Back to Episode # 24

Intro  00:00
Life After Now.


Liz Bolsoni  00:07
Hello and welcome to the Life After Now podcast. I'm your host Liz Bolsoni, and I'm a communication studies major at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. This podcast is a place for young people like you to gather information about education, and think about what it means for your life after now, you'll be able to connect with inspirational guests who have first hand experience and expertise surrounding education in Minnesota. Today I'll be talking with Kayla Ritter-Rickels. Kayla, thank you so much for joining me today. She's a Senior Manager of Community Engagement at


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  00:41
Yeah, thanks for having me, Liz. I'm really excited to be here today.


Liz Bolsoni  00:45
Before we dive in, I do have a fun icebreaker question. And I want you to like think back to your high school self. And give her some advice, words of affirmation, or words of wisdom. What would you say?


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  00:58

If I could go back and talk to my 17 or 18 year old self, I think I would tell her to take the ride. So you know, I think that high school can feel really serious and college and where you're headed feels really serious. But to not like, get so hung up in that, that you forget to take the ride of life. And I hope you know now decades after high school, I am trying to live that out more fully in adulthood as well.


Liz Bolsoni  01:26
Oh, yeah, that's great. We've had a lot of people say like, just enjoy where you're at, and really savor it and do that sort of stuff, just because as we've experienced with the pandemic, things just happen, and suddenly, it's not what it used to be. So that's great advice. And you know, one of the big things that we hear a lot from high schoolers, from professionals is that people think college isn't for everyone. And even in an earlier episode, one of our guests said that college has become a contentious term. So why do you think that is? And what is your response to the, I guess the sentiment that college isn't for everyone?


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  02:04
Oh, man, I mean, what a big question. And so I personally really sit in that question and say, you know, why do we actually say that college isn't for everyone? What are the assumptions or the biases we have that's informing that because in my own personal lived experience, we would not tell every student in an equal way or in an equitable way, that college is not for them. And so I think that that is fraught with a lot of assumptions about people and what they can and cannot do through either their academic ability, their financial abilities, or their affluency in the world. So to me, you know, I would really challenge that and say, some form of higher education post high school is for everyone. And I think it really depends on how we think about and define college, and also how we think about and support folks through their own ride and through their own journey. So college might not be the right step for everyone, right after high school, but who am I to decide that for or on behalf of somebody else?


Liz Bolsoni  03:16
So I want to hear a little bit more about why you chose to go to college. And why do you think students should consider postsecondary options after high school? What do we know about how a degree after high school impacts students lives?


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  03:31
Yeah, so, truthfully, college didn't feel like an option for me, it was expected and assumed that I would go to college as a middle class, white female student. And so that was always on my life plan, because it's what the adults in my life expected of me. And that's not to say I regret that decision, because I don't. College was a super valuable experience for me. But what I wish was that those expectations were held up for all people. And so the reason I say that, I think that is really around the idea of what we know college can unlock for an individual. So when you look at national research, you can see over and over and over again, that a person that holds a college credential makes more over the course of their life. And if you look at historically marginalized populations, you can see in data over and over and over again, that it can also, it can change the trajectory of a person's ability to be financially stable and viable, and independent. And so really, you know, in that -- to be clear, really thinking about and talking about uplift out of poverty. That a person that holds a college degree that grew up in poverty is incredibly less likely to continue living in poverty and if we are really about equitable outcomes and people living there best lives, then we have to address and really think about the idea of how we tackle poverty too.


Liz Bolsoni  05:06
Right. And, you know, we have had guests share that counselors or adults in their lives, told them college wasn't for them, or their dream college wasn't for them. So can you share a little bit about the dangers of, you know, that response to students that they aren't what they hope to be? Or that they can't go where they want to go? Can you share a little bit about that?


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  05:30
Yeah. So in that reflection, I really think about the idea that assuming you know what is best for another person is a Colonial mindset. And I personally have no interest in replicating Colonial mindsets. And so really thinking about how do we empower students within the context of their life and their dreams, to live out their best life and their best ride. And I really think about that in terms of the combination of both career and what challenge or opportunity they want to impact in the world, but also lifestyle. And I think that discouraging dreaming is dangerous.


Liz Bolsoni  06:16
That's great. I love how you say that, and that's definitely going to stick with me for a long time. And again, one of the biggest keys to success, as you've mentioned, is self-advocacy. And I want to know how we can encourage and cultivate self-advocacy and self-efficacy in students. Could you first define those terms and explain how students can advocate for themselves.


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  06:43
When I think about self-advocacy, I would really define it as the ability to represent yourself, and know what is important and true to you. And then you know, if we think about self-efficacy, really thinking about that is the ability to live out to your potential and to perform and control around your own motivations and your environment. And I think that those are really important skills for adults to have, and high school students to learn how to cultivate, because it gives you a personal truenorth. And so some of that, I think, is empowered through encouraging students to dream and encouraging students to explore what their options are. And understanding that oftentimes, in our lives, we can only dream about what we've seen. And so how do we really afford opportunities, experiences, and broadening of perspectives through both formal and informal education means.


Liz Bolsoni  07:50
I want to know, you know, life after now is the time after the COVID pandemic and distance learning. It's a time in Minnesota after such immediate instances of police violence and violence against AAPI communities, political unrest, just to name a few. And so what makes equitable education so vital to understanding and supporting underserved and underrepresented communities in this state?


