Sara Hnatiw: #CommunityCollegeBecause ... You get to discover who you are and find your passions

Stasia Lopez's picture

Sara Hnatiw majored in both Early Education Child Development and Children with Special Needs. She graduated from the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)—South Campus with her Children with Special Needs certificate in Spring 2018 and Early Education Child Development Associate’s Degree in Spring 2020. She has intentions to transfer to Carlow University or LaRoche College in Fall 2021 to begin her Bachelor’s Degree. Once she earns her Bachelor’s Degree, she would like to become a disability services director or a student success coach.

Sara Hnatiw: #CommunityCollegeBecause ... You get to discover who you are and find your passions

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession? 
I initially came into CCAC wanting to be an activities director for the senior citizens, because I worked as a server at a retirement facility and enjoyed interacting with them. In the middle of my first semester at CCAC, my mother suggested that I should go for special education because I would be a great fit for children that have disabilities. After I finished my Children with Special Needs Certificate, and CCAC not having a Special Education Degree, I decided to go towards the Early Education Child Development Associate’s Degree.

Not a lot of people know that I have a learning disability. I struggled badly when I was younger, and attended speech therapy for about 5 years at a local university and got the help that I needed. At a couple of my speech therapy sessions, I was paired up with another client, who had severe autism and struggled with his speech. The speech-language director of the program thought that it would be good for me to practice conversation skills with him. Ever since I was in grade school and wanting to be a teacher being one of my future goals, I knew that I wanted to become a teacher either in special education or elementary school. I had these strong intentions for a really long time until CCAC decided to switch classes to all online due to the coronavirus. I question myself if I would be a good teacher. I even had flashbacks of talking to students at the bookstore at the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester encouraging them to go to the Learning Assistance Center to get help, and tell them how wonderful and helpful the tutors are. That is when I decided that I want to be a student success coach, since I give good advice to everybody.

Sara Hnatiw: #CommunityCollegeBecause ... You get to discover who you are and find your passions

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share? 
I enjoyed everything during my time at CCAC. Whether it was participating in clubs and organizations or meeting new people, I enjoyed every aspect of it. The memorable moment that I would like to share was when I was doing my homework. I was in the Learning Commons working on the computer to write a paper in one of my classes. I overheard one of the professors call a local ice cream shop to see if they had vanilla soft serve ice cream and to reserve some for one of her co-workers.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? 
I was highly involved with clubs/organizations during my time at CCAC. These clubs/organizations consisted of ABLE Company, Phi Theta Kappa, and Delta Alpha Pi. The ABLE Company is a club that promotes and advocates individuals who have disabilities. During my second year at CCAC, I was the Secretary and took notes at all of our meetings. In my third year, I served as the Vice President of the club.

I was also involved in Phi Theta Kappa, which is an honors society for community colleges nationwide. In the Fall 2018 semester, I was a provisional member and helped out with table session events and attended one of the conventions that was held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Before the 2019 Fall semester began, I became the Vice President of the College Project. As Vice President, I oversaw the College Program Hallmark Award submission and activities and to come up with goals with my advisors and chapter members and officers.

Lastly, I became involved with the Delta Alpha Pi Honors Society in the Fall 2017 semester. This is an honors society that recognizes students with disabilities. I was promoted to the President of the organization in the Fall 2018 semester, and helped promote and advocate for those who have a disability. I also applied to the Rising Leaders program for the Spring 2020 semester. This program teaches students how to develop leadership skills to apply and utilize in the work industry. Every other week, there was a different topic session that I learned about and made connections with other CCAC students. When I took my Early Education classes, I was required to go to childcare centers or school settings for observations to see what it was like to work as a teacher. Some of the Early Education classes had a few practicums that I took part in. Going on weekly or bi-weekly observations helped prepare me, because it helped to gain experience and showed what it was like to work as a teacher at a school setting or childcare center. During the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters, I worked at the bookstore. My job was to help students find textbooks for their classes. I also reorganized and restocked books, notebooks, and other merchandise and answered questions that students may have before they start their classes.

