Vira I. Heinz Program Helps Students Experience the World

By Caitlin T. Burns | November 19, 2019

In May, Perfect Eadric ’21, Christa McDowell ’21, and Michelle Qu ’20 departed for eight weeks abroad as part of the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership

The VIH Program awarded scholarships to fund the Arcadia cohort’s first international learning experiences. 

“I wasn’t able to participate in Preview or Global Field Studies because of the timing and expenses,” said Eadric, a Pre-Engineering major. “But, with the encouragement of Dr. Aroline Hanson and Dian Taylor-Alleyne, I applied for the Vira I. Heinz Scholarship. It made study abroad possible for me.” 

Perfect Eadric ’21 at Las Hogueras de San Juan in Alicante, Spain.

Eadric traveled to Alicante, a Mediterranean port city on Spain’s southeastern Costa Blanca. While staying with a host family, she enrolled in an advanced Spanish language course through the CIEE Study Center and its partner school, Universidad de Alicante. This immersive program, combined with everyday interactions with the local community, helped Eadric put her Spanish minor into daily practice. 

In Alicante, Eadric grew close with her host mother, Mari Carmen, who shared hours of meaningful discussions about family and culture. Carmen even planned a memorable last day in the countryside before Eadric returned stateside.

“I gained so much from our conversations,” said Eadric. “It helped me venture outside of my comfort zone and understand different cultural perspectives. Now, I want to see and experience all that’s out there.”

Christa McDowell ’21 in London, with Tower Bridge behind her.

McDowell, a Political Science major with a Pre-Law minor, chose an internship in London with the law firm Bark & Co, which specializes in corporate fraud and civil and property litigation. There, McDowell worked closely with U.K. solicitors to prepare criminal and civil cases as well as client relations projects.

“This experience impacted me tremendously because it allowed me to not only live but also work in a different country,” said McDowell. “I made life-long connections with the people I worked with and the people I lived with at my student accommodation.” 

While in London, McDowell explored the city’s many cultural attractions primarily though public transportation and the Tramlink network—a task that initially presented challenges for the Arcadia student, but ultimately empowered her to be more independent.

“I matured relatively quickly,” said McDowell. “I went to a country more than 3,000 miles away from everyone I knew, and I had to take on every obstacle that I encountered.”

The United Kingdom’s health care system attracted Qu, who spent four weeks examining public health policy at University College London in collaboration with nearby hospitals and museums. During a field trip, she and her classmates looked at different health determinants and the impact of location and transportation factors on available medical care. Afterward, Qu studied comparative health systems in Amsterdam for a month and used her findings to apply comparisons to regulatory health policies in the United States.

Michelle Qu ’20 on a gondola in Venice, Italy.

“As a Biology major focusing on nursing, I found this to be not only applicable to my career path, but interesting as well,” Qu said. “As one of the top-developed countries in the world, we thrive on the advancement in our technology, yet we trail in health care. Through this program, I hoped to learn where we can make changes and improve.”

Qu attributed her readiness to learn globally to Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Vira I. Heinz Campus Coordinator Kay Greene, who she says helped her “select a program and was there for me to ensure that I was prepared for the study abroad experience that would change my life.” 

After Qu returned Arcadia for the fall semester, she reflected on the tremendous impact of study abroad programs. 

“Starting this experience, I truly did not think personal growth would happen,” said Qu. “I always heard friends coming back from semesters abroad say how much they changed, and I never really believed it. But it did happen, and I am so grateful for getting the opportunity to have the experience that I did.” 

The Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership constitutes a collaboration between the Heinz Endowments and the University of Pittsburgh. The VIH Program provides three students from each of the 14 participating institutions with a scholarship of at least $5,000 to fund their study abroad experiences. It also affords recipients the opportunity to attend a series of leadership and intercultural development retreats.