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I Had Unfinished Business

July 14, 2022 | By The Blueprint Communications Team

Blueprint: Hi Blueprint! Today we have a special guest, Blueprint legend Mr. Justin Diza. I wish I had an airhorn for that. We’re here to discuss life after Blueprint and how your years with Blueprint led you to where you are, as our current fellows are navigating life after Blueprint. Justin, can you please share with the Blueprint members who may be [reading] this what you’re doing?

Diza: Sure! My name is Justin Diza, and I go by my last name, Diza, pronouns he/him/his. I worked at Life Academy in Oakland as a math fellow for two years and am getting my masters in Education while I’m teaching.

Blueprint: Thanks, and I notice this is the first time we’ve chatted without your illustrious headset! So why did you decide to be a Blueprint Math Fellow?

Diza: Yeah, I knew I wanted to be in the education field after college, but what I did in college was not related to education. I got my degree in neuroscience and was looking for a pivot and place to get the skills as an educator. So I knew what I wanted to do, but just wasn’t sure where I was going to get those skills.

Blueprint: All right, and are you from the Bay Area or did you move there to be a fellow in Oakland? 

Diza: I’m from the Bay Area, born and raised, in San Leandro. The Bay Area will always be my home, even though I’m teaching in Las Vegas right now.

Blueprint: That’s great…tell us about what you’re doing today.

Diza: Right now I’m a high school math teacher in Las Vegas, Valley High School. The subject I’m teaching is geometry for all my periods. I’m in advisory for some clubs and also going to grad school. It’s a very busy time for me.

Blueprint: That sounds busy! You mention teaching being something you’ve always wanted to pursue. When did you know that you would continue to be a teacher?

Diza: During Blueprint, you’re technically not a teacher, but you learn those skills and are a “teacher” to the students. Those skills are applicable to me as a teacher, but also are applicable if you’re looking for medical school or something like that. This question gets thrown around a lot…. I don’t have a moment; I’ve had moments. It sounds corny, but all the small things about being a teacher make me think, yeah I kind of like this. But the biggest one is the relationship building, and it’s been very rewarding. That’s my moment.

Blueprint: Thanks for sharing; I agree. So you served as a Blueprint Math Fellow for two years. What made you come back for a second year?

Diza: So for me, a big factor was COVID. I wanted to apply for grad school but didn’t feel ready. Another reason was that 2019-2020 was a weird year for a lot of us. We went from in-person to remote learning, and I didn’t want to end that way, and wanted to commit for another year. We technically finished 2019 but it felt weird. I wanted another year. In my second year, I became a lead fellow and learned more as a lead fellow than as a first-year fellow. I gained a lot of skills, getting more experience. I had unfinished business!

Blueprint: I love that. Unfinished business! So people right now are thinking about if they want to come back. Could you share some of those skills you gained in your second year as a lead fellow?

Diza: Yeah, the big one as a lead fellow was having mentorship capabilities. That will always transfer and apply to whatever job you have, mentoring younger people in a position. That makes it worth it and you can take it wherever you go. It looks good on your application, too, the word “lead!” Another skill was logistics, running through events. Also leadership abilities, speaking in front of groups, which, as a teacher, you need to do. Charisma and speaking in groups doesn’t come over night, so you need to practice. So to boil it down: the mentorship and leadership experience, leading groups, logistics, and events. And it looks good!

Blueprint: That’s incredible. If you’re on the fence, Blueprint fellows, come back! Okay, so what advice do you have for future Blueprint Math Fellows?

Diza: That’s a loaded question. 

Blueprint: Something you wish you knew?

Diza: I knew you’d end with this question! My general advice is that it’s worthwhile to find a way to make Blueprint work for you, in terms of getting from it what you want. Also, do a second year because as a lead fellow I had the most growth. This doesn’t mean you have to go into teaching; I have a friend who was a lead fellow who is now in New York doing something completely different than education. And also, keep in touch with your site managers! My site manager helped me the most in terms of growth and they’re there for you personally. I’ve been blessed by my site manager!

Blueprint: Understood! Sound and profound. Especially about keeping in touch with your site manager as you go throughout your career. For some of you, that may be a good first professional reference. Thank you again!

The above post is an interview transcript that has been edited for the Blueprint Blog.