Wilkes University senior Olivia Caraballo combines her love of education and creating inclusive art activities as the educational outreach ambassador for the Sordoni Art Gallery at Wilkes. In her role, Caraballo plans programs, tours and activities geared for K-12th grade.
Caraballo works within the community, running a Sordoni booth at the Farmer’s Market in Public Square every Thursday in the summer. She creates 20 minute art projects which encompass hands-on activities and encourage educational discovery. During a previous session, she posed the question to participants, “What can you take from nature around you and incorporate it into art?” From there, students used flowers, leaves and more to design their own work. “It’s important for me to give kids something fun and educational to do,” she notes. Caraballo has plans to incorporate cultural lessons into a project which involves mask making.
She also helps to coordinate and execute plans for the monthly Art Block in Downtown Wilkes-Barre. Caraballo has multiple activities planned which surround STEAM learning such as shadow drawing, developing a spectroscope which measure properties of light and making a kaleidoscope. The activities worked to compliment the current Sordoni exhibition Lit by Lyn Godley which illustrates a wide range of light sources, applications and effects in the merging of art and light. Recently, she planned a STEAM session with the Women Empowered By Science camp where students received a tour and learned about the ways science can be intertwined with art.
Caraballo also creates guides for guests which help them understand current art exhibits while learning something in the process. “I’m really passionate about special education. That’s what I’d really like to do when I graduate. That’s why I try to make everything I do in the gallery inclusive.” The next exhibition Caraballo is assisting with is the Rust Belt Biennial. The exhibition will run Aug. 27- Oct. 5.
It was a placement at Good Shepherd Academy in Kingston, Pa., that sparked Caraballo’s interest in special education as a career.
“I was originally a secondary education major and I didn’t have a special education certification,” Caraballo says. “But as soon as I got into that classroom… it was the best class. This was all I want,” she explains. “The week after I started, I changed my major to mid-level education so I could teach 4th-8th grade and I added special education. All it took was one week.”
It was the start of something wonderful for Caraballo who transferred into Wilkes during the second semester of her freshman year. “I remember saying I should have just come here first. I was trying to push myself to move away from home but it wasn’t a good fit for me,” she explains. “But with Wilkes, it was home right away. I found my niche in the world.” Caraballo had also been accepted into the Honors Program which she was able to enter in upon transfer.
Finding her passions in education and getting to work with the Sordoni Gallery since the conclusion of her freshman year has been monumental in Caraballo’s Wilkes experience. Caraballo notes Heather Sincavage, assistant professor and director of the Sordoni Art Gallery, as one of her biggest influences.
“Heather is my biggest mentor and supporter. She’s made Wilkes great for me,” she says. “If I have a bad day, I can go to her office to talk about it. She’s the best.”
The support she receives from her Wilkes community is valuable to Caraballo. But the love of her family has helped propel her to success. As a first-generation college student, she knows that her completion of a bachelor’s degree is a family event. She saw evidence of that when she helped at a Wilkes commencement. “As a resident assistant, I have to work at least one graduation ceremony. So, I worked the graduate commencement ceremony,” Caraballo explains. “I didn’t even know anyone graduating and I was bawling my eyes out. Then I thought ’that’s going to be me. I’m going to do that and I’m going to be the first to do it’.”
While graduating is a major accomplishment, Caraballo also has quite the resume to take along with her. She currently is a resident assistant for the second year and the co-director of the Vagina Monologues.
As she reflects on her time as a student at Wilkes and plans for her future as an educator in an autistic support classroom or emotional support classroom, Caraballo likes to keep one thing in mind–“You’re doing a better job than you think you are,” she says. “Not everyone can do what you’re doing.”