by Emily Hipps, Employment Opportunities Coordinator at the International Institute of Minnesota
If I could choose one image to characterize my almost 2 years of service at the International Institute of Minnesota, it would be the look I saw on one of our student’s faces when he cracked an egg for the first time in his life. Having overestimated the force needed to crack an egg, he slammed it on to our metal kitchen counter. The egg shattered. His expression transitioned through a series of emotions: shock (that egg was not as tough as I thought), embarrassment (I made a mess), relief (it’s not a big mess) and, finally, pride (I just cracked an egg!). Thus, he began what is sure to be his illustrious cooking career.
Imagine this process in slow motion, over a period of months. When I started working as the Employment Opportunities Coordinator for the Institute’s Nursing Assistant Training program, I was not entirely sure what a nursing assistant was or how my sparse job description would translate into a full time job. My projects ranged from assisting with mock interviews and updating employer databases to launching the Institute’s new website and designing new curriculum modules (like the cooking class). Some of these projects I did not feel prepared for (or even remotely qualified to take on), and sometimes I overly-cracked the eggs.
Fortunately, the culture at the Institute is shaped by a belief in human potential. The simple idea that all people capable of great things creates an atmosphere that fosters the talents of not just the refugees and immigrants we serve, but also the staff that assists them. This environment of trust enabled me to take responsibility for projects that were well above my (nonexistent) pay grade. Ultimately, my time as a VISTA enabled me to prepare New Americans for success in living-wage careers in the medical field while developing the professional skills necessary for a successful career for myself.