Alumni spotlight: Meet Andy Reza
City Year Milwaukee alums are leaders for life and continue to make an impact long after their year of service. Read on to learn more about Andy Reza and how his year of service helped lead him to where he is today.
When was your service year, and what school did you serve at?
I proudly served as an AmeriCorps member in City Year Milwaukee’s founding corps from 2010-2011 at South Division High School.
Why did you serve with City Year?
In college, I spent every summer volunteering, working, then leading a College Access Program for students from diverse populations. During that time, I realized that I could easily relate to the students because we shared similar experiences. Thinking back to when I was in junior high and high school, I struggled to find myself. I came from a family that had little. I face discrimination because I am Native American, and I didn’t find staff in positions of power that looked like me. If I did not have my sister as my mentor, champion and biggest supporter, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
I felt that I had found my calling working with students. I wanted to give back and be that support system to help students from diverse populations find their fire and find their voice to be successful.
What advice would you give to a current AmeriCorps member?
I think there are two things I want to talk about: comfort levels and mental health. First, City Year will test you in so many ways. For me, City Year Milwaukee was a big risk. I am from Oklahoma and went to undergrad in New Hampshire, so I jumped full into a new possibility moving to Milwaukee. I live by the motto “be comfortable being uncomfortable,” but that always wasn’t the case. Through City Year, there are so many experiences that test who you are as a leader, as a person, as a mentor.
Without City Year, I wouldn’t be able to be as comfortable as I am to step out of my comfort zone. I have learned that it is when you are uncomfortable that you truly learn, grow and develop. Be willing to take those scary risks. They pay off.
Second, there will be so many days when you feel like giving up — either you had a stressful day at your school, you’re struggling with personal needs or the weather dampens your mood. (There were so many days I went into my day with a dark sky and left my day with a dark sky). I encourage you to find the little successes in your work but also find time for you. Self-care is so important. Find a way to reboot your mental health. Speak with someone if you’re feeling down. Have open communication and find an accountability partner.
During my time with City Year, my mother had to have heart surgery. I wanted nothing more than to quit City Year and move back to Oklahoma to take care of my mother. My mental and emotional well-being was shot. However, it was my mother who encouraged me to stay. One day when we were on the phone, she said, “Think about those students you serve, Andy. For many of them, they haven’t had the opportunity to have consistency in their lives. You are making such an impact with them, and they trust you. Don’t be another person who leaves.” Sometimes, it helps talking to someone else to hear another perspective, even when you are at your lowest. But you know what, even when you’re at your lowest, there’s nowhere to go but up. You can do it. I believe in you.
What are you doing these days (and since leaving City Year)?
After City Year, I began my counseling psychology master’s program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ultimately, I moved back to Oklahoma to be closer to family, and I co-taught a first-second grade class at a private elementary school for homeless youth. I realized that my passion for students from diverse backgrounds stemmed into higher education, and I began my Master of Education in adult and higher education – student personnel focus at the University of Central Oklahoma. I obtained my Master of Education with honors in May 2017 and moved back to Milwaukee in September 2018 to be with my partner but also for a new professional opportunity. I accepted a position as the Multicultural Programs Coordinator at Cardinal Stritch University. Here, I oversee their multicultural student organizations while building programming for cultural competency, social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion for students, faculty and staff.
Personally? For me, self-care is important, and three of the biggest things I do in my spare time are singing, softball and community service. I love a good karaoke night, but I also recently joined the City of Festivals Men’s Chorus, a gay men’s chorus in Milwaukee. I play in multiple slow-pitch softball leagues and travel the country to play slow-pitch softball. Lastly, I volunteer at various local establishments at least once a month.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In the next five years, I hope to be well on my way to becoming Dr. Reza. I am applying to doctoral programs in educational leadership and public administration. My end goal is to become a vice president of a university and tackle diversity and inclusion issues at a systemic level.
Does/has your experience with your City Year service year affected your future plans?
I will forever say that City Year changed the way I lead. I was always someone who was afraid to speak up, either advocating for myself or for others. Through City Year, I was able to develop and hone my leadership abilities to become who I am today. I believe that my ability to maintain flexibility during stressful situations, make sound, objective decisions, speak in front of a crowd and plan large-scale events all stem from my time at City Year. All of these skills better my ability to lead in my current position, but they also help me believe that I can achieve my goals for the future. I always knew that I wanted to work students; City Year helped direct how I can make an impact.
City Year helped Andy prepare for a career in higher education! Join our corps and discover how you can make an impact during your service year and beyond! Apply today.
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