Kayla Soltis

International Experience Country:
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

University of Pittsburgh | Johnstown

Heinz Programming Area:
Children, Youth, and Families
Study Abroad Country: Cohort Year:  Home Institution:  Programming Area: 
International Experience Summary:

Kayla Soltis spent 6 weeks in a beautiful city named Cochabamba located in Bolivia. While abroad, she spent a lot of time in a school for the blind that also provides services for children with other disabilities. Kayla made some great friends with both the staff and the students as she helped in the classrooms with Occupational Therapy. Not only did she learn Spanish but she also learned how to read and write Braille. The school needed more materials such as books and worksheets in braille for the children so Kayla emailed many organizations in the United States until she found an organization willing to donate a braille printer. The school invited her to a huge mother’s day celebration where they taught Kayla Bolivian dances and made her a homecooked Bolivian dish. Because she spent a lot of time in a community with mental disabilities, Kayla was very interested in how the society views mental illness in Bolivia. Through many interviews, conversations, and research, she was able to learn about the culture, society, and specifically their views related to mental health. Besides diving into the community and service-learning, Kayla hiked up a mountain into the clouds, visited the breathtaking salt flats, and climbed through the amazon rainforest with the monkeys!

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: Privilege Walks & Talks

The Privilege Walks & Talks event, held on November 29, 2018 at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, was hosted by VIH awardees Kayla Soltis and Halee Sesock. The goal of this Community Engagement Experience was to bring together different groups of people from the Pitt-Johnstown campus to collectively discuss and interact with the concept of privilege. By bringing together a diverse pool of participants, the hope was that a dialogue would be opened about this under-discussed topic.

Before the walk began, Halee and Kayla defined what privilege is and the objectives of the walk. Then, participants were asked to line up across the center of the room side by side. If they felt comfortable, they could hold the persons hand to the right and left of them. The facilitator then asked 30 statements based on privilege and the participants were instructed to step either forward or backward depending on how their personal history related to the statement. This created a visual representation of the abstract concept of privilege as people were spread out across the floor and most had to unlock hands.

After everyone took a moment to reflect on this emotional concept, they were asked to take a seat and a discussion began to debrief the activity. The purpose of the Privilege Walk Activity was to learn to recognize how power and privilege can affect our lives even when we are not aware it is happening. The purpose was not to blame anyone for having more power or privilege or for receiving more help in achieving goals, but to have an opportunity to identify both obstacles and benefits experienced in our life. The anticipated impact was to allow people to practice acknowledging privilege in themselves and others so that they may be more considerate of it as they encounter new experiences throughout life.