Former fellow Emily posing with members of the Yearup community

The Medium Doesn’t Matter

The past nine months of working for Year Up New York | New Jersey have been busy, busy, busy. Between my work with the alumni community, our students, and analyzing data to provide suggestions to continue improving our program and support, I have been trusted to take on more and more high-level tasks within the organization.

With the onset of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent work-from-home mandate, things became even more hectic and the tasks I was assigned became arguably even more important to deliver on. It can be difficult when working from home to feel the urgency of the work you’re doing; when I’m not connected directly to my students, in the same space, it can become easy to forget why I’m doing the work I’m doing. It can become easy, then, to forget how urgent and important the work I do from home is, and that its completion matters not only to my supervisor or to my team, but to a group of over 300 students that I serve.

The switch to working from home has been difficult for many at my organization. It was difficult ensuring our participants were equipped to learn or work from home, that they had a working laptop they could use during regular business hours or a reliable wifi connection. It was difficult to know how students would react to virtual learning; would they still be engaged? Could we still create interactive material for them, and would it convey the same message it would have in person? Would we still be able to give each other feedback in the way we’re used to doing? I was very nervous the first day we signed on to virtual learning to see how our students would feel about it and to see if they would still interact with us when it wasn’t as clear that they had to. I was blown away by our participants’ commitment to the program. They signed on, they followed the norms, they participated professionally on video and in the chat, and they expressed that while of course the situation is not ideal, their futures were too important to them to give up or feel dejected. I had been feeling a little dejected myself the week before about having to work from home; hearing our participants’ perspective, some of whom are categorized as essential workers or are caretakers for a family member or child, helped me remember why the work I do is so important and why its medium doesn’t matter.

Having the opportunity to participate in our second fellows retreat the first week of April only emphasized that for me. I think we all had felt a little down about not being able to visit each other’s sites in person, and frankly, about having to be on Zoom for seven hours a day for three days. But once we started getting into the activities, and learned more about each other’s work and saw the dedication to it, even over video conference, I think we all started to realize that same thing our participants helped me realize. The work we all do is incredibly important. Every day, we fellows serve various communities; we put our all into helping them in a way that’s meaningful for them. It isn’t about us, or the gratification we receive from the work we do (though I feel fulfilled through my work in so many different ways), it’s about the outcome for the people we serve. I think our virtual retreat helped us all to realize that the medium doesn’t matter; the communities we create and serve through whatever medium available do.



Emily Hynes is a first-year Fellow at Year Up in New York City.