By Bri Griffith
If you’re a Carlow student, and you don’t yet know about the Vira I. Heinz Program/Scholarship, that’s all about to change as the impact of this scholarship is expected to change the face of Carlow’s campus for good. If you’re asking, “What is the Vira I. Heinz Program, and what does it have to do with me?” Good. I’m about to tell you.
The Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership prepares women for tomorrow’s global challenges. It does this by combining three key components: international experience, opportunity to grow as a leader, and of course, community service. Only three young women from each participating University and college in Pennsylvania receive the $5,000 scholarship to put toward the cost of their international experience.
Vira I. Heinz, or VIH for short, offers more than just a chance to travel and study abroad, students also participate in the Community Engagement Experience, and two weekend-long, intensive leadership development retreats. This is a lot of work. Those who are chosen to participate in the program are in for a lot of learning. If you’re looking for a cool vacation, great! VIH is much more than that.
VIH is new to Carlow University’s campus, and with 2016 being its first year, those chosen are Carlow’s VIH trailblazers. I spoke with Barbara Johnson, the Director of Diversity Initiatives at Carlow, as well as with all four of our VIH scholarship recipients, in order to gain some insight. Where are our Carlow students going, and how did VIH find its way to Carlow University?
Barbara gave me the step by step process regarding how Vira I. Heinz found its way to Carlow University. First, Ben Pilcher, the Director of Global Studies, mentioned it in his interview while applying for his current position on Carlow’s campus. With that, Barbara did her research and found the Vira I. Heinz Program to be incredibly interesting. Under the “Member Institutions” tab on the VIH website was a list of colleges in Pittsburgh and all around the state of Pennsylvania; however, Barbara noticed Carlow wasn’t on the list. How and why could that be? Barbara got in contact with Sarah Wagner, the official director of the VIH Program, and asked her why Carlow wasn’t already a member institution, and if Carlow could become one. Sarah’s response to Barbara was that she didn’t think Carlow met the criteria for the program, which depends upon how Pell eligible our students are. In the end, Barbara made some phone calls to financial aid, found out Carlow did meet the criteria, and we’ve officially become a Member Institution. Barbara said herself, “We could have been a Member University ages ago. I wonder why we didn’t know about the program?”
Barbara has worked very hard on getting faculty, staff and students involved in VIH. The VIH Program has an intense website. Her responsibility as the official Carlow coordinator was to select a handful of faculty members, sit and meet with them, and go through a six minute VIH introduction online. Those faculty members were asked to publicize the scholarship opportunity in their classes, and eventually recommend to Barbara a list of students who meet the scholarship’s criteria. Barbara had a life-sized poster outside the third floor elevator of Frances Warde Hall, and she placed little information cards anywhere she could, where she thought students might see them. Barbara also handed those cards out to faculty members who have traveled themselves, and value social justice or leadership, and all of the Women’s Studies faculty. “I was literally plaguing people with information,” said Barbara. “Then, I really targeted the (recommended) students more and more by sending them links to the VIH website (via) email. I also kept Ben in the loop because he constantly talks with students who want to travel.”
Barbara explained that VIH connects well with Carlow, being a Women-Centered, Mercy Institution. She said, “This program is specifically geared toward women and social justice. The travel piece is a perk.” Also, VIH connects with the values and critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy, which include women, children, sustainable environment, and protecting the Earth. The VIH scholarship recipients will be working on a project upon returning from their trips that focuses on social justice, as well as the environment, such as women needing clean water as a resource. “It connects with our mission,” said Barbara. “It’s a natural fit for Carlow. The students are going to have transformational experiences, bringing back what they see, and they’re going to realize that what they learned abroad is going to impact their environments at home.”
As the students head off to different countries, explore different cultures and navigate situations out of their comfort zones, they’re going to be gaining a global perspective. I asked Barbara why she thought it was important to have a Global Perspective. She said, “Students have the opportunity to leave and go somewhere else, and they start to see the work they’re doing, and they realize how much of an impact they can make at a global level. They learn about themselves, so much more than they could ever learn in a classroom, they experience struggles, they feel uncomfortable, and they find a voice for themselves.” Students will be moving beyond these struggles. They’re going to handle their tough situations, and make it work somehow. Barbara also noted, “We live in a global society, and an environment that has cultural and economic differences. Gaining a cultural perspective will positively influence their work and their future careers.” For example, Taylor is a Nursing major traveling to Costa Rica. What she learns about health care in Costa Rica, she’ll be able to bring back and use it as she helps to transform the medical field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Pittsburgh is growing, with a strong hispanic and immigrant community. If we are not able to see how we can be stronger allies to our global neighbors, then we’re not going to be able to live in the cities we live in once they become even more culturally diverse,” said Barbara.
In addition to being involved before the students leave, Barbara will be involved after they all return. Her role is to keep them on track in terms of their responsibilities. “They have a lot of leadership work they have to do, so when they come back they have responsibilities.” She plans to keep them on target with deadlines, and also act as a mentor and advisor. She’s there to help them deal with packing a suitcase, riding a plane, homesickness, anything they’re experiencing regardless of how small it seems. How will this experience influence these students lives beyond Carlow? Barbara noted, “The people they meet when they’re abroad are going to become a part of their global network. They’re going to become global citizens after this experience. I’m their support and guide in terms of the steps we have to take as a unit, and all of what we have to keep up with.” No question they ask is a stupid questions, according to Barbara, who is encouraging the students to ask her any and all questions. “The more they ask, the more it helps me to fill my role in a stronger way, so the next students to be chosen for the program will help to develop the program.”
