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I have been wanting to write a reflection about #MyFest22 and I have had a hard time to find a starting point. Then I read the article about #MyFest22 in Inside Higher Ed (1) and I suddenly had things to say on Twitter. Here I want to elaborate a little because I very much enjoyed the format of #MyFest22. Last May I was extremely burned out. It had been a wild two years. Two years of Covid community college biology teaching, including the luxury but health-uncertainty of teaching in-person STEM labs by August 2020 when so little was known about Covid-19. Using the relative freedom of Covid-19 education to add on #Ungrading to complement my active learning pedagogies in Fall 2021. Living through the Dixie Fire, the second-largest wildfire in California history, which lasted over 3 month, which burned down my neighboring town in two terrible hours, and for which I worked nearly daily as a livestock disaster volunteer even after college started back up in late August.  A submission three weeks into the March 2020 lockdown for a National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM grant, resubmitted in 2021 after encouraging reviews, lengthy grant negotiation and finally an award in late April 2022 (2). So here I was, so utterly exhausted, that getting the NSF grant, which I had worked so hard for and which has the potential to do so much good for my college’s STEM students, was filling me with dread rather than excitement. In this frame of mind, somehow, I stumbled over #MyFest22 on Twitter in very early June and on a whim, I signed up for the entire summer. I am so glad I did. It was hands-down the best professional development that I have ever participated in and it was just what I needed. I needed to hear other educators talk about their exhaustion from the past two years and yet see them still show up on Zoom, a GLOBAL community, to talk about all the issues that are such necessary and urgent conversations in academia – issues that have only become more glaring during the Covid-19 pandemic. I needed to hear passionate educators from all over the world to talk about equity, ungrading, critical and emancipatory pedagogies, pedagogies and ethics of care, so that I can go on with this work in empowered ways.  I needed the creative, supportive ways to heal myself a little with tools for self-care that didn’t feel patronizing, like the Rest and Rejuvenation workshop, the Micro-fiction and Zines workshops and my absolute favorites – the workshops about liberating structures. The format of #MyFest 22 was the only format that could have worked for me this summer: I needed to have no more than workshop per day and days in-between to think about what I had learned, to rest, to read more. I liked having workshop series that allowed us to dive deeper into different aspects of a topic and that allowed me to get to know others better that are interested or involved in similar work. Plus there were always stories whenever Laura Gibbs was in a workshop, and there was another horse-crazy educator from the UK and I was always glad to find out in the chat that she had already had a chance to ride her horse while I would ride mine later due to the time difference and I found out that Maha Bali’s daughter also rides horses and I got to reconnect with another California educator who I had met and connected with in a training a year or so ago. I am an expat German living in California, and I met a lovely German educator who sent me a thought-provoking German article about a a topic we had discussed in a breakout room. My tiny college in a tiny town surrounded by very big mountains is very rural and remote and it just felt so lovely to connect with the world over Zoom this summer and especially in a summer that I did not have the energy to travel at all.

My grant work is now starting up in earnest, but at this point I am excited. My grant is focused on retention and development of rural STEM talent because ‘rural’ in the United States is another underrepresented group in STEM. After living for 18 years in a remote, rural county I have definitely seen how important it could be for rural areas like mine to be represented in the STEM of the future. #MyFest22 has given me a lot to think about and has affirmed the importance of all the work around equity. Also, for the grant we are going to research the use of technology like Zoom to connect rural STEM students with STEM professionals in urban areas and large STEM centers and I saw so many lovely examples about how to run an effective Zoom meeting where time just flies by.

At this point the fall semester has started, and I used my new favorite thing, my first liberating structure on the first day a week ago – the spiral journaling liberating structure. In that class we started an active learning activity on Friday and I gave my students an envelope to store some pieces of paper that they hadn’t had a chance to use yet. Today, after class, when I tidied up after everyone finished the active learning activity, I saw that one group had spiraled on their envelope and it made me smile. The ripples of MyFest22 are moving into the world and it feels good!

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