The Gateway to Honors class meets once a week with the purpose of preparing students to navigate the honors program, identify their strengths, and learn how to reflect and adapt. During the program, I learned that my top 5 strengths are that I am competitive, restorative, analytical, focused, and have intellection. These are very left brain qualities, which does not surprise me at all. I was surprised that competition was my number one quality, but as I think about it more I am never satisfied when I am not at the top, so understanding what really drives me will allow me to hone in on my skills and work more productively.
It was extremely interesting to see how clearly these top five skills showed themselves when I did the strengths narrative assignment. I talked about my internship, and had no trouble highlighting each key strength within it. I was surprised to see how accurately these five simple words described me as a person.
Additionally, we did a project focusing on a major problem in Cincinnati. My group chose to investigate the homelessness problem, which is an extremely complex issue that I have always been interested in. I learned a lot more than I was expecting when we interviewed Dr. Mark, an employee at the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. He told us some statistics that blew my mind, such as that the average age of a homeless person is just 9 years old. This is something that completely refutes the argument that the homeless should “just get a job,” and it forces us to think deeper about what is causing homelessness. If this is the case, I imagine many children are born into homelessness, and it becomes a way of life for them. This is an extremely sad reality that I hope to continue researching in the future.
We also did a Global Citizen Scholar project, which was a paper that walked us through which key skills and values were most important to us, and how we would apply these skills and values to situations in the future. It forced me to think critically about where I wanted to be in varying time increments; by the end of sophomore year, by the end of college, by the age of 30, etc. I am a very forward thinking person and I like planning things out to give myself a sense of purpose, and this project helped guide me in the right direction.
Overall, the Gateway to Honors class has been extremely helpful. I learned the basics of navigating the honors program, and understanding what it means to be a Global Citizen Scholar. In addition, I learned the importance of self reflection and how powerful it can be in affecting future situations. I will begin reflecting on any major event in my life; personal, academic or professional, and look for what I did right and wrong, and where I can improve. I enjoyed my time in the class and I am extremely excited for my next year at Cincinnati.
My group has chosen to investigate the homeless problem in the Cincinnati area. Cincinnati has the fourth highest income inequality in the country, and this becomes quite apparent when driving around town.
We want to learn more about who is affected, so we will learn more about homeless people, homeless shelters and their volunteers, advocacy groups, business owners, and politicians. This is an issue that either directly or indirectly impacts the lives of everybody, and we want to learn more about how we can make a change.
Interview Summary & Reflection
Recently we interviewed Dr. Mark with the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and learned a lot from him. The following list includes our questions for him and a summary of his answers.
1. What are the leading factors of homelessness?
Two main reasons - the first is a lack of affordable housing. Affordable housing simply means 30% of your income, regardless of income. The median income is $72k in Hamilton county, which means that the average"affordable" housing in this area is based on a $50k income. 10% of kids in Cincinnati experience homelessness. The second reason is due to the lack of livable wages, as minimum wage has not kept up with inflation.
2. What are you doing to help?
The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless is an advocacy group, which works to direct people to various services around the city. They also receive mail for over 3 thousand people because they otherwise would not have a place to have their mail sent to.
They also frequently visit city hall to advocate for affordable housing. Their education program reaches over 5,000 people per year.
They also sell a newspaper that they sell to vendors for a cheap price, allowing them to resell the paper for a profit. This gives entrepreneurial opportunity to anybody, and it also spreads the word. This paper contains personal stories from homeless people so it's a much better view of what homelessness is like.
They have 65 partnered member organizations that they refer people to. They also help people on the brink of homelessness by helping them create tenant organizations.
There are two types of gentrification: direct, which is getting directly kicked out, and indirect, which is being forced to move because all of the local stores and family slowly gets filtered out.
Recently, there was a building with over 90 units and the owner wanted to kick everyone out to rebuild it. Originally they only had 45 days to relocate, but with the help of the coalition they now have two years.
There is a concept called tax abatement. If someone buys a building for $10k and then builds a $1mil building in its place, they only have to pay taxes on the $10k for a certain period of time. The coalition contacts these people and asks these people to give 8% of the difference of this amount to put it in their Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
They have also surveyed many homeless people to see how public services treat them, and they plan on drafting a Bill of Rights. A big issue is that everything is becoming private and so many homeless people are denied access to bathrooms, parks, etc.
3. What can college students do?
The main thing is diminishing stereotypes. The average age of a homeless person in the United States is 9 years old, so saying “just get a job” doesn’t have any value. Students can also speak out for creating affordable housing by sending letters. Also, their member organizations always need volunteers.
Oftentimes, small gifts are a short term fix but have no long term meaning. Focus on infrastructure and long term assistance rather than short term gifts.
4. Personal Experiences?
There are different types of homelessness - such as being ‘doubled up,’ living with another family, and being ‘homeless at home.’ Dr. Mark was actually ‘homeless at home,’ meaning he had a home but they had an extreme shortage of food. He said his mom would buy groceries on Wednesday and they would be gone by Friday. Later in his life when living with his partner, he was a week from turning in his dissertation and Hurricane Ike destroyed his house. Insurance took an extremely long time to compensate him so he had to live with others until his home was fixed, all while presenting his dissertation and then going on to teach GED classes.
