|Marlena L Nip
University of Houston
October 20, 2021
Read Marlena’s Winning Essay Here
The Responsify team is excited to announce Marlena Nip as the winner of The 2021 Empowering Others Scholarship for $1,000. Marlena attends The University of Houston majoring in Education. Applicants had to explore empowerment, reflecting on what the word meant to them, and how their major could be used to empower others.
Aristotle advised, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your
vocation.” I read this in a journal Loyola Marymount University gifted me and all other
graduating seniors embarking on post-graduate service. These have been the guiding words that
led me to find a vocation I never thought existed.
For the past six years, I have worked in education through the lens of food. My career as
a garden educator has brought me to many different and complex communities across the US
through various jobs and service opportunities. It has been the perfect way to learn the history of
communities because food is an integral part of many cultures. Growing and preparing food is
how I learned the untold history of the Hawaiian islands. A paradise stained by white colonizers
and a native people still fighting for their Āina (which means “land” in Hawaiian). I felt the pain
and resilience of the Mississippi Delta through the miles of cotton fields that still exist today. I
learned the extent of our broken food system when my service member who lived in Shelby,
Mississippi, explained that the nearest grocery store with quality produce was a Walmart 30
miles down the road. I learned that having a school garden in the middle of the Treme
community in New Orleans was a safe haven for my students whose lives are full of struggles
that no child should ever have to endure.
Throughout all these experiences, I have had the honor of befriending some of the most
resilient people in this country. Part of that resilience comes from always supporting one another.
These places and people have pushed me to be a better listener and have more empathy for every
person I encounter. By learning the history of a place and educating others about these deep-
rooted injustices in many communities, you empower people to speak up and make a change. By
empowering others in the field of social justice, we can make huge waves. Empowering
historically oppressed communities is critical to make a more just world.
Before I moved to Hawai’i, a friend gave me a piece of advice. He said, “When you
move to Moloka’i, just listen.” This quote is the best piece of advice I was given as I embarked
on my year of service in Hawai’i. Moving to a historically oppressed community thinking you
have all the answers to make the people’s life “better,” reinforces the status quo that continues to
oppress minority groups that first began with colonization and slavery. This is the reason I
continue to take the approach of “show up and listen” with me when I move to a new place and
become part of a new community.
In my most recent position as the Dean of Students at Rêve Prep, I have learned a lot
about how to coach and support teachers who work with students with trauma. Many of the first-
year teachers that I support come to me flustered and irritated with their “defiant” students. I
explain to them that while they may perceive the students’ actions as defiant, these students are
experiencing varying levels of trauma that they do not know how to process and express.
While it is our job to educate our students, we also must guide them to process and
understand their emotions. We do this through education and practice, which empowers our
students to be in control and understand their emotions. I encouraged the teachers to work on
building trusting relationships with each of their students. They did this by having check-ins with
students throughout the day, having them apply for student jobs where they would earn “money”
to spend at the student store, and having them teach parts of the class. Not only did this build
trust between the students and adults, but it also empowered the students to have a voice in their
classroom. These skills are critical to implement in the school setting, to set our students up for
Being in this role as Dean of Students, I felt empowered to make lasting change in the
school culture. With my experience as a teacher, I was able to push for more student
empowerment in the classroom. I was most proud of initiating our morning community circle.
We held this virtually this year due to COVID. I worked with the second-grade teacher to select
a few students that would be interested in “hosting” our community circle. I organized it to be set
up like a morning news show. We had two second graders that were the news anchors, and a
second-grade student “reporting” from each classroom to get the weekly scoop. This community
circle was a hit! The students were so excited to have a role in running the community circle and
seeing their peers on the big screen reporting from around the school. I was so proud of the
students stepping up into these roles and building confidence in public speaking. I felt such deep
gratitude to be in a role where I had the power to empower my students to step into leadership
roles throughout the school year.
Saint Oscar Romero said “We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” At the end of the day, all I want is to impact
and empower one young person’s life. If I can do this, then I have lived a life of meaning and