Xavier Tacker | Class of 2024 | Natural Resources | BioResource Research
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. | 1st Generation College Student
Where My Studies Have Taken Me
I was connected to my current advisor Wanda Crannell who put me up to many opportunities that have allowed me to travel, network, and mentor other students of color interested in research. Some of the most interesting experiences were as follows:
- VIEW Fellowship at Yaquina Bay - Surveying Oregon estuaries for seagrass eating pathogens with Dr. Ryan Mueller and Tomas Nash labs.
- USFS Scots Pine Restoration Planning Trip in Oregon's Coast Range - Touring Oregon's coast range with renowned forest pathologists and silviculturists to better inform Swedish government/corporations on how to best implement disease resistance breeding programs back home.
- Jacksonville, Davis - Visiting different cities in the US (Jacksonville, FL and Davis, CA) for Minorities in Agriculture and Natural Resource Related Science (MANRRS) conferences, networking with professionals and other STEM/ag students of color.
- Puerto Rico - This was definitely the most fun. For my work in Puerto Rico, I got to survey mangroves swamps for invasive birds, care for endangered parrots and traverse beautiful beaches and cliff sides all in the name of science...who would've thought?
Finding Simple Places in a Complicated College Life
When I'm in Corvallis, I leave my car at home. This has taught me to love biking, and after some practice, I now call it cycling! I love the country roads around Corvallis and want to work my way up to cycling to Yachats. On a given free weekend, you can find me hiking or camping in one of our many state or national forests. I really love the high desert and coastal areas for camping. I recently picked up on skiing, which is something I look forward to slowly making a pastime of mine over the years. You can also find me in my lab playing music on my portable speaker - it's a happy place for me at the university. A big focus of mine since I've settled into college has been finding and centering my life around peaceful places/activities, all of my hobbies help me get into that space.
I think the more complex your worries are, the more stress is on your mind. For example, when camping, my biggest worry of the day is chopping wood for the fire to keep me warm and to have drinking water...who cares what assignment is due the Sunday night I get back.
Getting Plugged in Early
My upbringing has influenced me to hustle for what I want in life. I was true to that when I came to the university and sourced as many connections as I could within my first couple weeks of freshman zeal. Because of these connections, I've won national scholarships, been featured in novel research, traveled, and mentored others. While it is so easy for me to mention how I made it happen for myself, it's selfish. I meet students all the time that want to get involved and want to find creative and less stressful ways to fund their education, but how? I think the university onboarding process falls short in making students aware of interest groups, minority programs, and resources to support students as they make their transition. We need to connect more kids out the gate...I had to go make my connections on my own!
Bridging the Gap
Bridge programs such as Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) provided my voice and a community to feel empowered enough to send the email that got me into a lab my first term, but there are freshmen I meet every term that have never heard of these programs, despite qualifying for them. Making high school applicants and incoming freshmen more aware of the magnitude of these programs and the connections you make is crucial to closing the gap I navigate everyday. If the university wants more students of color in their labs actually doing the work, they need to help students understand the avenues to get there before they even arrive on campus.
Jogging Just to Stay in Place
It's easy to blame it all on imposter syndrome. Working and excelling at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) as a student of color is hard, and may leave students feeling out of place at times, though this has not been my experience. Instead my challenges weren't in feeling like I belonged, they were in keeping on pace with what was required of me to get to the next level. For students of color who may come into school with little knowledge of campus resources, scholarships, academic habits, research, etc., we have to work twice as hard to stay on pace. In my situation, this meant taking between 14-18 credits each term, scoring well in my classes, researching several hours of the week, and constantly applying for fellowships and scholarships. While my hard work is just beginning to pay off, it comes at what cost? In my case, it has come at the cost of stress which has deleteriously impacted my health, relationships with grades/classes, and my peers. All of this to receive recognition and tuition. My story is not unique, it is all too common of those "Young, gifted and black."
Getting Sat Down Works Wonders!
I had lined up a summer 2022 internship that unfortunately fell through due to paperwork approval delays. I ended up being stuck at my mother’s home all summer. I had to find work to keep my bills together and lost many of the privileges I'd enjoyed from financial stability at school. I didn't have my own space, I didn't have a job that built my resume, and I barely had money. I felt like I'd lost my mind and sense of direction. To me, that summer was a glimpse into my life if I hadn't made my way into higher ed. It was a harsh reminder of why I was working so hard. I took away two big perspective shifts: respect for my story and gratitude for my present.
Respect Your Story
Be true to your roots and your travels that led to where you are. Staying true to what made you is what I believe has kept me sane through the culture shock of going to university as a first-gen student on scholarship. When everything people attach to their ego/image gets taken, all you have left is who you truly are. I saw, again, who I was under all my accolades and achievements, and I remembered why I went after them in the first place.
Gratitude for Your Present
Man, I just say "Thank you, God!" That's something I say a lot now. I think that when I got a little comfortable with my experiences at school, just to have them swept away by simple bad luck, really drove home that nothing in this life is promised. When you get it, recognize it, and be grateful for it. Being grateful for your present doesn't just mean "thank you." It means allowing yourself to enjoy the life you've built, trying new things, and allowing yourself to relax and enjoy the view from how high you've climbed. It means making the best of your situation, and if you're able, giving back to those who are trying to get to where you are. Always leave the door open behind you.
So, When You Get Here...
Give thanks for where you are, and make the most of your time here...get out of your comfort zone. Allow yourself to have fun. Make sure what drives you will fulfill you when you get there. Live with purpose, remember your purpose can change. Make sure you're solid within your own head. Go to Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS)! Don't forget where you came from, but remember to grow toward where you want to go. Stay down till you come up. There’s always some money, so make sure you go get it. And most importantly, give back.