KINGSTON, R.I. — August 30, 2017 — Aria Mia Loberti’s calm presence, fluid movement and soothing voice belie her frenetic schedule and the intense demands of her academic program at the University of Rhode Island.
Those who take her yoga classes at URI’s Fascitelli Fitness and Wellness Center and other off-campus locations may know only of her command of yoga movement and positioning and her exceptional fitness. They also know she is accompanied by her calm and centered year-and-half old black Labrador retriever, Ingrid, because Loberti is legally blind.
But they probably don’t know that Loberti, a sophomore who takes 19 credits a semester in pursuit of three majors–biology, political science and communication studies–is the first legally blind United Nations Youth Delegate who began her tenure in Feb. 2016. Just last week, she was a delegate at the U.N. International Human Rights Summit, representing the U.S. and women with disabilities. She also continued her work with U.N. Women to develop new activist student organizations on college campuses and strengthen academic research on women with disabilities.
“Ingrid is loving her first trip to the city,” said Loberti, who is still training her guide dog.
And once classes start next week, Loberti will be a teaching assistant in an introductory honors biology class, a biology lab and a URI 101 freshman seminar course.
In February 2016, she was named a U.N. Outstanding Youth for her academic skill, written statements, leadership, public service and contributions to the U.N. And she still has time to teach six yoga classes a week.
“Constant purpose is where I get really happy,” said the Johnston resident. “When I try to step back from it, I don’t feel comfortable. But with Ingrid, I do have to stop and take breaks, which forces me to slow down a little.”
Yoga is another way to take care of herself, serve others and stay on track academically.
Her interest stemmed from a childhood in ballet and recovery from a long-term illness, which had nothing to do with her vision disability. Loberti found that yoga revitalized her, so she completed a 200-hour certification program at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and is now a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance.
“Once I became ill, I couldn’t continue ballet, and yoga became my way back to fitness, “she said.
Physical illness wasn’t the only obstacle Loberti had to overcome. Her mother and father pulled her from the public school system in the third grade because of the school department’s failure to provide accommodations for her disability.
“I was told that there was no point in accommodating my needs in a math setting because ‘What’s a blind girl going to do with math?’ I have written about this experience in many essays. Because of exposure to things like that, and fighting for my rights since I was 7, I really appreciate academics,” Loberti said.
With her mother guiding her, she earned her high school diploma from the Keystone National High School in 2016 with highest honors.
She has enjoyed URI since the moment she arrived, and knew quickly that she wanted to conduct research.
“I was always really drawn to science and politics, but it wasn’t until I dove into communication studies that I discovered the reason I love politics and science is the linguistic aspect of those two disciplines,” Loberti said. “Now I really want to pursue the study of culture, theory, class, rhetoric and how we create our reality through words.”
Consistent with Loberti’s push to make every moment count, she began working with two professors this summer and will continue that work during the school year. As a URI Science and Engineering Fellow working with Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Bryan Dewsbury, she is helping redesign the introductory honors biology course to include quantitative analysis and application. She also has a research assistantship with Associate Professor Adam Roth, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media. She and Roth are writing an article about the contemporary transformation of the higher education system.
Her desire to learn and achieve are a result of things denied or delayed during her young life.
“When things go tremendously wrong, you wonder how you are going to get through them,” Loberti said.
“There is so much more that I can get out of a day than I did before. I learned that I can meet challenges, but I don’t do anything that I do not enjoy, or find fulfilling. I cannot live and thrive without all of this activity, especially school, learning and the desire to share it and to be an advocate. There are so many voices that do not get heard, and I am totally remiss if I don’t use my voice to help others.”
In March, she will make her second trip as U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women: Youth Forum at the U.N. Since August, 2016, she has been a working group member of the U.N. Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women Task Force.
“I don’t want to box myself in. When I was 8, I thought I wanted to be a professional ballerina, join the Air Force, or be an astronaut for NASA, and do not forget Broadway. When I was 3, I wanted to be the president,” she said while barely taking a breath.
“I think there is potential for Ingrid and me to be 1-2 on the ticket, and then we could have our first canine vice president.”