University of Alberta alumna Carla Cuglietta (’01 BEd, ’01 BPE) says helping people has been woven into her sense of purpose from early on, which informed her childhood notions about what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Cuglietta says. “The reach, the platform a teacher has to encourage others to get involved in serving others is pretty big. That was quite appealing to me at a young age.”
Now, 15 years after she graduated from the University of Alberta with a combined undergraduate degree in education and physical education, Cuglietta continues to live out her sense of purpose while helping other people find theirs.
Cuglietta will receive the 2016 U of A Alumni Honour Award, which recognizes significant contributions made over a number of years by University of Alberta alumni to their profession, their community and society at large.
Devoted to making a difference
Though she got an early start as a volunteer, the native Edmontonian says it was during her time at university that she became concerned with helping people beyond the local community and spent the summer after her first year volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico.
“At 15, I started working pretty seriously at soup kitchens and getting my friends to put on big luncheon days for people in the inner city. But when I was at U of A, my global service really started,” she says.
This past summer, Cuglietta spent part of her vacation from her job at Edmonton’s St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Uganda, where she trained local teachers in partnership with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, having previously done similar work in Sierra Leone.
She’s also given her time in recent years to help rural villages in India access clean water, learned about fair trade issues from farmers in El Salvador, and connected students with service opportunities at an international school in Shanghai.
Cuglietta says global service isn’t just about traveling abroad to lend a hand to communities in need, but rallying others to become involved in aiding communities outside Canada.
“I discovered a number of years ago there are a lot of people in Canada who want to help people in other parts of the world that need help, and from early on I wasn’t afraid to be the go-between between those two sides,” she says.
Inspire locally, act globally
Preparing others to pursue their passion for community service and social justice is both a vocation and a passion for Cuglietta. In addition to her role as community service coordinator at St. Joseph’s, where she also teaches religious studies, she helped found a youth leadership organization called WE Stand in 2015. Within months of its formation, WE Stand hosted a student summit focused on encouraging its 1,500 attendees to hone and harness their leaderships skills to make the world a better place.
“WE Stand is an organization of young leaders and industry people who are working together for personal growth and collective good,” Cuglietta says. “Our main goal is, how do we get people to understand that their gifts, skills and talent are meant to be used not just for themselves but for the betterment of their community, whether that’s local or global. We try to really personalize it—what is it about your personal skill set that’s meant to be used for the common good?”
It’s an orientation Cuglietta tries to take into her classroom, where she encourages students to find causes that inspire them and become involved in contributing to a better society and a better world. She says she hopes future teachers recognize the positive influence they can have on students and take seriously the task of preparing students to be engaged citizens and agents of change.
“I would tell bachelor of education students to really prepare themselves for the opportunity to have a platform to effect a lot of change in young people’s lives, and so to really be ready to craft and model a positive impact they want to have on young people, because the platform is big and the impact is strong,” Cuglietta says, “They need to understand the responsibility of that and go into the profession knowing that so many young people are watching and ready to learn. So if you use your powers for good, you can have a big positive impact on the world through teaching.”
Click here to see the moment Carla Cuglietta finds out at a school assembly that she’s been selected to receive an Alumni Honour Award. This month we are profiling outstanding alumni from the Faculty of Education who will be honoured at the University of Alberta’s 2016 Alumni Awards ceremony on September 22, 2016. The Alumni Awards are a free, public event. For more information, visit the Alumni Association website.