Sometimes, when she needs a quiet place to study, Julia Daniele goes to Atlas.
She’ll sit beneath the big statue in front of Roberts Hall and turn another legal pad into an intricate study guide, complete with arrows. When her right-hand starts to get tired from writing with her lead pencil, she’ll simply look up.
“It’s the subliminal message that gets to me whenever I’m there,” she says. “I’ll be six pages into making a study guide, and I’ll look up and think, ‘He’s holding up the world. Julia, you got this.’”
Julia Daniele, a senior psychology major from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, has been selected as one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of August.
She’s one of 10 assistant resident directors on campus, and she supervises 11 resident assistants, better known as RAs. She didn’t apply. She was selected. HPU officials saw her leadership capabilities up-close when she was an RA herself.
Daniele, a member of two honor societies, has excelled academically. She has participated in research, worked as a peer mentor, tutored a local third-grader and assisted guidance counselors working with elementary school students.
But Daniele wasn’t always that active. She was even mum. When she was younger, she would hardly say two words in class, and she never asked questions. When she was a first-grader, she couldn’t spell the word “Go.”
Daniele felt she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Just like Atlas.
Finding Perseverance in P.A.
As a first-grader, Daniele was constantly frustrated. She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t read chapter books or even read words. So, when she was sitting beside a classmate who could read, she got an idea.
“I’ll give you a box of crayons if you can tell me how to spell the word ‘Go,’” she told him.
He did. But it didn’t ease her frustration. She got frustrated at her teachers, her parents and herself – so much so she threw shoes, books, hair brushes, just anything to let out her anger.
But Daniele’s parents, Anthony and Kathleen, were patient. They were both medical doctors, and they found tutors for their oldest daughter after school.
Her dad, an interventional radiologist, also sat with her at their kitchen table and showed her how to study. He did that for years. Her mom, a professor at a local medical school, gave her constant support to keep her daughter’s spirits up.
“She was like that soft pillow,” Daniele says today. “That whole support system allowed me to feel confident and like I had the potential to do it. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t want to go to school. They allowed me to love school.”
By the time she reached fifth grade, a doctor in Pittsburgh tested her and gave a name to what she wrestled with for years. Daniele had attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, a learning disability that affects the areas of the brain that process language.
“OK, it’s not just me,” she told herself.
Daniele didn’t wilt. She turned countless legal pads into study guides. She also took to her garage, and around the family’s tools and firewood, she taught her two younger sisters, Cece and Alyssa, what she had learned in school.
Her sisters sat on buckets, and Daniele stood in front beside the chalkboard. As she taught her sisters math, Daniele taught herself.
To keep herself focused, Daniele played all kinds of sports. She picked up field hockey as a fifth-grader. She still plays today. She’s the captain of the HPU’s club field hockey team.
She wears No. 7. She always wore No. 7. To her, when she wears No. 7, she knows everything will be OK.
HPU: A Place of Constant Support
Daniele has done more than OK at HPU.
She discovered the university through a family friend, and when she came for a campus visit, she liked the small class sizes, the liberal arts focus and the support system the university had for students with learning disabilities.
And of course, the chance to play club field hockey.
Once she came, her confidence grew. She found psychology. She did so well she was selected for two honor societies, Alpha Lambda Delta, the honor society for freshmen; and Psi Chi, the honor society for psychology majors.
“It felt like something I needed to do because of who I was and what I had been through,” she says of majoring in psychology. “That was a real comfortable feeling.”
Like she did with her sisters in her family’s garage, she took her love for learning and helping others beyond the classroom.
Her sophomore year, she became a peer mentor. She had 16 first-year students. She’d see them two or three times a week, and she talked to them over lunch and sent them text messages saying, “Hey, how did class go?”
Her junior year, she became an RA for York Hall/Point Place community.
This year, when it came time to select assistant resident directors to help supervise the 140 RAs on campus, HPU officials saw Daniele as an obvious choice.
“She has this grace on how she handles her responsibilities,” says Quintin Tucker, an HPU area coordinator who nominated Daniele for the Extraordinary Leader award. “She asks for more and wants to do more outside the scope of her job because she cares about the residents and cares about people.
“And when you find people like that, you want to make sure they’re noticed even if they’re quiet.”
With her education studies minor, she has volunteered at three elementary schools and helped guidance counselors comfort overwrought students. She also tutored her freshman year a third-grader named Zayre. When they first met, Zayre would say no more than six words.
That didn’t last long.
“I am so happy when you come because I get to ask you all my questions,” Zayre has told Daniele.
“I understand,” Daniele has responded. “I didn’t like asking questions either.”
‘The New Me’
After graduation, Daniele plans to go to graduate school for clinical psychology with a focus on children and adolescence.
She wants to help children like Zayre. She discovered that focus from her work at HPU.
And from her past.
When she was a ninth-grader, she stood before 200 students at her school and talked for the first time publicly about her learning disabilities. She spoke for nearly four minutes. She ended her speech this way:
“Dyslexia and attention deficit disorder are not something you overcome. It is something that you live with. You may struggle, but soon after, you may conquer.”
Watch the video, and you hear the camera person sniffling in the background. That’s Daniele’s mom. Ask Daniele about all that, and she’ll mention what happened after she left the podium.
Her mom hugged her and didn’t say a word. She didn’t need to. Daniele knew.
“In a sense,” she says today, “I found the new me.”