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  08:17
Equitable education is really important in this process, and because when you have the opportunity to learn how to think critically, and learn how to self-advocate and have the ability to be self -- have self-efficacy, that you can then influence and lead from the seat that you're in. And so this question really makes me think about like privilege dynamics and power dynamics, and so right or wrong, fair or unfair, those that hold college degrees and formal education -- although there are lots of means of education overall -- but traditional or formal education credentials hold power and privilege in different ways. And while we work to change the power and privilege systems and dynamics, we also then have to in tandem are for now understand that until systems can change we need to work to get better representation in those systems. And so I think that, you know, I am personally motivated as an educator, to hope, hopefully support and drive equitable education in terms of access and outcomes, because I know and I've seen and I've experienced, that it unlocks power and privilege in a variety of aspects of life. But I think to the point that you made kind of at the top of all of this was that rest is crucial in this process, too. So a person has to be self-aware enough to know to put their own oxygen mask on first and to take care and grieve and move and grow internally before they can impact externally. But using those lived experiences as motivation, and as the expertise that the world needs. I think that it's really easy for us to look to traditional experts, who are often white, and often male, and trust them because they have really high degrees. And what I would be here to say, too, is that the people that live the experience are the experts on what that is. And we need more voices in those spaces to help drive that.


Liz Bolsoni  10:35
Yeah. And I think that really ties into equitable education is that, I'm not sure how I'm defining it, right, but everyone has a place as a student, and everyone has a place as a teacher. And I want to ask you, if you could too, define what equitable education means to you, and what happens when there is a lack of equitable education?


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  10:55
Yeah, so, I am going to think about this through the, like, all teach, and all learn. When everyone in that space has the opportunity to both teach from their lived experience and their expertise and learn from others, that's one, not the only but one signal of equitable education, that we value all the people in this space. I do think, too, though, that you can't talk about equitable education without talking about both access to education, the experience of the education, and the outcomes of it. And all three of those components of that life cycle of education, I think is really important. And so being able to critically consider who has access to the education, and what are the voices are the people that are missing, so that you can be very intentional. And then paying attention to the outcomes of that education, I think is also really important. So are all of those people achieving in similar ways? And if not, instead of blaming the student for not having equitable achievement, or having, you know, achievement gaps, really thinking about ourselves as educators around how we can support, and what is our role in that? Because I think that any setting of education, everyone in that space has a role and a responsibility in terms of the access, what happens in the space and the learning, and the outcomes of that.


Liz Bolsoni  12:24
And as we talk about equitable education, and you know, we've discussed in earlier episodes that Minnesota has one of the largest achievement gaps across socioeconomic, racial, and ethnicity, there's a lot of inequality in our education system. And I want to know what you think nationwide, or where you are, what needs to change so that education is equitable for all people.


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  12:49
Yeah, to go to an earlier point that I've made, I really believe that the people that live the experience are our best experts. And so, you know, I feel like the first thing that I would recommend, and the first thing I'm always interested in doing is talking to the people that are living the experience. So what do the current high school students say about what they believe their opportunities are and what their education has felt like? What do you recent graduates think? How do you connect with the families of students to really tell you and give you the counsel and the knowledge around what it means to live through that system, rather than those of us who and including myself, those of us who have been in administrative roles, just trying to do our best to create schools that welcome and educate students. And then I think from there, you have to really think about what can you change? So to me, it's a mix of doing that qualitative work. So talking to people and getting how it feels and and what it means and then doing the quantitative work. What are the actual achievement gaps, and understanding the root causes, which those are always big problems. And so I really think when you look at these issues, it can feel super overwhelming. Like, wow, the problem in Minnesota, for instance, is so big that we're never going to solve it. And that's not a productive mindset. And so I think it takes really brave leaders to set out visions and take small steps. And then I think it takes everyone in the system to lead from the seat they are in and be brave and bold to share their experience and push back. I would say broadly, and I'm not going to remember who said this, but a system is perfectly designed to get the results that it gets. And so if we think about that, and we're not happy with our results, then we have to create a new system. And that takes some real hard work. But really talking to the people and looking at data, I think are the first two steps to recreating a system that could be more equitable.


Liz Bolsoni  14:53
Yeah. I want to go back a little bit to your comment about brave leaders. And I think that's what this podcast, well I know that's what this podcast is about, is preparing high schoolers and, you know, inviting guests like you to inspire those brave leaders who are hopefully listening right now. So looking forward to life after now, in incorporating your messages about making education equitable, do you have any parting words for our future leaders and for the current students who are listening in?


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  15:21
So I would want every single student and every single person listening to know that they matter and that they belong. And so regardless of what the system has told you, regardless of what the adults or the administrators have told you you are capable of, or whether or not you belong, I want you to know that you matter, and you belong. And your voice is critical and making this change actually possible in our cities and in our states and in our country and in our world. Because this is -- the world's biggest group project is living life, and we need you to participate in that.


Liz Bolsoni  15:57
Period, exclamation point, exclamation point. I love that, what great, you know, words to send away our listeners. So thank you for joining me today, Kayla, and sharing about what makes education for everybody. And you know why college is for everybody. So thank you for joining me.


Kayla Ritter-Rickels  16:15
Yes, thank you for having me. This was so fun, and it has been a real pleasure.


Liz Bolsoni  16:20
I also want to give a quick shout out to our listeners. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today. This podcast was brought to you by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. And we encourage you to dig into the resources mentioned in this episode, which you can find in the show notes at our website. Don't forget to follow this podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you listen to your podcasts, so that you don't miss any future episodes. Until next time, everyone. I'm Liz Bolsoni. Stay well, stay hopeful, and stay ready because you all are the future.

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