Author: Karen St. Fort
Published: Wednesday, 28 Oct 2020
As we near the close of October, we wanted to take the time to highlight some extraordinary JA alumni! Our first spotlight is Isabela Overturf. A student at Claremont McKenna College majoring in Environmental Analysis and Psychology dual major. Capstone Manager, Karen St. Fort, had the opportunity to see what she's up to and how JA's impact holds value to her today.
Please tell us a little bit about what you’re doing right now, where you live, background, hobbies, etc. Currently in Austin, although I’m from the Woodlands and usually attend college in California. I was the music director of my a cappella group at college and love to sing, and I also love animals, especially my cat. I worked at my school’s diversity and inclusion center. I currently work at my school’s research institutes for human rights and environmental studies. I’m a big advocate for mental health awareness and social liberties, and I also like video games, especially Pokémon, animal crossing, and super smash bros.
When were you first introduced to JA? Please share your story. I believe my first JA mentor was in third grade when I already hoped to be a geologist because I was fascinated by crystals. We (the class) always loved JA days because it was a break from regular school to do something more fun. My fourth grade JA mentor was the most influential to me.
How did your JA volunteer impact/inspire you? Do you remember their name or company they were with? His name is Mr. Andrew Melhop, and he worked with Anadarko as a geologist (or something similar) in 2009-10 when I was in fourth grade. He was really fun and engaging with us and didn’t feel condescending when he worked with us. On his last day, he brought us all-natural salt rocks, which (with my love of crystals) I thought was sooo cool.
Have you ever reconnected with your JA volunteer to share the impact they had while volunteering in your classroom? Yes! I followed up with him later that same year for a fourth-grade career day project, and I got to visit him at his office in the Woodlands Anadarko building and interview him about his job. It inspired me to continue my path of environmental study. Once, my dad and I sent him a hematite sample we collected in Michigan because we had plenty and thought it was pretty cool.
What made your JA experience meaningful? I think I felt a little out of place in fourth grade wanting to study earth sciences in the future because everyone else seemed to have vastly different desires, like being a doctor or an athlete. It was impactful to see a friendly, successful, and engaging adult whom I was able to interview so I could learn more at a young age about what it was I was interested in. I feel lucky to have had the experience because I know how many people, even students my age, struggle to decide what to pursue. Still, I had a strong experience at a young age that kept me on this path.
Did you have other JA volunteers after elementary? I may have in fifth/sixth, but I’m not too sure.
What inspiring words would you like to share with those who may not be familiar with JA? Kids, especially those in under-resourced areas, can benefit from having lively and engaging role models besides their teachers and their parents. It can be challenging for children to get the opportunity to explore things like leadership, money, and teamwork without an extraordinary effort or program like JA. Plus, elementary school students are easy enough to engage with (bring them pizza or salt rocks, and they like you) that I feel like the possibilities of mentorship are endless.
What is the most important thing you feel you can share with other people about being a JA Alumni? I know not every student had an experience like mine, but the chance of it happening to even a few kids with each program makes it all worth it. It seemed to be enjoyable for Mr. Melhop, too, and he has profoundly impacted my future by providing me a real, successful example of what I wanted to be.