Good Things Happen When a Life-Changing Dream Comes True
From Florida's east coast, an education major discovers a very diverse world at USF and discovers herself in the process.
TAMPA, Fla. (April 30, 2015) – It had always been Jalina Pittman's dream to travel to any country in Africa. “When I saw the opportunity to combine this goal with my degree program I ecstatically chose the study abroad program in Ghana.”
The elementary education major made that trip to the nation's capital, Accra, as a Gilman Scholar in the summer of her junior year. Pittman volunteered in an orphanage with USF's Service Learning Program.
As she graduates she looks back on it as “life changing, as clichéd as it may sound,” she said. “I discovered a deeper love for my heritage. So often I would envy those who were of more exotic ethnicities because of the negative stigma placed on dark skinned African American girls. After my experience in Ghana I embraced what I previously considered flaws as the traits of individuals who overcame the overwhelming odds against them.”
She didn't stop there. Last year Pittman had an internship in the United Kingdom as part of the Cambridge Schools Program.
“Exploring London, Stonehenge, Bath, and living in Cambridge for a month was absolutely encouraging,” she wrote in her Going Places blog. “I was most influenced by the class structure within the school I had the opportunity to observe. The way the teachers interact with the students was encouraging to my future self as an educator. I left Cambridge knowing the true value of my future profession. Can't wait to infuse what I learned in Bar Hill Primary into my internship in Lopez Elementary.”
These are just two of the experiences that contributed to her overall description of her time at USF as “thoroughly diverse” because of “all the different student organizations, the multitude of study abroad programs, and the community service opportunities university-wide.”
Pittman was drawn to teaching for a variety of reasons.
“In addition to wanting to inspire hope, vision and determination in the minds of students who will influence our future, I saw that I had the ability to incorporate everything I love writing, dancing, and presenting into a field that could thrive through the passions these three areas ignite.”
Research became important to Pittman and she presented at the Undergraduate Research Colloquium and the College of Education Inquiry Conference on “the connection between choreography and writing- combining the two things I feel strongly about.” She sees the two as similar art forms where “the idea of teaching students beginning, middle, end planning methods” should be open to change.
Other research projects focused on the “ability to facilitate critical thinking by asking appropriate questions,” she said, and “about enhancing pre-service teachers' ability to differentiate” in order to address cultural and academic differences.
Pittman explained that “it is essential that each lesson is constructed to meet the needs of every student,” which involves adding greater complexity to lesson plans while keeping the content consistent.
Being chosen to serve as Miss Uhuru in her junior year meant "representing issues of importance and acting as a role model to younger women,” she said. She has also served on the executive board of the Black Student Union.
Appreciation for the Teaching Profession
Pittman encourages more people to major in education. “It is one of the most discussed aspects of our society,” she observed. “People often discuss the importance of education while simultaneously bashing its role in society. I think if more people major in any aspect of education, whether instructional or political, the change we so often dream about will become a reality.”
Still proud of the “Flying L's,” Pittman came to USF from Ft. Lauderdale High School, happy about not being too far from home and able to continue experiencing the great weather and the diversity. She became a consistent recipient of the Xavier Cannela Scholarship, which required that she maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher. She was also a member of the Kappa Delta Pi international education honor society and the SunCoast Area Teacher Training & Education Research (SCATTER), graduating as a vital member.
“The faculty I've met has always been supportive and engaging,” Pittman said. “I believe I was blessed with the professionals who helped enhance me as a person both professionally and personally.”
Losing a very close friend to suicide made for a challenging final year at USF.
“I was depressed and confused,” she said. Taking advantage of USF's counseling program helped. “Only recently has it gotten easier.”
Pittman plans to devote the next two years to teaching in the classroom. She wants to expand her horizons after that by enrolling in an educational policy master's program.
How has she managed such a diverse set of experiences over the past four years?
“The secret for me was curiosity,” Pittman said. “I kept asking myself what could I learn from various situations and I went for it. This kept me true to myself while uncovering new things.”
Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563