Share:

Major Insight Episode 25 Increasing Access for First-Gen Students and Citizens

Amitoj Kaur

Major Insight Podcast          More Miami Podcasts          Request Information

Amitoj Kaur understands how to seize every opportunity that comes her way. As a freshman, she was appointed by the governor of Ohio to serve on Miami University’s Board of Trustees, where she advocates for the student experience.

Amitoj is also a first-generation college student, who helps others navigate the transition into university life. And on this episode, she also talks about combining her interests in design, marketing, and policy to create more accessibility for immigrants, and for those in communities everywhere.

Featured Majors:

Emerging Technology in Business and Design, Political Science

Featured Organizations or Internships:

  • Access Fellows Council
  • Miami University’s Board of Trustees
  • Dominion Energy Corporate Affairs Internship
  • Rinella Learning Center

Career Clusters:

Arts, Communication, Media and Design

Law and Government

Music: “Only Knows” by Broke For Free

Read the transcript

James Loy:

Major Insight is a production of Miami University. This is where we showcase successful students, their promising new research and its relevance in our world.

Amitoj Kaur understands how to seize every possible opportunity, and rarely has any college student accomplished so much, so quickly. As a freshman, Amitoj was appointed by the Governor of Ohio to serve on Miami University’s Board of Trustees, where she advocates for the student experience.

Amitoj is also a first generation college student, and a first generation American, who helps others navigate the transition into university life as an Access Fellow. And on this episode, she also talks about combining her interests in design, marketing, and policy to create more accessibility for immigrants, and for those in communities everywhere.

Now here’s Major Insight host Peter Everett and Amitoj Kaur with more.

(Music)

Peter Everett:

So just for everyone listening, could you just introduce yourself and let us know what you're majoring in and what you love about Miami?

Amitoj Kaur:

Yeah. Hi everyone, my name is Amitoj Kaur, my pronouns are she, hers, her. I'm a sophomore here at Miami University, double majoring in political science and emerging technology for business and design. I think the number one thing I love about Miami is the value of love an honor. When I was applying to college, I thought it was really cheesy and I didn't really think it was a legitimate thing, but here at Miami, I think even on my day to day walk to campus, I realized love and honor is so much more bigger than just a college slogan, but a way of life and a way of living at Miami, and that mutual respect and admiration for one another, that's love and honor, and it's my favorite thing about Miami.

Peter Everett:

So you're both a political science major and an emerging technologies and business major. How do those two majors for you work together and how did you even discover those passions and decide that that's what you wanted to do with your college career?

Amitoj Kaur:

For sure. So I think when you think of political science and emerging tech for business and design, you don't really group them together. And I think it's a shame because people don't realize how much the way we perceive the world is because of design. Particularly politically, I am a proud, proud daughter of two immigrants from India, and growing up, I would just remember so much of the world was just inaccessible. Whether that was translations, whether it was verbiage on governmental signs or even documents.

Amitoj Kaur:

I have two parents that aren't native English speakers. And I remember being eight, trying to translate documents and being like, "Why is this so complicated?" So while I was growing up, political science, it just made sense for me. And then I got to college and I realized, particularly with campaigns, political signage, political documents from government bureaucracies, so much of that is embedded within design, how we reach constituents, how we reach citizens and non-citizens that live in the US. All of that goes to design and interaction, which is why these two combine so effortlessly my brain, because whatever I decide to do with political science, design is going to be such a big part of it in making sure it's accessible, making sure everyone can really understand what our government, what our politicians, what our candidates are trying to convey. It makes for better representation and better quality people in the office.

Amitoj Kaur:

And I had no clue about all of this design stuff until my advisor... I'm an Access Fellow here at Miami, my advisor, Dr. Christina Whetstine at Rinella Learning Center. I was talking to her and I was like, "I love social media marketing." I was working a campaign, I loved doing it. And she just kind of looked at me and she was like, "Why aren't you..." At the time it was IMS, she was like, "Why aren't you an IMS major?" And I was like, "I'm not artistic, I can't draw straight lines for the life of me." I just had such a bad preconceived notion of what the major was. She sat me down, she read their little blurb in the handbook and I was just like, "Wait, this actually sounds really interesting." And then I contacted the department and it's been history ever since.

Peter Everett:

Yeah. So what does that major really, truly constitute? Because I was almost a fine art major here, actually. So my perception of design and art is very much rooted in, "Oh, here's how composition works. Here's how different mediums work." I'm sure this is much more digitally-focused marketing. Is that kind of what you're talking about here?