5. Are any politicians helping?
Often times drug use doesn’t occur until after homelessness. The county wants more restrooms.
Employment Pipeline - Parks Department, Building Values, provides full time job and case worker to homeless people. This provides both a job and a network of organizations that they can utilize.
6. Is there a solution in the near future?
He believes that establishing a basic income system, or increasing minimum wage, could help. Additionally, pushing for affordable housing is the biggest issue. Currently the government allocates 10x more subsidies to secure housing than they do for insecure housing.
Also, there are no legal protections for tenants; so you could purchase a building and kick everyone out to renovate, so legal protection needs to be looked at.
Prior to this interview, I did not know what an “advocacy group” was. I never thought about the importance of a middle-man working to connect homeless people to the support structure groups that they need. I also did not realize that the average age of a homeless person was just 9 years old. That fact really blew my mind because it made me think about what really causes homelessness; it is not something that people choose to do, but rather something that can happen to anyone. Dr. Mark’s personal story was also very interesting in that it provided a real example of what can happen to hard working people to send them into homelessness; a storm destroyed his house and he had to wait months for it to be rebuilt. If he didn’t have someone to stay with, he would have been on the streets. Dr. Mark says that the two biggest causes of homelessness right now are the lack of affordable housing and the fact that minimum wage has fallen behind inflation rates. This means that housing is becoming more expensive and the value of money is dropping, and when you pair that with gentrification in the area it is no wonder that there is such an issue with homelessness in Cincinnati. I believe that working to dispel stereotypes and working to create new affordable housing are the best ways we can begin attacking this problem.
After completing the Clifton Strengths test, my top five themes came out to be: competitive, restorative, analytical, focus and intellection. I was not surprised at all by the strengths themselves, but rather at how accurate the test had been. I am an extremely left brain oriented person, and my top five strengths seem to follow that trend quite closely.
After receiving the results, we had an activity in which we wrote a paper highlighting a recent experience. We were to draw upon our strengths and investigate where they came into play throughout our experience. I chose to write about my internship acceptance, and I was shocked to see how easily I could write about each of the five strengths. They all fit very well into the framework of the internship, and it made me realize how accurate the test was. It will be interesting to see how I will be able to identify these strengths in future experiences.
I am driven by my passionate beliefs in community, curiosity, and creativity. I pursue these passions by utilizing my core strengths of competition, restoration, and analysis. I plan to live out these values through opportunities where I am motivating and strategizing to achieve inspiration and success that impacts college students and economic opportunity. To do so, I will seek opportunities to improve the product and the process. When I face challenges or obstacles along the way, I will remember to accept that change is inevitable and make connections with people.
I love the idea of inspiring and motivating fellow students to accomplish their goals, both personal and professional. This year I have focused on getting as involved as possible with programs that I believe will benefit me and make me more marketable to employers. I have spent a great deal of my time working with the Young Entrepreneurs Across America, running my own painting business in my hometown under the guidance of a mentor. So far, the internship has caused the fastest personal and professional growth I have ever experienced in my life. There are issues constantly arising that keep me out of my comfort zone, and I firmly believe that growth occurs primarily under these circumstances.
Within the company, there is a great deal of opportunity for growth. I am currently employed as a branch manager, and if I perform well I may be invited back to work as a regional manager next year, overseeing my own team of newly recruited branch managers. This would give me the opportunity to motivate and inspire these new hires to see their own entrepreneurial potential and run a successful business.
I plan on receiving this promotion by performing well and showing a great deal of effort. I have already done quite well at this, as I am currently 2nd in the country for customer estimates completed. In this time I have learned a great deal about setting proper expectations, customer relations, and professional selling. The industry sales success rate is around 10%, and I plan on finishing this season around 45%. To continue this momentum, I will continue to put in as much effort as possible and stay mindful of where I can improve.
In addition to Student Painters, I have also decided to join the University Honors Program. I did this because I am confident that the program will give me unique opportunities for growth that are exclusive to its members. For example, I have never left the country and decided to go to Chile on a study tour for my first honors experience. I love astronomy and don’t have much time to study it within the business curriculum, and through the UHP I am able to study the topic in a classroom setting and then travel to a location known for its astronomy to experience it in person. This is an opportunity for growth that I would not have without the program.
Finally, in the future I plan on joining a business honors program and the university sales team. I would like to join the business honors program for similar reasons to joining the UHP. It is a step up from standard curriculum and is designed to push its students to greater heights. It grants exclusive classes and study abroads that are designed to grow capable students to their fullest potential. Additionally, I would like to join the sales team because it is an excellent resource on campus that not many people know Aabout. Members on the team boast a 100% hire rate among its members, and this is because they have a team of coaches pushing members to improve themselves everyday. The program is sponsored by companies who are eager to meet students, and participates in many competitions, from local to international, that expose members to employers from all over the world. Typically, graduating members have an array of job offers that they can pick and choose from. This is an opportunity that I would love to have, and I am willing to work for it.
Ultimately, I have high hopes for the future and plan on holding myself to the goals I have set. I hope to work in finance, and own my own businesses, and these are extremely competitive fields that require a great deal of hard work; although true success does not come at a discount. I plan on establishing a well constructed plan for college and will use reflection to hold myself accountable and work on improvement, and I will utilize my continually growing network to mentor and refer me as I progress through the process.