Melayna Pongratz

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Robert Morris University

Melayna Pongratz is a sophomore at Robert Morris University who is studying Secondary English Education. Her future plans are to become a high school teacher, but she also aspires to be a published writer. One of her biggest goals is to continue to search for experiences that will augment her skills as an educator. She is an executive board member of the Student Alliance for Equality, RMU's LGBTQ+ organization, and advocating for the community is one of her greatest passions. Additionally, she is involved in campus life as a Community Advisor for resident students and a member of both the Honors and Women's Leadership and Mentorship Programs. In her spare time, Melayna can be found browsing the shelves of a used book store or trying out a local coffee shop. 
International Experience Summary:

Melayna Pongratz spent 8 weeks in Scotland studying education, creative writing, and landscape photography through the International Summer School program at the University of Stirling. During her time in Scotland, Melayna learned about the country’s education system. She had the opportunity to visit a local high school and speak with students and educators about their experiences working and learning in a Scottish public school. She gained knowledge about the development and implementation of Scotland’s national Curriculum for Excellence as well as how it compares to other educational frameworks within the United Kingdom and around the world. Additionally, she gained experience in the arts of short story writing and photography. By analyzing the work of Scottish creatives and drawing inspiration from them to develop her own work, she deepened her understanding of narrative building and how it can be used to share information about histories, traditions, and contemporary issues. Together, these experiences aided in the ongoing growth of an educational and artistic perspective that is influenced by educators and creatives out of the United States. 

In her free time, Melayna explored Scotland’s vast and ever-changing natural landscape, hiking, and taking photos of its mountains, lochs, and glens, which gave her the opportunity to learn about climate change and environmentalism in the country. She also visited numerous national museums and monuments to gain knowledge of Scotland’s traditions, history, art, and literature. Finally, she spent a great deal of time visiting Stirling’s independent coffee shops, which gave her insight into the local economy, the diverse Stirling community, and the country’s vibrant coffee culture.

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: “Who Gets to be American?”

The 2022 VIH cohort from Robert Morris University held their Community Engagement Experience for RMU’s campus community on November 30, 2022. The title of the event was “Who Gets to be American?” and its primary focus was on the topic of American national identity. The VIH members each prepared a small display that showcased their study abroad experience and included a food from their host country. Guests were welcomed to walk through this small cultural fair before participating in the main event, a panel discussion featuring RMU professors from multiple academic disciplines. The panelists included Dr. Soren Fanning, Dr. Daria Crawley, Dr. Helena Vanhala, and Dr. Judit Trunkos. The professors come from backgrounds in business, media arts, and social sciences, meaning that students had the opportunity to hear familiar voices speak about a largely unfamiliar topic. Two panelists were born and raised in countries outside of the United States, and each of them had experience living or working both inside and outside the U.S. As a result, the professors were able to answer questions by drawing from their own experience as people who have been considered both insiders and outsiders to different nations. Discussion topics included stereotypes, misconceptions, social issues, and the American dream, among other subjects. Most notably, the panelists discussed why an awareness of national identity is profoundly important. The discussion was lively and informative, prompting the audience to consider their place in the global community as well. The event garnered a large audience and was a great opportunity for students and faculty alike to broaden their understanding of national identity.