Amitoj Kaur:

Yeah, for sure. So I think what I love about the ETBD department is it has such a large scope. So right now I'm taking a class called submersive design, which is all about power and privilege and how that goes hand in hand with digital design and accessibility. But I'm also taking class on social media marketing, where I get to follow brands and see how they create community within their designs. So I'm working on Photoshop, I'm working on Illustrator, but I'm also having classes that talk about power and privilege and accessibility, so huge scope.

Peter Everett:

So the philosophy behind the design itself.

Amitoj Kaur:

Absolutely.

Peter Everett:

Not just the principles of design or how do I create something? It's, "Okay. Why am I creating it?"

Amitoj Kaur:

Yes, absolutely.

Peter Everett:

How career-wise do you see yourself moving forward now with your major and with this other... all this design background that you're building up?

Amitoj Kaur:

I think when I was growing up, my dream was to be working in Washington, being a bureaucrat and really getting out there, now that I've been in college and I've experienced a bit more, I think the dream shifted quite a bit. Right now, I am set to be working in corporate policy with a combination of working with communications team. More specifically, I am working with Dominion Energy, a Fortune 500 this summer to work with their policy team, but also their communication teams, they're a utility company that's also really innovative. So I get to help create marketing for their consumers, translations, accessible design for their videos, really fun stuff like that, but also their policy in how to effectively lobby for policies that they're looking for.

Peter Everett:

And what kind of policies would those be?

Amitoj Kaur:

For example, they're really leading the change in electric energy and solar, renewable energy. Something I actually thought was really cool is when I got the job, they sent me a solar powered backpack. And in my head I was like, "That's an odd gift." And then one of the students in my intern cohort who lives in Puerto Rico, one of our team meeting days, she had a hurricane that destroyed the electricity and she logged onto her meeting using her solar powered backpack. I think that was a moment where I was like, "Holy moly. This is much more bigger than I had thought," because I'm so privileged to live in a place where I don't have to worry about electricity. So I think Dominion's really going to be going forward with electric energy and how to get it implemented day to day life. So people who need it most can get it.

Peter Everett:

Something else I'm getting from this is maybe a more generalized passion for community-centered service and community-centered politics that really are focused on serving the community. And is that something you've been able to do here at Miami? I know you were appointed to the board of trustees for Miami University, by the governor. What was that journey like? And does that kind of connect with this community base?

Amitoj Kaur:

Absolutely. I am a brown girl at a predominantly white school. I'm a first-generation college student, I'm a first-generation American. My experience in the States is very different than my peers, and I acknowledge that, and I am so fortunate that Miami celebrates it and Miami welcomes it because I don't think a lot of universities would be so willing to put someone like me, someone so young, someone who doesn't look like everyone in the room on such a position, such as board of trustees. Being appointed to board of trustees, that was a whirlwind of its own. Arguably, one of the best experiences I've had at Miami.

Amitoj Kaur:

I applied the fall semester of my freshman year. Basically the process, in a very short nutshell, you apply with ASG, which is our student government here at Miami, they have a selection committee. The application is like four essays, a resume, a cover letter, pretty beefy. After that, they pick the top five. The top five candidates get to interview with the governor's office, and then ultimately the governor will select one to serve on the board of trustees. And I am very honored and blessed that I got to be Governor DeWine's selection last spring.

Peter Everett:

Can you give us some insider scoop on how the interview went and what the questions were like, or-

Amitoj Kaur:

For sure, the interview with the governor's office, it was over the phone and it was before COVID and when the interview was over, I remember looking at my mom and going, "I just blew it. I definitely did not get it." Because they were really-

Peter Everett:

What made you say that?

Amitoj Kaur:

They were just really stoic on the phone. And obviously, they have to be, they can't be like, "Oh, that was a great response." But I just remember on the phone, not getting that same energy, but I remember just going, "Oh, they hated me, mom." And just being so stressed about it. And then a week later I was at home with my parents and I got this call from Columbus, immediately sent it to voicemail because I was like, "Why would anyone from Columbus call me?" And then I was like, "Oh, my gosh, wait." Absolute horror.

Peter Everett:

Isn't that where the governor lives?

