Kevin Stiner | February 10, 2023

A Tale of Two Perspectives

A Healthcare Administration alumna and a student forged a bond over their mutual admiration for Ireland that culminated in a chance encounter in Dublin.

Gabrielle McGarvey at the Cliffs of Moher.

Two Golden Eagles on the opposite ends of the higher education perspective found time to embrace a unique moment in Ireland’s capital as their world travels intersected.

One is a student – Gabrielle McGarvey, a senior healthcare administration major; and the other is an alumna – Eliza Pionessa ’17/’19, an adjunct lecturer and owner of Eliza Jane Events.

The story began in 2017 when Pionessa first traveled to Ireland to study abroad to fulfill part of her healthcare administration degree by completing an internship at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.

“My experience changed my life and opened my eyes to a whole other part of life I had never experienced,” said Pionessa. “I grew up in a small town and had I not had the opportunity to attend Brockport and study abroad I believe my future would look very different today.”

Blarney Castle compliments of Gabrielle McGarvey.

Photo of Blarney Castle compliments of Gabrielle McGarvey.

The time overseas proved to be life changing and in response she established the Pionessa Family Study Abroad Scholarship. She wanted students to be able to experience a new way of life without the added stress of cost.

McGarvey was the recipient of the Pionessa Family Study Abroad scholarship in the fall of 2022, but the connection between McGarvey and Pionessa predated the scholarship. As an adjunct lecturer at Brockport, Pionessa taught one of McGarvey’s classes. McGarvey thoroughly enjoyed learning about Pionessa’s experience in Ireland and it sparked her own desire to travel.

“I ended up in a class with Eliza as a professor around the same time that I was applying for this program, and I really appreciated hearing how much she enjoyed it,” said McGarvey. “I personally knew I would love the scenery here (in Ireland) and the rainy weather. Irish history is also fascinating to learn about.”

McGarvey’s Perspective – Gaining Confidence in Ireland

Exploring the city of Dublin paired with the “valuable experience” gained during McGarvey’s internship has made for a dreamlike experience.

“I’ve gotten to learn a lot about the healthcare system in Ireland since my major is healthcare administration,” shared McGarvey. “Living abroad has made me more independent and confident from overcoming all the little challenges of being in a different country without knowing anyone.”

McGarvey has appreciated the overall friendliness and sense of humor she’s encountered in Ireland. Her program has led to additional connections with various international students that has further expanded her world perspective.

Gabrielle McGarvey at the Malahide Castle Gardens.

Gabrielle McGarvey at the Malahide Castle Gardens.

“I’m very appreciative of the scholarship – it definitely helps a lot with the budget for this trip,” said McGarvey. “They are very generous to offer the scholarship and I was happy to find out that it came from Eliza because she was the professor of one of my favorite classes.”

The totality of her experience has McGarvey considering a master’s degree from a school abroad.

Running Into Each Other at an Irish Café

Ever since completing her internship in Ireland, Pionessa was a frequent traveler to the country. In fact, she considers it her second home and she was planning on running a marathon in Dublin in 2020. The marathon was delayed for two years, but the postponement played a key role in the duo meeting up.

Gabrielle McGarvey and Eliza Pionessa in Ireland.

Gabrielle McGarvey and Eliza Pionessa in Ireland.

Pionessa received a letter from McGarvey detailing her study abroad timeline and gratitude for the scholarship. With the understanding that they would both be in Dublin at the same time, Pionessa scheduled breakfast at a café.

“Honestly it was a full-circle moment,” explained Pionessa. “When I received my thank you from the recipients and heard Gabrielle was in Ireland at that very moment I decided to reach out. She was just as excited to meet in a place we both love so much.”

McGarvey and Pionessa were both elated for the chance to meet in Dublin. They excitedly discussed their experiences, similarities, and the fluke-like circumstances that resulted in meeting up.

“Gabrielle is a very dedicated student and I know that wherever life takes her, maybe Dublin full-time, she will succeed,” shared Pionessa. “As we discussed her internship, she mentioned she finds herself asking for more tasks, a quality I also have. She is very driven and determined and I look forward to checking in with her as she continues her journey after graduation.”

Pionessa’s Perspective – No Longer Feeling Like a Tourist

The hospital that Pionessa interned with operated on a paper system. The absence of an electronic medical record system meant that Pionessa was tasked with running paper charts from the records department to the cardiac floor.

Eliza Pionessa after finishing the Dublin Marathon.

Eliza Pionessa after finishing the Dublin Marathon.

“I learned about the public and private systems, and all this helps me teach my Quality Management Class in the Healthcare Administration Program,” said Pionessa. “I made a lot of local friends in Ireland which changed my experience for visiting. I no longer feel like a tourist but like it’s my second home!”

Pionessa was inspired to start the scholarship because she wanted to grant students an opportunity to gain an immersive education and to motivate students to step out of their comfort zone to spark internal growth. Her experience triggered personal advancement that she credits as a driving force to owning her own successful business.

McGarvey agreed about personal growth and how studying abroad could affect other students.

“Living in a different country can help you grow a lot as a person and it is the perfect opportunity to meet other open-minded people who also enjoy traveling,” McGarvey offered. “Adapting to a different environment can help you learn more about yourself such as what kind of place you want to live and where you would like to work if you do an internship like I did. It also gives you a whole new perspective on your own culture.”