By Kara Linaburg
Giana Loretta is a “proud citizen” of Shinnston, recently returned from a semester of studying abroad in France, and is now a graduate of WVU with degrees in political science, philosophy, and communications study. All the while, she maintained a 4.0, and according to WVU, “advocated” and searched for solutions “to educational inequity.”
Her accomplishments have led to her being honored as one of 8 of WVU’s seniors with the 2023 Order Of Augusta, WVU’s most prestigious award. “The WVU Order of Augusta and Outstanding Senior award recipients represent the best and brightest of graduating seniors at the university,” provost and vice president for academic affairs, Maryanne Reed said in a press release. “Each of these students is exemplary and has made a positive impact through academic excellence, leadership, and service. They will undoubtedly be forces to be reckoned with, as they lead change in their local communities and the world.”
Loretta is the top 1% in her graduating class and said that she owes all of this to the professors at WVU who had her back during the four years she was enrolled at the school. “There were some semesters when I was 18/19 credit hours, and it balanced out where I could go a 15 level. But honestly it was just good time management to balance all the different types of classes.”
Loretta said her family is her biggest inspiration on this journey. Her mom and grandmother have shown her “independence” and “chasing your dreams no matter where they lead.”
When Loretta first began her college career, she was interested in attending law school, but, “somewhere along the way through my volunteer work and my leadership initiatives, I learned what I was really passionate about was education policy. And so those degrees helped me get more into the political field but also more of the policy aspect.”
Loretta said that her degrees went hand in hand to teach her about different policies, analyze them, and come up with solutions, as well as dig deeper into morals and laws, and that there was a lot of “overlap” in each of the degrees in subject and topic.
Loretta said that her interest in education policies stemmed from a passion for change in the school system in the state. “Just growing up in West Virginia in the K12 school system here, being a product of that, I knew based on my experiences that there were a lot of improvements that I wanted to make.”
Back in middle and high school, Loretta said that the board of education was often hesitant to let Loretta “break the mold” and take various advanced classes, and she hopes to bring change where schools have more opportunities for students as they prepare for their college career and gain skills they need to accomplish their own goals. “They (the schools) were also kinda lagging behind with the students who needed the most help. I remember very vividly back in high school where there is something called credit recovery where students who didn’t have the support and weren’t doing as well, were in like the last 12 weeks of high school could sit in the library and take an online class and kinda get pushed through to graduate.”
Loretta said that this isn’t just an issue she sees in Shinnston “but throughout the state.” She said she also feels things such as extracurricular activities and various AP classes that are offered in some schools in West Virginia are overlooked in others and causing students to lack the tools they need to succeed.
“So I know that West Virginia has a lot of work to do and I just want to be a part of it,” Loretta said.
Loretta said the best thing she did her first year at WVU was saying “yes.” She said she got “really involved” and “tried new things.”
“Having a wide variety of experiences really helped me figure out my passion and what I wanted to do. And I just can’t express how important that was to find your passion because everything just kinda falls into place afterward.” In addition to her research that she did for school, she also volunteered with “multiple organizations that directly impact education in the state”, and claimed the title of president for Mountaineer Mentors.
“We got together and tried to target the most rural high schools in West Virginia, some of the most needy, and we would go and give a presentation about professional development, how to build a resume, and if you were interested in applying for college, how to do that and how to apply for scholarships.” Loretta said that there are options out there in the state that makes “college possible for someone who thinks he or she couldn’t make it otherwise based on financial situations.”
Loretta also volunteered with Girls On The Run in Morgantown and said loved her time volunteering there. “It was so much fun. I loved it, seeing them respond to the curriculum and just growing as leaders. It was really special.”
Loretta also spent a semester studying abroad in France and returned May 13. “Studying abroad was by far the best semester that I’ve ever had. Just being in a new place, being in France. Actually, my grandmother and my great aunt were born and raised in France and then they met their American husbands and came back to the States with them, so it was just kinda like a pilgrimage for me to go back to my grandmother’s birthplace and her homeland. So that was really, really special for me. And just to travel and see the world.
“On the weekends me and my friends would just travel as much as possible and we made it to eleven different countries.”
“I really did love my trip to Budapest, Hungary,” Loretta said of one of her favorite places that she traveled while abroad. “I made some of the best friends of my life there, and one of my main takeaways was that we are all so different, we all have different experiences, but as I was a twenty something sitting in the classroom with students from all over the world, we really aren’t that different. That was a huge takeaway.”
Now, as a college graduate who is back in Shinnston, Loretta plans to spend ten months teaching in Bulgaria starting in September. She said this will be her gap year before she plans to embark onto the next phase in her college career as she works toward obtaining her masters. She’s unsure what will come her way in the upcoming years or where she will be, but she said the way she feels she will most succeed in her dreams will be “accepting whatever comes next. If you asked me last year if I planned to live out of the country for a year, I would have told you that you’re crazy, but that’s where I’m going to be.”
“I’m just really proud to be from Shinnston,” Loretta said. “I hope to represent the town to the very best of my ability. No matter where in the world I end up, this will always be home to me, and I am endlessly grateful for the love and support that I’ve received from my family and community. I would not be who I am without it.”