Oh, what? Another “Staff Spotlight?” That’s right. This time, I’m back with the goods on my former partner in crime, one of AALEAD’s MD Middle School Program Coordinators, Ryan Ball! This original West Coast-er has most definitely taken advantage of his time on the East, from having gone to college at William & Mary in Virginia to joining the AALEAD family as our first Digital Connectors Summer Program Coordinator two years ago. Oh, did we mention he really took advantage of his time in the East? Bringing with him a rich background and experiences in Chinese language and culture, Ryan was kind enough to share with me all the “BALL-in’” deets. Read on for more. Trust me—the following info is “BALL-a” status. Get it…?
Q: Word in these AALEAD streets is that you are chock full of nicknames. Please share!
A: Sheldon (from the television series Big Bang Theory), Rihanna (credited to the first group of Digital Connectors, Summer 2011), Linguini (from the movie Ratatouille), 8-Ball (credited to MD High School youth) **Editor’s Note: Ryan will respond to all.**
Q: Those are great! Thanks for sharing. Can you give us a little bit of your background before AALEAD?
A: Yes, I grew up in California, but I decided to go to college on the East Coast because I wanted to explore. I really wanted to major in International Relations because I’ve always been really fascinated by the world and different cultures and places and people. When I was there, I started taking Chinese my freshman year, so that has played a huge role on where I am today. So I got to study abroad in China, which was amazing, and then I got to teach there for a year and loved it more than I ever expected to. Then afterwards, I moved to DC and started working for Asian American LEAD pretty quickly after that.
Q: Were you looking for an Asian American or Chinese American focus?
A: I was looking for something where I could use Chinese. It was a little different than what I had been looking for because it is education kind of oriented, nonprofit work. And I had been more focused on policy. But, once I saw it, and I actually saw that it was for the Digital Connectors Program, so it was just really for the summer. I really liked that because it was not only working with kids, which I had enjoyed teaching a lot, but also what the program was focusing on was, I thought, really groundbreaking. Teaching the kids about IT, media and then helping them actually learn the skills to go back out into their community and teach what they learned.
Q: Sounds like you got sucked in pretty quickly after Digital Connectors, huh?
A: Yeah, yeah, so I asked if there were any other opportunities, and fortunately there was—the Middle School Program! So I transitioned in to that [role] in Maryland.
Q: So what would you say is best part of being a MD Middle School Program Coordinator?
A: I think with middle school, it’s a little tough, because middle school gets a bad rap. A lot of people, their image of it is that middle school-ers have bad attitudes, and they just don’t give them very much credit, as teenagers, I guess. But working with middle school youth, I think for that reason, is that much more of a good experience. I think it’s that much more gratifying to know that, “Hey, this student is really responding to what I’m doing or responding to AALEAD!” And they feel, like a sense of belonging from being a part of AALEAD, and that helps them, you know, with their entire lives.
Q: Can you share with us one of your favorite AALEAD memories?
A: I think it’s from my first summer. We have a graduation for the Digital Conncetors Program. It’s after they have done all their volunteer work and so I hadn’t seen them for about a month or so. For graduating, [the youth] get a reward—a little bit of money and that year, they got a lap top, which was a big deal. So I got to stand up there and be like, “Hey! Come on down get your money!” I mean, it was fun, but also, I think they got a taste of what it’s like to, you know, “Hey, if you do hard work, this is what you get.” Understanding about having a job and what that leads to. So it was me really connecting with the fact that the work I had done over the summer resulted in something tangible that I could see.
Q: Now for some more personal questions! What is one thing you wish you were told as a teenager?
A: Set yourself up for success. Choose a path that you know is gonna put you in a good position.
Q: What would you say is one unique thing about you?
A: Lately, I’ve discovered one unique thing is I’ve developed sort of a very sardonic sense of humor. I didn’t realize that I was so sarcastic sometimes and now I’ve been carrying it in to programs. It’s gotten to the point of it being more edgy than I realized. It sort of works with the kids because sometimes they come in and they’re all puffed up and I say something playfully funny, not trying to harm them. All the students laugh and I think, “Hey! I kind of like this feeling.”
Q: I can’t believe I once…
A: So I really wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year’s in China because it’s such a big thing, so I stuck around there. A lot of my friends had gone back to the U.S. because that was when we had our vacation time. I wanted to visit my Chinese tutor. He lived in the middle of nowhere so I had to get on a train to go to his hometown. But there was a blizzard that day, and I’m not used to cold weather. **Editor’s Note: Seriously–the man is not joking when he says he is not used to cold weather. Ask him about last year’s flurries and H-Mart. (: ** I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even have gloves! I walked out and I almost got hypothermia. **Editors’ Note: Hypothermia…hmm. Did I mention he is from the West Coast? ** Transportation, you know has come a long way recently but it’s just, you know, really hectic. I was just walking around like “that guy.” I was super cold. Everybody thought I was an idiot. I finally got on the train and it was really worth it. But up until that point, I thought I was gonna die!
Q: If you could be one animal, what would it be and why?
A: I was actually talking about this with our students at Newport Mill Middle School. So I think I would choose to be a dolphin, which is an easy answer, but I was reading about how dolphins, like they can recognize themselves in the mirror. So they go up to mirrors and they like dance around and look at themselves and go, “Oh, look! That’s me!” **Editors Note: As the reader at this moment, you have officially missed out on intensive hand motions and expressive dance moves.** You know, they just have fun! How many animals, I mean dogs have a lot of fun, but a lot of other animals are just so focused on eating and sleeping.
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