Women gain worldly wisdom with program

Brianne Fleming, Staff Writer

The Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership has provided opportunities for women college students by giving them a scholarship and a chance to study abroad.

Vira Heinz, originally from Brighton Heights, benefited so much from her foreign travels that she wanted other young women to experience the same.

Heinz said she felt that it was so common for men to receive these traveling opportunities and wanted the same for women. In 1954, she wrote a scholarship to a woman at the University of Pittsburgh.

This program then originated at the University of Pittsburgh, and was then spread to 15 other universities.

The Heinz global leadership program mainly targets women in Pennsylvania. This program provides money for women to be able to study abroad who may not have been able to afford it otherwise.

Pitt-Johnstown began participating in the program in 2004. Since then, UPJ has graduated approximately 25 women from the program.

Judy Freedman, UPJ’s Heinz program coordinator said she has visited 13 countries.

“The fear of English not being spoken and just the fear of travel is something that I see a lot,” said Freedman.  “But students will be able to find instruction in English in these countries, and they can study languages all over the world.”

Each year, three Pitt-Johnstown women recieve the scholarship.

Along with the requirements, the three awardees must also attend a retreat before and after the study, one of which involves a community engagement experience where they share what they learned abroad with others.

Out of the three awardees, one of them must meet a special requirement. She can be a racial or ethnic minority, disabled or of financial needs as determined by receiving a Pell grant. She may also identify as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

“This is the very best scholarship at the university,” said Freedman. “These women take away team-building and leadership skills that enable them to go further in life.”

Two Pitt-Johnstown students who have been involved in the program, Amanda Shaheen and Sarah Weaver, traveled last summer to London. Both girls said they took a lot from the experience.

“I found a new appreciation for the world and realized there is so much more out there.”

Like Weaver, Shaheen said she also gained a new respect for the unfamiliar.

“I learned a lot about people in general. Everyone there was just as interested in me as I was in them.

“You learn so much about teamwork and get to work with women who have big goals and passions. I also found that people are people, wherever you are.”

The Heinz Program Coordinator at Pitt-Oakland, Sarah Wagner, said she considers the program to be a comprehensive and unique leadership development program for women.

Wagner said she tries to give the campus coordinators the tools and resources that they need in order to show the students that there is a whole world of possibilities and opportunities.

This year, the program has eight women going to Africa, five going to Asia and 12 going to Latin America. The women who are chosen are encouraged to study in nontraditional locations.

“The winners are expected to also give back to program,” said Wagner. “A good philosophy in life is not just to receive, but also to give back.”