One thing Barbara really wanted me to know was how impressed Sarah Wagner was, the Vira I. Heinz Program Director, with every Carlow student she interviewed. She even added a 4th scholarship to our group, although typically it’s 3 per Institution.
The scholarship recipients from Carlow are:
Destiny Eames – Sophomore Graphic Design Major
Kara Murphy – Junior Social Work Major
Emily Hayes – Sophomore Social Work Major
Taylor Curtis – Junior Nursing Major
Each of them found out about VIH differently. Destiny saw the flyers around campus, and Kara saw the big poster on the third floor of Frances Warde Hall. She also noted, “I live on the Global Floor, so Ben Pilcher and Gwen Stevens [Assistant Director of Campus Life, Residence Life] really supported me.” Emily said that Barbara reached out to her personally via email. She said , “I first read the email and thought it was a scam! I really looked into it, and decided to apply.” Taylor got an email personally from Barbara Johnson as well.
Destiny is going to Seoul, South Korea. “I’ve always had an interest in Asian culture. It’s so different from my own,” she said. She became interested in Korean culture as she grew up, and she can’t wait to experience it.
Kara is traveling to Costa Rica. “I want to learn Spanish. As a Social Work major, it’s beneficial to have a working knowledge of the Spanish Language, especially for work with future clients,” she said.
Emily is also traveling to Costa Rica. “Originally I was going to Sydney, Australia, but that was $7,000 on top of the scholarship. I just couldn’t afford it. USAC programs, specifically the Costa Rica program was more affordable, more experiential. I’ll be learning Spanish, and the culture will be much more different than Australia would be.”
Taylor also chose to travel to Costa Rica. She said, “I’ll be learning more about the Medical Field over there, since I’m a Nursing student. I’m also taking Spanish courses over there. I figured learning Spanish, and studying Nursing would help me the most. I’m curious as to how Latin America differs from the America I know.”
Kara, Emily, and Taylor all will be staying with host families. Emily said, “I’m so nervous. I haven’t completely filled out the application yet, so I haven’t yet gone through all of the matching questions. It’ll be fun for me to learn the language from them, and getting inside information from them, like where to go, what to do, where to eat. I’m nervous about maybe not liking some of the food, but it’ll be interesting. It’s better than staying in my apartment by myself.”
Destiny will be living in a dorm room at a University. “I’ll most likely be living with a native Korean student,” she said. “It’ll be nice to learn about the Korean culture from a student around my age. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Taylor is more excited than nervous to stay with a different family. She is, however, nervous about looking at flight tickets. “I’m going to a whole different country that speaks a different language,” she said. “I’m excited to see how they live.”
The application and interview process was different for each of the students. Destiny said, “The application was really long. I feel like, whether you know where you want to go or not, it doesn’t really matter too much because once you’re filling out the application it helps you decide. It makes you think about why you want to go. I think it really helps you make up your mind.”
Kara noted, “They asked who my role model was, and I said the Pope. As far as the application, you should explore the Vira I. Heinz website. It explains exactly what you’re going to be getting yourself into. You need to have a strong understanding of what the program is, and all of what it consists of.”
Emily found the application to be a big time commitment. She also noted, “My Strong Women, Strong Girls’ mentor helped me go through the application, and she helped me figure out what I wanted to say, and how to say it. She gave me motivation to keep with it.”
There are a number of different scholarships out there, and there are plenty of opportunities to study abroad. Because of this, I asked why each student decided to take advantage of Vira I. Heinz. Why go through with this program? Destiny said, “VIH has a lot to offer, like the retreat before and after, and there are several activities and assignments that help you to incorporate what you learn abroad to your life at home.”
Kara was honest in saying she wasn’t at all interested in studying abroad before hearing about the VIH Scholarship. “Vira I. Heinz has clear goals in terms of what I’ll be learning, and after I get back, I have to do a service project. I love projects, so I’m really looking forward to that. Their goal is to have the experience abroad shape you into a culturally, competent female leader. From my Social Work background, that’s really important to me.”
Emily also wasn’t very interested in studying abroad. She didn’t think it was possible, because she didn’t have the money to make it happen. She chose Vira I. Heinz because, “It’s a lot more in depth, and a lot more focused on building you personally, globally, and locally. It’s really a full program, which I like.”
Taylor liked VIH because, “It’s focused on women, and the leadership we can have. It’s very cool that Carlow is doing something to help women, leadership, and people who aren’t going to get an opportunity like this on their own. They just won’t be able to do it themselves.”
Lastly, I asked each of the students if they had any tips for future students looking to apply.
Destiny: “Give yourself enough time to fill out the application because there are several different pieces to it. Make sure you know how much your trip is going to cost. Ask yourself if you can really afford it. Other than that, go for it and kill it.
Kara: “You should not give yourself less than 2 weeks to do the application. Also, have a clear understanding of what you want to get out of a program like this, don’t just haphazardly pick a place to go. Costa Rica wasn’t my first choice as far as a vacation, but it seemed like the best fit as far as what I want to do with my career.
Emily: “Definitely write down any questions you have, you’re going to have a lot if you don’t know what VIH is. Go through the website and do your research. Give yourself enough time to fill out the application. Put in a lot of effort, and don’t blow it off until last minute.”
Taylor: “I think you should want to do it. It shouldn’t be that you just want to study abroad, want to go to another country, you should like all of what the program has to offer. I’m not just going to Costa Rica for a vacation.”
Vira I. Heinz Scholarship for Women in Global Leadership is gaining momentum here on Carlow’s campus. If you’re interested in knowing more about what it has to offer, you can visit Barbara Johnson, or talk to each and any of these students who are paving the way for future students here at Carlow University. You can also learn more about the Vira I. Heinz Program at: http://www.viraheinz.pitt.edu.
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