Looking out from the Cathedral of Learning (lovingly called Cathy), Oakland is equally awe-inspiring and overwhelming. You can see fairly far from the 35th and 36th floors claimed by the University Honors College, and in a rather cliché but sweet fashion, it makes our “crossing boundaries” motto feel very literal when there are no boundaries visible in the distance. This is how I felt approaching extracurricular activities as a first-year student. I wanted to pursue everything across every area – psychology, research, linguistics, service, neuroscience, and so forth. The hardest part was deciding how to fit it all into my schedule.
I subscribe to this view when it comes to managing college: add one good thing at a time. I shifted my perspective from an idea of needing to do everything all at once to an excitement about exploring my interests as they arose. There is fulfillment in pursuing your passions to their fullest extent in a way that is truthful to your goals and vision.
As a first-year student, I focused my energy toward two student organizations, both of which I still take part in and enjoy. The summer before my first year, I became involved with The Imagination Project, an organization where Pitt students visit as favorite childhood characters to bring magic to pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital, The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh, and other locations. Although now held remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, our visits are some of my favorite college memories. I have the joy of watching children light up as they meet their favorite characters, sing and dance with us, and momentarily feel better. Further, I’m with families as they find magic in seeing their children interact cheerfully, sometimes for the first time since coming to the hospital or pediatric step-down.
I also joined the American Sign Language Club my first year, and I now serve as the club’s Events Coordinator. Here I mentor students new to ASL, lead events to promote a sense of community even in remote circumstances, and develop educational panels. I am most excited about leading our yearly panel “A Deaf Patient’s Perspective,” which brings awareness to healthcare disparities facing the Deaf community. This panel is open to the public and serves as a great educational resource for the Pitt community in the role of students and future healthcare providers as well as simply in the role of people striving for healthcare equity. I am excited to continue my work with the ASL Club to educate both myself and other students about the importance of these topics.
With these organizations as a foundation, I was open to new possibilities. As a sophomore, a new extracurricular opportunity appeared. Through the UHC’s mentor program, I matched with a Pitt Honors alum with similar interests in the medical humanities. Now a fourth-year medical student across the country, Mary Turocy recalled her days initiating a reading group within the Honors College. It had brightly been named Medicine and Muffins, and it served to educate undergraduate students on the medical humanities in a welcoming and reflective space.
On Mary’s suggestion, I set to work reestablishing the organization with the shared leadership of two close friends in the Honors College. Although housed in the UHC, our meetings draw students from all areas of the university to discuss research ethics, intersectionality in healthcare, narrative medicine, and other topics of significance. Students outside the Honors program regularly participate, and our studies are all the better for the wider range of perspectives gathered. (Our meetings are open to all, so consider following our Instagram @medandmuffinspitt if you’re passionate about social and cultural issues in medicine!) I did not see myself starting and leading an organization even a year ago, but by being open to opportunities, I allowed myself to experience something new.
It can be easy to look across your peers’ involvement, across the broad opportunities offered at Pitt, or across the bustling streets of Oakland and to feel as if you must have your plans mapped out to perfection. It is important to find value in the journey of piecing together what excites you and what you can manage with enthusiasm. It isn’t about seeing the full picture right away. It’s about adding one good thing at a time.