Interview with Cheyenne Dyer, CYC Alumnus

Epstein Scholar Cheyenne Dyer, Dominican University class of '16, explains how CYC and a college education shaped his future

Home Center: CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center, North Lawndale

College: Dominican University

Major: Psychology

Minor: Women and Gender Studies

Post-Grad Plans: Applying to graduate school programs to pursue a career in social work

How did CYC prepare you for college?

CYC prepared me for college intellectually and financially. Through CYC workshops, I learned how to write my college essay, how to apply for financial aid, and how to understand which financial aid packages I received best fit my financial needs. The biggest thing though was the staff that fully invested in me and my future. Ms. Kim [College and Career Program Coordinator, Kimberly George] actually drove to my house on numerous occasions and picked me up on a Saturday mornings to visit different college campuses throughout the Chicago area. She went with me to Dominican University for the college tour and the accepted students' day. That is pivotal to me being where I am today.

What made you want to pursue social work as a career?

My time at CYC helped me figure out what I wanted to do. I want to go back to my community to assist at-risk youth and encourage them to make good choices. I want them to seek the opportunities that I had to expand their horizons beyond a five to ten block radius.

Since going to Dominican, I’ve become aware of the social institutions people are governed by and how these institutions marginalize disadvantaged communities. I’ve been able to study this phenomenon from the perspective of psychology as well as the perspective of sociology. So many of my peers are victims and they become victimizers because of their situations and the communities they live in. That’s why I want to go into social work and community development and work with youth like myself and help them break these structural barriers to success.

This knowledge and this desire was something that developed in me during my time at Dominican and it’s something that is developing every day as I continue to grow and learn both in and outside the classroom.

In what ways are you learning outside the classroom?

One of my favorite things about Dominican is the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. The school hosts many speakers and panels on everything from politics to the environment. They also encourage service learning and travel. Last year, I participated in a nine-day “Civil Rights Pilgrimage” that took me and a group of students throughout the American South to immerse ourselves in the places of the Civil Rights Movement. I had never traveled further South than Missouri, so that was a real eye-opener seeing a culture so different than the city life I’ve always known. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches in Selma. We visited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The most moving experience for me was more of a modern human rights experience. We visited a convent in Atlanta that runs a school for refugee girls. These girls were from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, from communities where they had been persecuted, abandoned, and unable to receive an education. Seeing that school brought me to tears. It was so profound to see the things I had read about in books and in PowerPoint decks first hand—to see these girls who had been marginalized, now empowered.

Overall, how has your experience at college shaped who you are today?

College has given me the necessary critical tools I need in order to prosper in the work world. I know how to think critically, both objectively and subjectively, about concrete and abstract ideas. College has taught me things that elementary and high school could never teach me. This experience is uplifting and should be shared by all of my native peers if only they had the same opportunities and mindset that I had. With that said, I hope to expose my peers to the richness of the world and the experiences that they are missing out on and help them achieve their full potential.