Vira Heinz recipients reflect on trips abroad

All her life, Elena McDermott felt sheltered.

“I had a sort of bubble around me, and I wanted to break it open,” she said. 

McDermott, a junior environmental science/biology major, found her chance to burst that bubble last year through the Vira I. Heinz scholarship.

According to its website, the Vira I. Heinz program “prepares women for tomorrow’s global challenges by offering a unique opportunity for international experiences, leadership development and community service.”

This summer, McDermott was one of six Waynesburg University students who were selected for the Vira I. Heinz Scholarship, which offered them an opportunity to study abroad in their major at different points throughout the summer. McDermott [Australia], Kara Compton [England], Nia Shuler [South Africa], Briana Zaharko [Costa Rica], Lexi Reinek [Belize] and Rebecca Fremd [India] were the six chosen. 

To apply for the scholarship, female students must have been in either their sophomore or junior class with no experience outside of the United States. In addition, they had to meet a minimum GPA requirement of 3.0.

McDermott applied as a sophomore, and was chosen, taking her trip between June 24 and July 24. As an environmental science/biology major, she had experience in the Stem Field, which she said helped her in the application process.

For her trip, McDermott went to Australia, and it didn’t go according to plan. Initially, she thought she’d be going to the north-eastern coast of Australia, where the Great Barrier Reef is located. But, that program was cancelled at the last minute, so she wound up going to the western side of the country to work on projects relevant to her field. 

“Mostly, the projects were comparing two different sites,” she said. “So I was comparing diversity and abundance of stingrays in two different areas of the reef, and coral health in two different areas of the reef. I got to learn about all the diseases of the coral, the different kinds of coral. It was just an amazing appearance.”

Biology wasn’t the only major represented this summer. Senior Kara Compton traveled to London, England between July 14 and August 14 to learn more about the criminal justice field. Compton took two classes at the CAPA London Center, one on wrongful convictions and another on human rights.  

One thing that stood out to Compton was the differences in criminal trials in England compared to the United States, particularly in the frequency of wigs in a courtroom. Compton also took note of the difference in terminology [it’s “holliday,” not “vacation”]. Before going to England, Compton had a certain vision of the country, thinking of British accents and other customs of the United Kingdom. What she found, however, was that the country was much more diverse than she initially expected. 

“I would go shopping, and you wouldn’t just see the typical english guy or gal with the British accent. There were people speaking so many different languages,” she said. 

In her trip to India from May 25-June 29, senior nursing major Rebecca Fremd found a striking difference in healthcare due to doctors without the necessary preparation to care for patients. Aside from nursing, Fremd also took note of the quality of schooling in India. 

“The education system doesn’t really exist there,” she said. “You can’t get public education in India if you don’t have money for an actual education. You’re not gonna go anywhere and you can’t get an education. So there’s a lot of after school programs for slum areas and orphans and underprivileged people who don’t have the money to go to a private school to get an education.”

Compton plans on spending a lot more time out of the United States. After college, she’ll be joining the Peace Corps in Armenia, where she’ll be staying for at least the next two years. For Compton, going to a country that spoke her native language was essential in preparing for her future.

“I feel like it was nice to just get my toes in the water and go somewhere where they actually spoke english,” she said. “For me to get a diverse group of people around the world and kind of see. I know how travelling abroad works, but I also feel confident in my ability to do that, and then going off doing something a little bit more challenging where I have to learn a new language and things like that. So yeah, I definitely feel a lot more comfortable. Taking more of a risk in what I do.” 

Senior Briana Zaharko, also a nursing major, spent her time in San Jose, Costa Rica, studying under the program AIFS at Veritas University from May 25 to June 20. She summed up the trip by saying how it can be a springboard for her as a future leader in her profession. 

“Going abroad, gaining a lot of leadership and a lot of confidence, a lot of independence,” she said. “I think a lot of those things are super helpful. I’m excited to take those with me into my job in the future.”