Letter to the Editor: Step out of your comfort zone post-graduation

Dear Editor,

 “So, Tina, what are your plans after graduation?” We all know that dreaded question. After all, I’ve been avoiding graduation for four long years. There are countless things I’ll miss – Dairy bar ice cream, watching the sunrise over our beautiful campus, and even the all-nighters at the library – but now, as family members prod about my plans, my anxiety has finally dwindled. I can proudly answer that I’m going back to school, but this time as the teacher.

As a student at UConn, I’ve kept myself busy as a double major, site manager for America Reads, and working at the study abroad office. I stepped on campus thinking I would be applying to medical school as a senior. During my Semester at Sea, my plans changed. I realized I wanted to help provide people with the skills they needed to care for themselves. I met students, professors, and citizens of more than a dozen countries that semester—all of whom had achieved so much. Through these connections I began to see the power and centrality of education. I knew that I wanted to help students in this country reach their full potential, starting in my classroom.

Like my Semester at Sea experience, I want to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone after I graduate. I want to jump head first into a career that will give me an opportunity to have an immediate impact and empower others. That’s why I chose to become a high school teacher in Indianapolis with Teach For America.

I believe that a classroom is a powerful place for social change. When I think about the social issues I’m most passionate about—human rights and feminism—I came to realize that there’s no better place to tackle them head-on than in the classroom. After all, education is the most powerful tool at our disposal to disrupt inequity and create opportunity.

As a corps member, I know I’ll face incredible challenges as I tackle these complex and systemic issues. But I also know that my experiences on campus and abroad—running student organizations, taking classes on human rights, and tutoring at a local elementary school—have equipped me to take on these obstacles on behalf of my students. And if not me, then who? 

I look forward to creating a community with my students full of pride and school spirit, and I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned here into my classroom.  I can’t wait to teach an entire classroom to chant “Huskies!” to my “UConn!” When I think about the things I love most about being on this campus, I realize I can take so much of those experiences with me.

I’m excited to step out of our now-comfortable lecture halls and bio labs to start my path as a leader in a different kind of classroom – one where I’ll get to impact the lives of the next generation as their teacher. A classroom where I’ll have the opportunity to make a positive change in a community I’ll call my new home.

So as you consider which path you’ll forge after graduation, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Listen to the moments that have defined your college experiences thus far. We all have to leave UConn someday, but I can think of no greater privilege than helping the next generation of students have the opportunity to become Huskies.

-Tina Patel

Tina Patel is a Molecular/Cell Biology and Human Rights major. She is also the President of American Society for Microbiology and a 2017 Teach For America-Indianapolis corps member.