Sara Hnatiw: #CommunityCollegeBecause ... You get to discover who you are and find your passions

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? 
While working at South Campus’ bookstore at the beginning of each semester, I helped students find their textbooks and to answer any questions they may have had about their classes. I informed most of the students about the tutoring services that CCAC offers. Some students told me they struggle with a certain subject and I told them to go to the Learning Assistance Center to get help. Just by telling these students this advice made me want to work as a Student Success Coach–or even the director of a disability services office. Ever since I was young, I had the gift of being a people person and wanting to lend a hand to help everybody.

Sara Hnatiw: #CommunityCollegeBecause ... You get to discover who you are and find your passions

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
I gained and learned leadership, communication, and collaboration skills. 

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
I have been setting up both academic and professional goals for myself. I did some research on some local colleges by looking at important information that I need to know before visiting and applying. In the meantime, I am hoping to visit these campuses in the fall or winter, to see which campus I like most.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
If I am feeling overwhelmed, I enjoy taking walks around my neighborhood. I also enjoy spending time (or talking on the phone) with my family and friends, doing word searches, doing chores around the house, reading, and watching videos on YouTube. Since I have a reminder app on my phone, I type down all the tasks that I have to do for that day. This helps me to remember and know what I have to do. 

Sara Hnatiw: #CommunityCollegeBecause ... You get to discover who you are and find your passions

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
Take advantage of the college resources that are offered to you at CCAC. They really help you out! If you are struggling in a certain class, I would go to the Learning Assistance Center, make an appointment, and see a tutor. I never went to the Learning Assistance Center until one day I needed to use APA for a paper. The tutors are so kind, helpful, and amazing. If you plan to go to the Learning Assistance Center and get one-on-one tutoring, make sure to schedule your tutoring appointments early, because some tutors schedules could fill up very quickly.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
A lot of people in my family inspire me. My mom is really good at using the computer and talking on the phones with customers. I get really nervous before I send an email out or if I have to call someone and talk to them. My mom told me when she was my age, she was nervous when talking to people on the phone. Then when she was in her 40's, she overcame that fear and is really comfortable talking to people on the phone. I know what I have to say to people on the phone but I get really nervous trying to explain something. As for my dad, he told me to try my best and never give up. When I was younger and could not spell a certain word, I remember I told him that I “can’t spell it.” He said to me, “Never say ‘can’t.’ It’s not a good word to use.” Now I see why my dad told me because he told me to give it a try and hope for the best.

A CCAC administrator that inspired me would be Perkins Student Support Specialist Steven Shaulis. Just by being home and classes switching all online, I met with Steven once a week or bi-weekly. I just saw by talking to him really sparked my interest in wanting to be like him. Steven gives really great advice, helps and cares for all students, and offers resources for students to utilize during their time at CCAC. That’s something I like to do and am passionate about–give advice and to help my friends or other students. 

Anything else you’d like for us to know? 
Enjoy your time at CCAC because it will pass you in the blink of an eye. It is perfectly okay to start your college career here because you save tons of money and get a really great education. These classes help prepare you for the workforce and transferring to a 4-year university. If you were not involved in high school clubs and have not held a leadership position, CCAC will give you that second opportunity. Join a club or two that interests you. When I was in high school, I was involved with a few clubs. I regret not joining in as many clubs and holding leadership positions because I wanted to focus more on my school work. By being involved, it helps to show you what you are passionate about and to make connections. It may sound difficult, especially if you have a full-time job and/or are raising your children, but it is totally worth it. I also want to thank all the South Campus administrators, the LAC tutors, peer tutors and staff, my college professors, and friends I met here. You helped influence and shape me to grow as a leader and a person. I am very grateful for taking advantage of every opportunity that was offered and began my college career here.

Sara Hnatiw: #CommunityCollegeBecause ... You get to discover who you are and find your passions




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Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Director of Career Services at the Community College of Allegheny County. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University in 2013 and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel, college to career topics and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando, precious daughter, Maya, and playful kitty-cat Zorro.

All photos courtesy and copyright Sara Hnatiw