Amitoj Kaur:

I was like, "Oh, no." So I called the office back and they were like, "Hi, this is the governor's office. How can we help you?" And I'm like, "Hi, my name's Amitoj. I think I just got a missed call from you. I'm really sorry, did you want to talk to me?" And she started laughing and she goes, "Yeah, I have some good news for you." And I remember just straight up bawling my eyes out on the phone and I keep thanking her, and I just remember it being so surreal. And she was like, "Yeah, your press release is going to be out in two days." And ever since then, it has been one of the most magical experiences at Miami.

Peter Everett:

So what kind of responsibilities do you have on the board?

Amitoj Kaur:

Yeah, so my on-paper responsibilities, I have a partner who is my co-trustee, his name's Will Kulis. Unfortunately in the next two weeks, he'll be saying goodbye and we'll be welcoming our new trustee who will be my partner for the last year of my term. So we work together on a lot of initiatives that we get to choose amongst ourselves. For example, we served on President Crawford's diversity equity and inclusion task force. It was actually the implementation team, so we got to make sure the DEI recommendations from the summer were actually being implemented on campus, which was super cool. I also meet with ASG president and vice-president about bi-weekly to talk about what's going on on the student body and how we as trustees can help.

Amitoj Kaur:

However, maybe more importantly, or maybe the number one on my job description is providing the student experience to trustee members. So a part of that is I provided a report at every single board meeting about what's going on campus. Part of that's been talking about the mental health crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of that's been talking about black lives matter and ensuring person of color safety at our campuses and what we need to be doing. And part of that's just been talking about how we as a student body are adjusting and growing, but really just providing trustee members the perspective of what's going on on our campuses, and what can they not see since they're not here every day?

Peter Everett:

You mentioned being not only a first-generation American, but a first-generation college student. What has that meant to you personally? What has that mean to your family? And what kind of unique challenges do you think you've faced?

Amitoj Kaur:

I think I want to go with the positives first and then I'll go with the negatives. But I think one of the coolest parts about being a first-gen college student is the pride my family has. And me being a college student and me doing everything I do. My family immigrated from India, and so opportunity for women as a whole are not as bountiful as they are here in the States. So every time I do something or every time I'm involved with something, it's like an unsaid thing between my parents and I, where I can just see them beaming because they're just like, "Holy moly, that's our girl. That's why we immigrated here, for you to have a better life, for you to do anything you set your mind to."

Amitoj Kaur:

My father is a priest. He tells me all the time, he's like, "If I had the resources, if I could do it over again, I'd be a doctor." And unfortunately he never got to do that. But with the life I am blessed with here, I can do anything I set my mind to. And I know a lot of people critique the American dream, but I am a very firm believer in it. And I think Miami has been really integral with helping me get there.

Amitoj Kaur:

But on the flip side, when I was applying to college, typically people have their folks read their essays, they've got family members, they have people that have actually gone to college to give some sort of advice. I applied to 23 schools on my own, I had no clue what I was doing, I had no clue what to look for in a university, and even when I got to college, being even more clueless. I remember orientation, I didn't even know people's parents were supposed to go to that. My parents didn't know either, because again, we've never gone through it. And so I remember I was at orientation alone and they're talking about your academic divisions, they're talking about classes, credit hours. No one had ever explained that to me. So I was absolutely lost on what to do. And I think for a very brief moment, I was like, "Am I even supposed to be here?" But lucky for me at Miami, I have a cohort of students in a very similar boat.

Amitoj Kaur:

I'm an Access Fellow, which means that I am a first-gen college student. And our cohort of students are actually assigned advisors that are here to help implement and help kind of make the transition to college a lot smoother. Typically, people meet with their advisors their first semester, freshman year. To this day, I meet with my advisor weekly because college is really overwhelming, and no one explains these things, especially if your folks don't know it, but it's real, especially office hours, I had no clue what office hours were. So even the little things folks don't realize that are highly portrayed in mainstream media, first-gen college students don't know about it. And sometimes I wish the first semester of college as a whole was a bit more empathetic to those who do not know what's going on.

Peter Everett:

Sure. Would you also say though that that first semester of those challenges that came with just being this unfamiliar territory and having to work through everything on your own and research everything on your own, did that imbue you with maybe a certain type of determination and work ethic and maybe something beyond what you saw in some of your peers that maybe they had a lot of help, right? Did that change you as a person?

Amitoj Kaur:

Honestly, I'm first-gen college student, I'm also a first-gen American. So I think that determination came a lot younger. Just because when I was younger, I would see people having a lot different upbringing than I did. And just being like, "I'm going to do anything I can set my mind to," because my parents sacrificed so much to be here. That hard work value was instilled really early, which helped me get through that first semester that was so brutal.

