From left to right : Jeff Whitehead, Director, Study Abroad Office, University Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, City High's Zoe Muzzy, Program Manager and mentor Gisselle Arce.
Graduate of 2020
For every student about to finish high school, there are some big choices to be made. Fortunately, there’s an entire group of professionals at City Charter High School dedicated to helping kids figure out what works for them.
This is clearly the case for Zoe Muzzy – a 3.8 GPA recent graduate who could easily be welcomed at many colleges and universities, but has chosen to take a gap year instead. She plans to work and save so that she can afford to travel.
“Travel has always been an obsession for me,” she notes. “I really enjoy learning about cultures and being submerged in a culture that is different from my own.”
So, it’s no wonder that this self-taught guitarist, rock climber and journaling nut, who has moved 10 times in her young lifetime, would catch the travel bug.
But Zoe’s decision was years in the making. As part of a military family, this Bethel Park teen moved around a lot. She already had a passport and had also done some international travel. She joined other City High students on a 10-day service-learning project in Costa Rica, rebuilding sidewalks and reinforcing unsafe public areas in a small village.
She recalls, “It was really hard in the beginning, and while I do know enough Spanish to get my point across, it’s more of a confidence issue… knowing what you’re saying and what you’re trying to say. I liked watching how immersed the community was in building a better community for themselves. It really was a shantytown. Yet, the whole community would come in and help us (carry supplies and mix cement), even the little kids.”
An Ideal Internship
But perhaps the one element that has had the most impact on Zoe’s gap year decision and future, is her internship at the University of Pittsburgh’s Study Abroad Office.
The Internship Managers at City High were instrumental in placing Zoe in this highly coveted position. Each year, more than 50 Pitt University students apply for this internship and only 4 are chosen. What’s more, City High is the only high school to provide students for this program.
Founded in 1981, Pitt Study Abroad develops programs and facilitates educational experiences in over 75 countries and peer advisors are key to the program’s success. According to director Jeffrey Whitehead, “We’ve found that some of the best marketing we can do for students is when they’re able to talk to their peers. I was once in that role and recognized that there was merit to peer advisors. Rather than some old guy talking to 20 year-old students who had never studied abroad, we found it better to have them talk to another 20 year-old who just did – articulating what was good about it, what they learned, what they gained, what they hoped to share when they got back.”
For Zoe, this was a big challenge. First of all, she was still in high school, had never studied abroad and would have to learn on the fly in order to help guide incoming college students to the information they needed for foreign study. As Mr. Whitehead remembers, “She had some catch-up work to do and did a really nice job. And so, was able to function right alongside our undergraduate interns as a frontline advisor.”
Zoe quickly found her place, thanks to efforts by her mentor, Gisselle Arce, program manager at Pitt’s Study Abroad office. “You have to be quick on your feet. And get help when you don’t know something, rather than give out false information. We’ll steer you to the person who does have the answer.”
Zoe had to learn all of the processes and programs so that she would be able to function alongside the undergraduate interns who had a little bit of an advantage – they had already gone through the process and a Study Abroad program.
“For the first few weeks I had to watch and figure it out,” Zoe said. Eventually she was able to function as a peer advisor, and then function that way throughout the entire fall term, which has the highest volume of students needing assistance. As Ms. Arce says, “We use the fall term to do all of the recruitment for summer, which is far and away the most popular time for our students to study abroad.”
In addition to manning the front desk, greeting students and helping them find who they needed to meet with, Zoe found time to help de-accession many books from their library – cataloging them and finding a place to donate them to. She also worked on an epic coffee table book, still in progress, contacting alumni, pulling background info and photos and compiling their photos and descriptions of the their experiences in various programs.
“I got to contact students myself,” she recalls. “I also got to organize all the pieces myself, so I created it essentially from scratch.” She also got to put to use her City High tech curriculum (she is certified in Photoshop, Word, Word Expert, PowerPoint, Excel, and Green Screen).
A True Growth Opportunity
Like all City High interns, Zoe picked up some skills from her internship that she will take with her wherever she ends up – none more so, than learning how to present herself in a business setting. “I was the first person they saw,” Zoe recalls. “I wasn’t a high school student, but someone they needed information from. So, I had to present myself in a way that demonstrated I knew what I was doing. The way that you talk to people and communicate with people when you’re in a professional setting is so different from even a school setting.”
The mentors at Study Abroad also noticed her growth in poise and confidence. She adapted very well, quickly picked up the correct verbiage and projected confidence.
Not only has she won people over, but as Mr. Whitehead observed, “By the end of Zoe’s time with us, I doubt if you were to ask any of the undergraduates coming in off the street that they would be able to tell she was in high school. It was a really nice trajectory – by the end you would not have been able to tell the difference between Zoe and our undergraduate advisors.”