Monday, March 15, 2010

Volunteer Spotlight: Szu-Han Ho

Second year mentor Szu-Han Ho grew up in Lubbock, Texas, “a tumble-weed, dust bowl town” in the northwestern part of the state that is home to Texas Tech University. She went to a stellar high school with great teachers and great peers. “I had a lot of amazing people in my education,” she says. Her key to success in high school was to “find a way to love to learn;” and she said that applies throughout life; it can’t stop at school.

For college, Szu-Han moved to California to attend University of California, Berkeley. While she had felt like a minority in her hometown, college was incredibly diverse. She says the most challenging part of being at a large public school is “managing your time” and “driving your own success.” With 25,000 students enrolled, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.

She studied architecture because “it combined hands-on work... with thinking about urban problems.” She remembers, as a child, saying, “When I grow up, I want to be an architect or a teacher,” and she did it! For a few years after graduation, she worked on small projects like houses with firms of just a few people.

But, soon, she had a realization: “I had spent a large part of life in school; in an office environment.” Her family owned land back in Lubbock with dreams of starting an organic firm, so Szu-Han moved home to get it started, and, in three years, she went from not knowing anything to knowing everything! She knows how to fix motors, maintain plants, and all the other life lessons of a farm.

Now Szu-Han is a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is in the Film, Video, and New Media department, but, like we learned at our recent visit, you don’t really have a major at SAIC. You can take whatever classes you want – painting, photo, video, you name it. She works on her own projects, on collaborative projects, and takes coursework downtown at the school.

At Cabrini Connections, Szu-Han works with Lincoln Park High School 9th grader Charles Hill. “It’s been great,” she says. “Charles is fantastic.” They spend time on schoolwork, but also talk about other things. Last year’s big challenge was the transition to high school, which Charles survived quite well. Szu-Han’s tips for mentors are “try to find common ground” and “don’t jump to conclusions.” Teenagers live a complicated life. Don’t rush to judgment.

Szu-Han’s goals are to “continue making art work” and “find something to pay the bills.” She wants to stay in Chicago, which, contrary to the dreams of recent students in the spotlight, she likes more than California. She likes Chicago because of the seasons and she dislikes California because “it feels like everybody wants to be there.” It’s a very competitive environment.

We’re glad you like Chicago, Szu-Han! We’re lucky to have you.

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