Mission Update: June 20th, 2019

By: John

Our Goals:

Because we’ve received so much support from the SAIS community and beyond, we wanted to make sure that everyone is kept up-to-date on what we’ve accomplished regarding our trip goals. We set out on this ride to increase rural and low-income communities’ access to and knowledge of career-building opportunities in Washington, DC. This includes sub-goals, such as:

  1. To inform young people about educational and career opportunities in DC
  2. To increase a desire among target communities to apply for these programs
  3. To establish connections between cycling team members and interested parties to ensure that rural and low-income applicants are qualified for these programs
Cycling through mining towns in NV

Our Progress:

As the first group of students who have participated in this ride, we have faced many challenges that have slightly delayed–but not halted–our outreach. The majority of our time leading up to our departure from San Francisco was spent on logistics and fundraising. When we left on June 4th, we were immediately hit by several bike-related mechanical malfunctions and difficulties adjusting to long days in the saddle. In the first week, we fell two days behind schedule, causing us to suspend outreach until we established a clear rhythm and could predict our route.

Community Outreach:

On June 10th, we resumed outreach and contacted 10 schools, community centers, and churches across Nevada and eastern Utah. We received responses from two groups: the public school district in Austin, NV and Southern Utah University (SUU) in Cedar City, UT. From this, we set up a formal meeting with students in the government department at SUU, which will be taking place tomorrow.

Meaningful Conversations:

Moreover, we’ve had countless meaningful conversations. One of the most rewarding conversations was with a youth who joined us for lunch at a mountain station meant for weary travelers. His family owned the place, and he spent many hours asking us questions. When we began to ask him about his plans for the future, he was resolute that he had no desire to go to college. After talking to him about the differences between college and high school and then speaking of our experiences traveling the world, he was won over. By the time we left, he said he wished we were staying longer. One of our riders heard him start talking with his family about studying engineering in college.

Planning our next visit

Establishing Connections:

At the same time, we have been establishing in-person connections with individuals in the towns we visit. Most of these individuals are community leaders and are interested in helping facilitate formal meetings for next year’s SAIS Cycling For Access team. We hope future riders can visit:

  • Carson City, NV: The capital of Nevada boasts a population of 55,000 people, and we expected that it would be relatively affluent. Though charming in many ways, we were surprised to find every sign of widespread poverty. Countless streets were marked by payday loan lenders, dollar stores, laundromats, pawnshops, liquor stores and brothels. More interesting was the disposition of the population. At one point we found ourselves talking to the former head of IT for Nevada’s search and rescue department. Upon hearing our mission, he declared, “We don’t have a voice in Washington. Our representatives could care less about anyone that doesn’t live in Reno or Vegas, that’s where their votes come from.” Talks with others confirmed a widespread feeling that if you’re from Nevada and you don’t live in Reno or Vegas, not only is there no federal government in your life, there is no state government. It’s exactly these feelings that we hope future rides can begin to reverse.
  • Fallon, NV: Despite its small population (8,606), Fallon has a current enrollment of 500 students in their satellite college associated with Western Nevada College in Carson. Nearly 75% of the degrees awarded are for students earning an Associates degree that are looking to transfer to a four-year institution. Of these students, nearly all come from agricultural backgrounds. We hope next year’s riders will have an opportunity to meet with these individuals so they can begin preparing for an education in DC.
  • Eureka, NV: In a small town with a population of 610, Eureka’s economy is built on mining. The greater population is closer to 1,800, consisting mostly of young male miners in their early to late twenties. A local business owner and retired miner has volunteered to connect next year’s team with the local mining companies, which he assures us would be very interested in getting their employees to attend a meeting. After telling him about the SAIS Energy Resources and Environment (ERE) program, he informed us that the mining companies try to recruit internally for high-level positions, but they have great difficulty securing qualified talent. As such, they’ve put together large and generous scholarship packages for miners pursuing graduate education. Bringing a group of seasoned miners into the SAIS student body to study ERE would be an invaluable contribution to diversity at the school.
Downtown Eureka, NV

Why Diversity Matters:

We’ve quickly learned that if we want to increase diversity in international relations, we also need to have a diverse SAIS Cycling For Access team. Lidia and Josh, our two teammates of foreign birth, are the centerpieces of interest in many of our conversations. People want to know what it’s like to live in Russia (Lidia) or the UK (Josh), why our friends came to the US, and what they think of the US. By just being a part of the ride, Lidia and Josh are able to directly address stereotypes and expose our audience to different cultures.

This has led us to regret that our team shrunk from 13 to 6 students. Because we have yet been able to secure funding from our school, we lost two Chinese students, one Korean, one Spanish, and one African-American. We’re less impactful without a diverse team. For example, an African-American uber driver commented that we were all white, saying “black students don’t have the genetics to do something like this.” We need to challenge this misperception. We encourage next year’s group to reach out and recruit diverse students from the very beginning. And we call upon SAIS to financially support this ride to broaden access for current students and alumni.

Secondly, we believe international students from SAIS could learn a lot about the United States through Cycling For Access. There is nothing comparable that allows students to witness the vastness of the U.S. landscape, the foundations of the economy, and the diversity and kindness of the population. We’ve seen mining operations with rubble piles larger than the surrounding mountains and alfalfa operations stretching as far as the eye can see. The majority of our nights have been spent camping on the lawns of generous people, and we can all recall the fellow who pulled over his car to bring us blueberries, or the Mexican-American worker who called the team over to his truck and prepared fresh pork tacos for us. This is the America we want our foreign classmates to see.

Mine debris outside Ely, NV

Next Steps:

Currently, our team is regrouping in Cedar City, UT and preparing for the next leg of our journey. Tomorrow, we will be presenting at Southern Utah University, which we’ll report back on soon. While here, we’re also reaching out to community groups throughout Utah and eastern Colorado, creating business cards to distribute to our new connections, and designing flyers for community college outreach.