Associates in Studio Arts with a certificate in Graphic Design. Art has always been my passion. No matter how hard times get, a blank paper and pencil always lead the way out. I can’t remember a moment where art and creativity haven’t ruled my life...which is how I found myself working as an English Tutor for the past two years at Reedley College. While I fell in love with reading, I found myself being pulled towards writing my own worlds. Next thing I knew, literature became a subject with which I was helping others fall in love. Although most wouldn't consider art and writing to be the same thing, to me, they both represent the possibility for creativity.
How did you come to love reading so much?
I was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and when I was seven years old, my family made the hard decision of moving to America in search of the American Dream and better education for us. Our journey brought us to a small town named New London where I lived for 14 years. In such a small town with two mini stores and one main street, there was not a lot that a teenager could do for fun. I wasn't allowed to go out because of the fear of gangs and drugs, so I turned to books for my escape.
Books became my personal portal to any universe. I was not stuck in a bad town but traveling the world, swimming with sirens and flying with dragons across the universe. Sadly, although I found the joy of reading, not everyone else my age did. I saw the impacts a bad town can have on young people. If it hadn’t been for my parents who were willing to buy me books when they could and take me to a public library in another city, I never would have found books that I love. Books that made someone that hated reading fall in love with them. It's not just about reading any book, is about finding the right ones. Books that make you want to read all night. I found that in fiction.
How did you connect with THE MJ PROJECT?
I knew that if there was another person like me who was looking for an escape from a bad place, there needed to be a library. Although New London had a bad reputation, I met a lot of people with big hearts and a strong determination to completely change the community. They were individuals whom I met when I was attending Kings River Elementary School; teachers who wanted a better community for their students.
They were changing New London for the better, so I became a part of their Library for London project. My love for reading forced shy 15-year-old me to get involved with the library project. During the time that I was involved with trying to get a small library open, I met a lot of amazing people that joined us in the cause. Among those amazing people that care about books as much as I do were the founders of THE MJ PROJECT.
What impact has THE MJ PROJECT had on you?
They were like angels bearing books upon me. They not only gave me all the books I had wanted to buy for years, but they’ve continued to supply me with books for the past 3 years! Every break from school that I have, I can expect to have a relaxing time with the books they so generously send my way. For a book-a-holic like me, that’s the greatest gift of all.
I think THE MJ PROJECT is so important for the same reason why I became involved with building a library in my community: somewhere out there, there is someone like me who wants to go flying with dragons, swimming with sirens, and traveling across the universe, and the only thing they need to go on all of those adventures is to open a book.
His email signature concludes with the following quote:
Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.
-Rita F. Pierson
When we reached out to Mr. S and asked him a few questions about teaching and books, his answers confirmed why THE MJ PROJECT believes Mr. S, a.k.a. Smitty, is indeed a champion for his students.
Tell us a little about yourself and your students.
I teach in an Intervention Resource Classroom in California. I am married (to a teacher) and have 3 sons. I love teaching, coaching and learning as many new things as possible. The students in my class come to us for support in Social Emotional Learning. My co-teacher and I, help our students learn the skills necessary to be successful in school and in life. We also provide academic support in our students' core curriculum classes.
How did you become interested in teaching?
I became interested in teaching after years of coaching and working as a youth pastor. I realized that if I wanted to fulfill my life mission of impacting young people positively I would have to go where the young people are and not wait for them to come to church or join a team. I took a position as a truancy officer in order to get my foot in the door at a charter school. From there I moved into a position at my current school district working as a Mentor through our districts Safe Student Intervention Program. This program was directed at working with gang impacted and affiliated students. We focused on raising grades and attendance while decreasing incidents of negative behavior. Also, we worked in times of crisis in order to ease tensions between rival gangs across our district’s campuses.
What inspired you to work with special education students?
Initially when I started working in education I did not want to be a special education teacher. I actually was interested in becoming an English or History teacher. I became drawn to Special Education due to my work with at-risk and gang affiliated/impacted students. I realized that many of these students qualified for services and that they needed someone who understood them to advocate for them in the world of education. It can be very difficult to navigate high school if you have never been taught the skills or if no one around you has the skills to do so.
Many of the students I worked with in the Safe Student program were also in our special education program, so I approached our district Director of Special Education about eventually becoming a SPED Teacher. He asked me to apply for a position in a new program being started called an Intervention Resource Classroom. I was hired as one of the two teachers working in the classroom , and I love what I do. We teach students Social Emotional Skills and help students navigate the high school experience. I get to work with the student who, for the most part, have been given up on by their previous schools/teachers. That is why I became a teacher, to be a voice for the students who typically have no voice.
Your students just received a special classroom library with leveled books for readers of varying abilities.
How do you anticipate these books will impact your students?
This MJ PROJECT classroom library is going to help our students in so many ways. It is very difficult to find high interest books at the reading level that some of our students are at. Having these books will help us get students to read more and be able to complete some of their English assignments, as well as instill a love for reading.
What book inspired you to keep reading?
The one book that I remember reading as a young person that inspired me to keep reading is “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers. This book is an amazing story and helped me realize that books aren’t all “boring”.
What are you reading now?
Currently I am reading two different books. I am reading “3D Coach: Capturing the Heart Behind the Jersey” by Jeff Duke and “Field and Stream Outdoor Survival Guide: Survival Skills You Need” by T. Edward Nickens. The first I am reading because I love coaching youth sports and want to be the best coach I can be for my kids. The second I am reading because I enjoy the outdoors and one day would like to do a survival class and test my skills.
Do you have a favorite reading spot?
My favorite reading spot is on my couch in our “2nd living room”. We created this spot specifically for reading, and it is super comfortable.
The MJ PROJECT Blog is written by students, teachers, and MJ Project team members seeking to keep our supportive community in the know with regards to our most recent projects, grants, and programs.