Chiara Cala didn’t expect to get real-world, on-screen experience within her first semester studying film at UNLV. That was, however, until The College Tour visited campus last November.
The series was created by an award-winning team to showcase a single college through the stories of its students and alumni, and Chiara took the opportunity to speak up about mental health and wellness while in college.
Now she’s left this experience with a new understanding of both what it takes to be in front of the camera and how to use such opportunities as a platform to advocate for others struggling with mental health.
What are you involved with on campus or in the community?
On campus, I was cast in two of the spring shows for Nevada Conservatory Theater. I also went to the Involvement Fair and had so much fun. I went to almost every booth and talked to everyone. I really want to try the Wine Society and the Disney club.
[Find student organizations in the UNLV Involvement Center]
Outside of school, I am a Disney Princess. I get to play various princesses for kids' birthday parties. I've played Princess Jasmine, Bell, Elsa, Aurora, Maleficent, Mirabal, and Isabella. I’ve played a lot of different characters in the six years I’ve been doing this. Our company works personally with Make a Wish, so we get to do wish reveals and a lot of volunteer work. I just love to volunteer and show up for the kids.
Why was it important for you to be on the series?
Well, I thought my story was a little unique. I felt that I didn't have representation going into college and I was nervous — not knowing what college would be like, knowing that I'm a little bit older, that I also have a mental health disorder and not knowing what resources I might have within the school. Having an outlet to share what I found other than social media is great. I think having a relatable person like myself like speak on that is a lot easier to consume more than some administrator being like, “Here's a paper of all the things that we have to help you.”
What was it like being on camera? Do you have any funny stories filming?
I'm actually a theater major, so I've been taking an acting on camera class, but it was so different from taking the class. There's a a small team, but you have lights in your face, you have color correction, and they follow you around. We filmed in the gym where we ran around the track and the cameraman was literally running backwards. He was telling us about a story where he was running on campus and a bicycle was coming at him and he almost fell. But it was so amazing — everyone was so amazing. I would love to work with that team again if I ever got the chance.
I did get a little bit of anxiety filming as well because it was kind of foreign, but they were so accommodating and kind. They were like, “You know what? Take your time, take a breath, you're doing great.”
How have you learned to overcome some of your struggles with mental health?
I mean, every day is a struggle. You never know what you're going to get, and some days I'll have multiple panic attacks within a day. Sometimes I'll have none.
Taking care of myself physically definitely helps release that energy. I love to do yoga and morning affirmations, as cheesy as they are, I do love to listen to them and reassure myself. Sometimes you need to be reminded that we're enough and we're okay. I think taking care of that positive energy and surrounding yourself with people who are also encouraging and want to help you and do the things that you want to do. During a panic attack I struggle with breathing, so I try to focus on taking slow, deep breaths.
And as I mentioned in The College Tour segment, the campus has incredible facilities with such accommodating people along with the campus, like the gym is amazing. I'm really just glad that I'm here.
[Learn more about UNLV's wellness resources.]
Which university resource do you find most useful?
This is my first semester here and I love to explore. The first day I went to the hospitality building and I went to the fourth floor and somebody was playing a piano with this beautiful skyline view. That's not really a facility, but it was so tranquil and beautiful.
I do love the gym. I love being able to come here early and work out before class to kind of get my mind off things. I attended dog therapy two days ago at the library, which was so cute. It’s amazing that they get to come in and help students go through whatever they need to go through. There are so many great resources.
Do you have any advice for fellow students who also struggle with mental health?
You're not alone. It's so cliché, but there are so many of us. It's good to be open if that's what you need and talk about it. I understand sometimes it takes a lot of courage, but there are resources and people to talk to. Campus, friends, family, whoever you can rely on talking about, it really helps me. If not, then maybe exercising and trying to take a look at what your body is capable of.
How would you describe your time at UNLV?
As someone who went into the workforce first and then went to college, I really appreciate the involvement that UNLV, you know, prioritizes for study. There are resources and free things and events and just fun things to do.
I'm not just secluded within the theater community; but I did find a good home base there. When I started, I felt like a New Girl. But everyone, once I started getting involved, they were so accommodating and incredible. I don't think I’ve met one rude person on campus yet, so it's been so awesome.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
If I'm really being fully honest, it's just being here. In high school I didn't think that I was smart enough to go to college. I was told by multiple adults that I would not succeed and to never apply. So, I'm extremely proud of obtaining my associates and then coming over here. Having confidence and courage that there is hope in tomorrow and you can change your life at any point— I think having that knowledge and being here is the greatest accomplishment I feel that I have.
Do you have any other fun facts?
I own six animals: two dogs, two birds, a chameleon, and a tortoise. My fiance and I bought a home in 2020, so we just like to bring all the misfits in together and love on them.