Re-connecting with Robert!

I caught up with a former student, who is now a freshman at Vanderbilt, to talk about his journey.

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This is an empathy interview I did with Scarsdale High School alum, Robert L., who is now studying at Vanderbilt University. Robert is from Memphis, TN, but spent his junior and senior years of high school in Scarsdale, NY through the STEP program.

LY: Hi Robert! Why did you decide to do the STEP program?

RL: There just weren’t a lot of good options for me if I stayed home.

LY: How are you doing in college?

RL: It’s still difficult for me. I’m still noticing some of the holes in my education and I’m constantly catching up. There’s a lot of reading and I’m trying to train my eyes to read faster!

LY: How did you hear about the STEP program?

RL: A student came to my high school (in Memphis) and did a presentation. There are a lot of students in my high school and others like it that have the potential but won’t get the opportunity to do what I did. Or won’t go because it’s two years that you’re away from your family. I’m lucky enough to have my whole family support me. It’s a big commitment and you have to be mature.

LY: How was it being here at Scarsdale, so far from home and in such a different environment?

RL: At Scarsdale, everyone tried to make me comfortable. I never felt unwanted. The students were so welcoming and really wanted to get to know me. What was hard was my own mentality. At my high school, I was a top student getting all A’s. I had to adapt to not being that at Scarsdale and that really shook my confidence.

LY: So how did you get through that? Who did you look to for help?

RL: I talked to my mom every night. She pushed me and reminded me ‘that’s why you’re there.’ She told me not to be afraid. She kept my confidence up. She was my cheerleader and my coach. And the STEP program stepped in. When I was struggling in math, they got me a tutor twice a week. The people on the Board (of STEP) took me places on the weekend. Everyone was behind me. I had an army of support. When I was at Scarsdale, I had 33 parents!

LY: So do you have people like that to support you in college?

RL: It’s still my mom. Coming here (Vanderbilt) was so much easier, because I’d had the experience at Scarsdale and I’d had to adapt before. I know that I need to go to my teachers, like I did at Scarsdale, for help. It’s more about the emotional support. I always knew I could do it, but I’d never had to struggle before. Here, academically, it’s still the same struggle.

LY: And how was the college application process for you?

RL: It was stressful. I applied to 13 colleges so I had to do all those essays and applications. Plus I had to keep my grades up. And I was in high-level classes by senior year. Junior year, I had joined a lot of clubs, so I had to keep that up too.  And taking those tests. I took two ACTs and two SATs and they didn’t really reflect my work ethic at all. I have friends at home who are really smart but didn’t have the training so they’re at good schools but not the level of Vanderbilt.

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

It's important to have emotional support when times get tough.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jen Chen

Hi Lisa,
I stumbled upon this following your suggestion to do an empathy interview, and it so resonates with how I feel about my students and the families I used to work with after they've "graduate" from early intervention. I'm always wondering how to reconnect with them and check-in on how they're doing. Doing an empathy interview may just be the answer I've been looking for, thanks for the inspiration!


Photo of Lisa Yokana

So happy that it's helpful! And reconnecting can be so rewarding. I just found a former student on FB who is a teacher now and we've been having a wonderful dialogue about her experiences. Enjoy!

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