I can remember the first time I heard of Teach For America – it was right after I joined the Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity during my freshman year and learned that it was the fraternity’s philanthropy. I thought that was cool, but didn’t think much beyond that. I didn’t know at the time how much Teach For America would impact my life.

I’m a neuroscience major, and I came to UCR planning to go into healthcare. But as I learned more about the vast inequities in education in our country, I started to wonder if I could have a role to play in fighting it. Then my fraternity president, who I had worked very closely with on campus, moved to Philadelphia after graduation to teach English through Teach For America. As I liked her posts about her students and listened to her inspiring stories about working with her kids, I thought to myself, “This is something I should be considering.” I thought I’d help people through medicine, but maybe I could help people in a different way. Maybe I could make an impact, develop my skills, and even hold on to some of the things I’ve loved most about UC Riverside – a sense of community, school spirit, relationships that matter.

Now I am in my third year here at UCR and I’m working to try to find like-minded students who can be leaders in the classroom, leaders who will make a difference in the lives of the students they teach. Education isn’t serving all kids in this country, and as some of the lucky ones who have had access to an excellent education here at UCR, we are poised to help change that reality.

Nothing about this will be easy. That’s because the problems in our schools didn’t start there – they reflect deep, systemic, overlapping injustice across race, class and geography. A family who can’t access health services, struggles to keep both parents employed. Those working multiple jobs need after school care but don’t live in communities with the resources to provide it. Each inequity makes the next one worse.

When we come together to help kids change the way they think about their own abilities and futures, we create classrooms full of students who are dreaming big. When we equip them with the skills and tools to thrive in and out of the classroom, we cultivate boundless potential – the future scientists, politicians, writers, artists, doctors, attorneys who shape the world we are all going to share. It won’t happen overnight. It will take sustained, thoughtful effort. I want to be a part of it.

I don’t know exactly where this next step will take me. If I love teaching as much as I think I might, I’ll keep at it. Or maybe I’ll return to my original goal of working in health care and work to improve communities that way. Wherever I go, I’ll empower my students to break the cycle and strive to become part of a better one.

Samantha Granados is a current junior studying Neuroscience. She is also a Research Assistant in the UCR Sleep and Cognition Lab, part of the Health Scholars Program at Riverside Community Hospital, Historian of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, a member of Mini Medical School, and a student of the University Honors Program.