Ivana Vlahovic’s Family Lives the American Dream

Ivana Vlahovic’s Family Lives the American Dream

When heading off to college one may think traveling 1,200 miles away from home is a giant step, but for first-generation American Ivana Vlahovic, a sophomore on the Carnegie Mellon University volleyball team, she had support from her parents who traveled over 5,500 miles to begin a new journey.
Vlahovic’s parents are originally from Serbia, but now settle in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, a city located on a barrier island in northeast Miami-Dade County, where she, along with her two elder sisters, Tatiana and Natasha, were raised.  Besides her immediate family, everyone still lives in Serbia.

“My parents move to the United States was very spontaneous,” said Vlahovic.  “My parents had to work for everything they have after visiting the states for a bit.”  

Vlahovic’s parents ran out of money when visiting Miami which in turn caused them to settle there.  With just seven dollars between them, they needed to start working. They parked their car at the tip of South Beach and worked at various restaurants and establishments. When they had enough money saved they continued to move up the coast with the intentions to make it back to New York where they originally began the venture to the United States. Vlahovic’s parents enjoyed Miami so much that they made it as far as Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, and her father opened his own business in Miami Beach.

“They decided to stay in the states after visiting because they knew there were more opportunities for them in America,” Vlahovic said. “They tried getting other family members to move with them, but they were already settled in Serbia.”

Vlahovic’s way to Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon was impacted by a high school math teacher who is an alum of the university.  

“My teacher was always talking about the university and was really gung-ho about it,” said Vlahovic. “Because of this, it struck me to look more into Carnegie Mellon. Also, my older sister, Natasha, attended Emory University and played volleyball for a year there. That also made me more aware that Carnegie Mellon was a very athletically competitive school as well as academically.”

Yet another connection to Carnegie Mellon came via Vlahovic’s oldest sister. Tatiana had just joined the PhD program in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at Carnegie Mellon as Vlahovic began the recruiting process.

“Even though we didn’t plan on attending Carnegie Mellon together, it just worked out that way,” commented Vlahovic.

The sophomore volleyball player was also drawn to Carnegie Mellon because of the reputation of its engineering program. She was always interested in the field, but never had exposure to it in high school; however, she excelled in math and science. The combination of the strong volleyball program, outstanding engineering program, and academic recommendation from a mentor ultimately convinced Vlahovic she found the best fit.

At first, the adjustment moving to Pittsburgh was difficult for Vlahovic. She didn’t know anyone besides her sister, but didn’t really get to see her the first couple months since she was adjusting to college life and juggling her schedule with academics and volleyball.  

“I really didn’t know anyone but I liked that sense of trying to figure everything out,” Vlahovic said.  “It was very hard at first trying to make new friends, but being in the athletic community helped a lot because it was like having an instant family.”

Since her arrival, Vlahovic has fallen in love with Pittsburgh because of the people. She has never been to a city where everyone genuinely is caring and just good people. She always feels welcome wherever she goes.  Vlahovic stated that she is a very big “foodie” and the service is great and food is amazing in Pittsburgh.

“You don’t always find the hospitality in other cities as you do in Pittsburgh. There is also a lot of history and tradition about the city that not everyone realizes,” added Vlahovic. “I love Pittsburgh as a sports town. Pittsburgh is a big city with the small town vibe.”
Sports have been very much a part of the Vlahovic’s life. Their father played for a few junior basketball league teams in Serbia and had they stayed in Serbia he would have tried to play more professionally. All three sisters played volleyball growing up, but Natasha was the one that was more competitive and focused on playing collegiately.  

“By watching her play and seeing what she wanted to do as I was growing up, it made me want the same as her,” said Vlahovic. “Natasha was the one that helped me figure out what position to play in volleyball. After trying different positions I fell in love with the defensive side of the game and really saw myself playing at the next level.”

Vlahovic’s collegiate career is off to an impressive start as she helped the program return to the NCAA tournament as a freshman and play in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Finals as a sophomore, when she tallied 217 digs as a defensive player in all 35 matches.