Peter Everett:

You're only in your second year, you've already accomplished this much. You've already been appointed by the governor to the board of trustees. You've already got a great... sounds like a great internship at Dominion Energy. You've already figured out exactly how your majors work together and what you want to do. What kind of advice would you give to incoming college students on, "Okay, how do I make the most out of my college experience? How do I figure out what my passions are?" What kind of advice would you have for them?

Amitoj Kaur:

I think when you look at me on a piece of paper, you think that I am just never sleeping, never doing anything, just running all the time. That is so far from the truth. Let's take board of trustees for an example. I'm sure people think I probably had planned months in advance to apply. I was sent an Instagram story by a friend the morning of the application was due, and that's how I applied. All of these things that I've done, they're not premeditated, they're not years of calculation, they're not something that I've been preparing for. But in reality, it's when opportunity knocks saying, "Is this going to benefit me?" And if it is, why am I holding myself back?

Amitoj Kaur:

My mom always tells me, "Always try everything once." And I applied to Dominion on a whim and I was like, "Utilities company, I don't know." And then I ended up absolutely falling in love with the company and now have an internship I feel really good about. Board of trustees, I was like, "I have no clue what I'm doing," and now I've had the opportunity of a lifetime. And I've noticed every prominent mark on my resume, so to say, has not been years of hard work. Well, it has, but it hasn't been preparing for that one moment. It's been when an opportunity comes to say, "Absolutely, of course, trying it." And if it's for me, sticking with it, and if not, connecting it with someone who would be a better fit.

Peter Everett:

So you're saying when the door opens up, don't worry about walking through, just walk through, right?

Amitoj Kaur:

Absolutely.

Peter Everett:

You don't have a lot to lose, you have everything to gain, and you're not going to be able to plan everything out to the minute.

Amitoj Kaur:

100%. And if the opportunity is not for you, often people think of that as not being a success or it being a failure. But reality, finding out something is not for you is one of the greatest strengths you can have.

Peter Everett:

And so you mentioned you're not planning out everything days in advance, you're not slaving away 12 hours a day, right? So when you're not working, what are you doing with your free time? How are you enjoying yourself in college as well? And not just always accomplishing, but relaxing?

Amitoj Kaur:

I'm a big family person, I love my family. Particularly, I have a two-year-old nephew, he is my absolute best friend. He does not realize we have an 18 year age gap, so he thinks we're the same age. So definitely spending time with family is my number one. Work/life balance is huge, when I'm at home, I am at home. So that's cooking with my mom. I love cooking, binging Netflix, just anything I can really do with my family is number one for me.

Peter Everett:

That's awesome.

Amitoj Kaur:

And there's definitely holes in that. Am I to say I haven't forgotten about assignments and I've had to do them 10:00 in my bedroom? Absolutely. But it's the mindset of being like, "Okay, I'm home now. So physically and mentally, this is where I'm going to be." Unless you slip ups happen, which they happen all the time, but it's just the lifestyle you want to manifest for yourself.

Peter Everett:

Well, it helps you stay sane, too.

Amitoj Kaur:

Absolutely. I cannot imagine doing work all the time.

Peter Everett:

Oh, man. Well, this was an absolute pleasure to have you on and-

Amitoj Kaur:

I appreciate it. And thank you so much for having me, I still don't know why you would ever want me in a podcast, but I appreciate the opportunity.

Peter Everett:

You proved why we wanted you on, because you're a fun guest, so there we go.

Amitoj Kaur:

Thank you.

(Music)

James Loy:

Amitoj Kaur is an emerging technology in business + design and political science double major, and plans to work in corporate policy and communication after graduation.

If you've enjoyed this episode of Major Insight, please share it with a friend, with students, or with anyone who hopes to make a powerful impact on their world. You can find more episodes wherever podcasts are found.

SHOW NOTES:

Featured Majors: 

Emerging Technology in Business and Design, Political Science

Featured Organizations and Internships:

Access Fellows Council

Miami University’s Board of Trustees

Dominion Energy Corporate Affairs Internship

Rinella Learning Center

Faculty Shout Outs:

Dr. Christina Carrubba-Whetstine, Rinella Learning Center Director

Career Clusters:

Arts, Communication, Media and Design

Law and Government