Upon her return to the United States from Vietnam this summer, Brianna Kiesel came away with a newfound sense of appreciation.
“One of my main takeaways was that we should be grateful for everything we have here,” Kiesel said. “They didn’t even have clean water there. We should take every opportunity we have to be thankful.”
The star senior guard for Pitt’s women’s basketball team had never travelled outside the country before this summer when she signed on to be one of four Pitt athletes to represent the University in Vietnam as a participant in the Coach for College program, which promotes higher education for children in other countries.
“I’d like to go into coaching in my future, and I love kids,” said Kiesel, a member of last year’s ACC All-Academic team. “It just seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
Kiesel, who graduated in April with a degree in administration of justice, is now pursuing her second degree in legal studies with a certificate in communications. She is currently the 10th highest scorer in Pitt women’s basketball history. Her selection for the program did not come as a surprise to Pitt women’s basketball head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, who praised her senior guard.
“When she talked about wanting to go, it just spoke volumes about her as a person,” McConnell-Serio said. “She’s the first person on our team that volunteers for community service. When she works camps, she’s outstanding. She’s the type of person that’s always helping other people.”
The Coach for College program was founded in 2007 by former Duke women’s tennis player Julia Parker Goyer. It’s designed to encourage adolescents in rural parts of developing nations to consider furthering their education, fusing academics and sports to help promote this. More than 23 DI schools, with the addition of DIII Bates College, have participated in the program.
For 26 days, Kiesel helped teach math to sixth and seventh graders, following a curriculum outlined in a workbook. After completing the day’s lesson, Kiesel assisted in running a basketball camp for a different group of kids, working with players from other schools to come up with drills and games for the day.
Kiesel noted the differences in Vietnamese culture, highlighting the fact that many people drive on motor scooters and the inexpensiveness of goods because of the high dollar exchange rate there. But what she’ll remember most is the kindness and generosity of the people she met.
“The people [in Vietnam] were so nice and so giving. They share everything,” Kiesel said. “If they had one piece of bread, they’d share it between everyone.”
Kiesel represented Pitt along with three members of the swimming and diving team: Lauren Mills, Mackenzie Meixner and recent graduate Renee Deschenes.
“Something like this shows that our student-athletes aren’t only dedicated to their respective sport but that they are also dedicated to making an impact on other people’s lives,” swimming and diving head coach Chuck Knoles said in a release.
The impact the trip had on Kiesel was clear to see for those close to her, particularly McConnell-Serio.
“What a difference it made in her,” said McConnell-Serio, who is entering her second year at the helm for the Panthers. “With the enthusiasm she spoke with about the trip and the children, it sounded like she had the best experience of her life.”
The trip this summer only highlights what the Panthers will be looking for in Kiesel this upcoming 2014-2015 season: leadership. And as McConnell-Serio posits, Kiesel is right where she should be.
“She always leads by example. She’s the first one in the gym and the last one out. I’ve seen her grow a lot [as a leader] over the past year,” McConnell-Serio said. “When she speaks, people will listen, on and off the court.”