By Jessica Hunnicut, Dream Project Assistant Director of Program Operations.
As a person with no prior involvement in Dream Project, on-boarding involved learning about an entirely new and unfamiliar organizational culture. Dream Project is a unique program unlike any other that I have seen during my college and professional career. It took a couple of weeks of attending meetings and class, going on visits, going to break-out sessions, and meeting with students and staff to really feel that I had gained an understanding of the program, and how it works.
Prior to receiving the position of Assistant Director of Program Operations for DP, I worked at the UW Ethnic Cultural Center for four years as Student Advisor and Coordinator for Leadership Programs. Before that, I worked at WSU in the Office of Student Conduct as well as in Student Support Services. So while I’ve had lots of experience working in Higher Education and supporting students, I have never seen a program that operates in the way that Dream Project does, the main difference being that this organization is actually student-run.
Though many campus organizations involve students in decision-making in some limited capacity, few actually have students driving and steering the boat. I think it is common for undergraduates to be treated as kids at institutions of higher education (though most are legally adults). In fact, in many conversations in the university setting (behind closed doors), undergraduate students are actually referred to as kids. I believe the Dream Project provides a great model for other campus programs, and demonstrates that undergrads are quite capable and competent, and when given the opportunity and support, can make enormous contributions to the university setting and larger community. DP student leaders are tasked with maintaining, sustaining, improving and innovating the organization much in the same way that professional staffs are, elsewhere in the university.
I believe that the best way to supplement the learning that takes place in the classroom is to give students the opportunity to go out into the world and apply what they are learning, and to have the confidence in them to do so. The Dream Project operates on this model very effectively. Students enroll in a class where they learn about and discuss issues of social inequality and access to higher education. Then they go out into high schools that serve predominantly low income and first generation students to work directly with those students, assisting with the college preparation and application processes. Once DP students have become familiar with the program, they are encouraged to get involved in leadership and “steer” the organizational boat through a number of different roles. I am excited that in my new role with the Dream Project, I can continue to support students, but now in a new and more empowering way than I have been able to do before. I’m also excited that I will continue to learn and grow with the organization in the years to come.