Thomas Allen Wehner, '20, MS '21
My most important lesson
When I first started as a tutor with the High School Support Initiative (HSSI) freshman year, I didn't realize the depth of the program and how much it would mean to me. I signed up after getting an email about the program because I liked tutoring and it sounded like a good cause. I joined HSSI as a tutor going out to my school site once a week. I was barely aware of the complexities of the program, the intricacies of ethical service, and the depth of how my identities interacted with the complex histories and systems at play in the education system. I had a lot to learn.
At the end of freshman year, I became an HSSI fellow and spent the next three years working with and learning from the incredible team. As a fellow, I was part of the program staff, with expanded responsibilities to support the tutors and program. As a team, we worked with Stanford students, analyzed feedback, hosted workshops, discussed articles and program changes, filled in spreadsheets, tracked attendance, and went out every week to maintain our anchor in the most important work by tutoring high school students.
This experience sparked my interest in education, organizational behavior, and nonprofit work. I had joined HSSI because of its focus on working with high school youth, but working as an HSSI fellow helped me discover that I was even more interested in learning how to develop the organization and volunteers to better serve and collaborate with youth and community partners. This insight helped guide my future plans, highlighted what talents I have to use in collaboration with others to build a better world, and revealed what skills I still need to develop.
Every experience with HSSI pushed me forward as a person – whether building facilitation skills with volunteers, learning the power and shortcomings of the Principles of Ethical and Effective Service, or better understanding how to be an ally as a person of privilege in the fight for educational equity.
The time I spent with the HSSI team added so many dimensions to my Stanford experience, and I consider it to be the most important part of my education here. Beyond fostering a set of technical skills, this experience helped me learn about myself and understand my journey to being a better friend, ally, coworker, volunteer, leader, and person. I am forever grateful to Sophia Kim, our wonderful program director and mentor, and the rest of the HSSI family for this incredible experience.