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Our Town: A delicate dance between arts and science

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The Sopris Sun is conducting a series of interviews with folks you may not have seen in the paper before – a sort of introduction to your neighbors. This week we caught up with Leila Milanfar, a current ArtistYear fellow at Carbondale Middle School who is also currently offering tutoring services to students in the Roaring Fork Valley (email for scheduling and more info.)

Q: Where are you from?

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A: I am from Menlo Park, California. . I went to Duke University, and just graduated this past May. I applied for the AmeriCorp job, and now I’m here in Colorado!

Q: What AmeriCorp program are you volunteering for this year?

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A: The program I am doing is called ArtistYear. It is a nonprofit that focuses on giving citizen artists a chance to do meaningful service for the nation. So what we’re doing is bridging the arts education gap in schools that don’t have a ton of arts funding. 

I live in a house with four other AmeriCorp fellows and all of us are different types of artists. Right now I am in an English development class with Mrs. Grace De La Sala. Basically, what I do is make up art lessons that go along with the English that she is teaching the students. 

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Q: Is this your first time teaching?

A: This is my first time teaching in an official classroom space. While I was at Duke I did the same sort of art stuff with the refugee population there. I’ve done tutoring before many, many times in my life, so I’ve taught quite a bit, but this is my first time teaching in a middle school.

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Q: What has this experience been like for you?

A: Grace has been so, so, so helpful to me. I think at the very beginning I was very freaked out. First of all it’s Corona! Second of all, what the heck?!  I’m supposed to be teaching a whole section? But Grace has been so helpful, she lays everything out for me and explains why. She’s given me such an awesome framework, that I’ve been able to seamlessly come up with stuff.

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Q: You mentioned working with refugees, tell me about that experience.

A: I am the daughter of a refugee. My dad is a refugee from Iran, and when he [and his family] came to this country he had to learn English. They all moved to Oakland, and they learned English at an after-work program run by UC Berkeley students, and it was more like mentoring than teaching.

Basically, that’s what I did at Duke as well; I was trying to give back what the UC Berkeley students gave to my family. I was a part of a program called Supporting Women’s Action at Duke University through the Kenan Institute of Ethics. I had a couple of really fantastic women from Syria, and basically we just chatted, and had a conversation. I told them my story and they told me theirs.

That was actually my first assignment with the Kenan Institute. My second assignment I was the director of a showcase at Duke called All of the Above and essentially what our showcase did was have women and nonbinary students submit stories about their Duke experience to us anonymously, and then we would task other women and nonbinary students to perform those stories. It would take the burden of storytelling off of those students.

Q: So you did really well on the MCAT! What’s next?

A: My whole life has been the dance of art and science around each other. My mom is interested in art, English, and writing, and my dad is interested in science and math. When I went to Duke all of my classes were pre-medical and then all of my extracurriculars were in the arts.

The point in the process I am at right now is interviewing. It’s been kind of crazy because I wasn’t expecting to get so many interview requests, but I’ve gotten 11 of the 25 schools I applied to. I am excited and really proud of myself because I worked really hard.

I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was 4; I‘ve always wanted to be of service and always wanted to help.

Q: What’s your favorite trail?

A: The one trail that I love right now is Mushroom Rock just because it is so amazing! I can drive five, six minutes, hike all the way up and see the whole town! That’s amazing to me.

Q: What’s on your reading list right now?

A: Oh! Okay, this is such a hard question! The Eight Books by Sohrab Sepehri and Peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva.

Q: A mindset that has been helping you make it through this time right now?

A: The sun will rise tomorrow. I have a nice big window in my room, so I get to watch the sun rise, and it just keeps going; that’s all it can do no matter what is happening down here. The sun is going to rise and we have time.

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