Student Spotlight: “A Just Education”

Having so many diverse interests can be difficult for incoming freshman who are trying to decide what to study, which internships to seek out, and which careers to pursue. For current senior Delphie Backs, this problem drove her to the Career Center.

Wanting to explore all of her varied interests, Backs began signing up for the Center’s shadowing opportunities, attending workshops, and taking skills tests to determine her strengths. Backs was particularly interested in education, psychology, writing, and so many other fields.

One of these visits was to the City of Asylum, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit organization that takes in writers and artists who have been exiled from their home countries because their work speaks about oppression or politics, or because those countries lack freedom of speech. The organization gives these artists a place to stay, helps them promote their work through publications and live readings, and allows them to get established in the States, where they can create freely and safely.

Backs was extremely moved by her visit to the City of Asylum, and wound up touring the facility twice during her first year at Pitt.

“It was such a cool non-profit, and I wouldn’t have found out about it if it wasn’t for the Career Center,” Backs says.

Inspired by the organization’s work, Backs applied for and secured an internship writing for the non-profit’s magazine, Sampsonia Way. She was interviewing the artists and writing spotlights about them, but also had the opportunity to bring to light a more personal injustice.

Backs crafted an article for the magazine about her high school’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. Students at her high school had created a list of diversity resources and books for teachers to include in their classrooms to spark meaningful conversations. However, upon the release of this list, Backs’ high school banned it.

“It was so terrible,” Backs expresses. “Every writer on that list was Black or brown and it was just very upsetting what the school did. I was very passionate about writing that piece and I was glad to have it published in the magazine.”

Aside from introducing her to the City of Asylum, the Career Center also provided Backs with the tools to interview confidently for other roles. Backs reviewed her resumé and did mock interviews with career consultant Erin Wheeler.

“Erin has been super helpful,” Backs notes. “She’s done everything for me. There have been a bunch of internship-type opportunities that I prepared for with her and each time, I went into the interview feeling very confident and felt proud of it afterwards.”

Backs’ most recent interview was for the Nationality Room Scholarship Program, which provides $400 of funding for Pitt summer study abroad programs. Backs was hoping to study abroad in Salzburg, Austria.

“I was so excited because studying abroad is one of the things I’ve always wanted to do,” Backs says.

However, a last-minute change threatened Backs’ ability to complete the program. She had planned to apply for a scholarship specifically for traveling to Austria, but that scholarship got cancelled and she was put into a more general pool of students applying for summer stipends.

“It suddenly became a lot more competitive,” Backs explains. “There were a lot more people all applying for the same scholarship now, so I had low expectations of getting it. But I felt like I did a good job on the interview because of all the preparation at the Career Center, and I ended up receiving the scholarship.”

Backs has a minor in German and is pursuing a certificate in global studies, focusing on peace, conflict, and security, so she has taken many classes about German culture and history, including the Holocaust. Backs was interested in exploring a German-speaking country and studying the historic relationship between Germany and Austria.

“I got to experience so much,” Backs notes. “I went to museums, cultural events, a marionette shows, which was probably the most impressive thing I saw the whole time. My German fluency improved a lot and it was interesting to learn all the ways that Austria is different from the US.”

More recently, Backs was named an Elsie Hillman Honors Scholar, which will allow her to work in a non-profit for the first semester this coming school year and then create a funded project during the second semester. After attending the Elise Hillman Civic Forum for a few years, Backs decided to apply for the scholarship. Backs has decided to pursue Pitt’s CASE program, which is a five-year Master’s of Education program with an undergraduate degree in developmental psychology. During the scholarship, Backs will be working with an organization focused on education equality.

“There are so many issues of justice within the school system and those issues reflect society’s problems as a whole,” Backs explains. “This opportunity is probably the coolest one I’ve had yet, and it’ll be such an interesting way to experiment in the realm of politics, but through an education lens.”

Backs is looking forward to becoming a third-grade teacher in the future.

“As a teacher, I might not be making a global impact, but I know I can make an impact on my group of students,” Backs says. “I want to help them get an equal shot and believe that they’re intelligent and special and capable. I hope that belief in themselves will go beyond the classroom and travel with them for the rest of their lives. Everyone deserves a just education.”

By Dionna Dash
Dionna Dash Nordenberg Scholar