Mar 20, 2017 | Atlanta, GA
In and out of work, Christy Rakness, senior international student and scholar advisor in the Office of International Education (OIE), models service work and volunteerism. When not on campus, Rakness is leading nine 15-year-old girls on the volleyball court in West Georgia.
“It’s been challenging, but rewarding,” Rakness said about her first year coaching with the West Georgia Volleyball Academy. She meets with the girls twice a week for practice and has a tournament every other week. As a coach, she focuses on skill improvement and personal development with the girls on the team. Confidence, she admits, is what she tackles the most.
“With this age group, and recognizing some girls are more timid than others, it’s about providing feedback and encouragement,” she said. “It is shouting out, ‘Strong hands!’ or ‘Next time, call it!’ But it is also acknowledging when they’ve done something right and affirming those actions.”
The opportunity to coach came about when Rakness was recruited at her local gym, which she frequents for general wellness and training for fitness competitions, by the head coach of the team. She sees her addition to the team as a complementary one to the existing male leadership.
“I bring a female balance to the leadership. I am more aware of their emotional side and attitudes, and I think the girls appreciate that perspective.”
In the office, Rakness advises international students and visiting scholars, and supports exchange students visiting on J-1 visas. Part of her office’s charge is to create cultural experiences for international students, as well as service opportunities. This month, Rakness, now in her fourth year at Tech, joined more than 40 international students in Florida to help clean up an oyster habitat.
Joining her on this service venture was Saubhagya Singh Rathore, an international student from India pursuing a Ph.D. in civil engineering. Rathore also helped to clean up communities ravaged by floods in South Carolina last year on the service trip hosted by OIE, in which Rakness also participated. He remembers how essential she was to the service experience, regarding her as “brave” for taking on the feat of immersing students from many perspectives and expectations into one common purpose.
“What she does for international students is not easy, but you can tell she enjoys the challenge,” he said. “She does a great job helping us become involved in the U.S., and it doesn’t take long for you to become comfortable with her. You can tell she cares.”
Rakness enjoys serving the thousands of international students on the Tech campus, and she takes that ability to serve seriously.
“In this position, you really have to stay abreast of policy changes that affect students, and I love being held accountable to that charge,” she said.
The opportunity to expand her reach of service to young women playing volleyball was a natural extension of what she loves about her work.
“The world is bigger than me, and I realize there are lots of ways to give,” she said. “Sharing your resources or finances is a good way, and certainly needed, but another way to give is through your time. My advice to others is to find what pulls at your heartstrings and think small. Find a passion and know that individual efforts and local impact make a difference. Find out what you want to do, and do it.”