Student Stories

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

When asked during interviews why they want to do the Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP), many students say they want to make an impact in a marginalized community.  

Emma Horwath, a rising senior majoring in Political Science and Spanish, said in her initial application as a second year student that she wanted to do an SSLP in order to use her skills and education “to help others in struggling circumstances, and find ways to generate opportunities for them.”

Horwath spent eight weeks last summer at Hopeprint in Syracuse, New York, an organization that serves resettled refugees. She lived and worked there, organized meals, directed day and evening programs for children, and mentored high schoolers.

In reflecting on the experience afterwards, Horwath noted how her desire to make an impact had shifted. She remarked that it was the relational aspect she now valued and emphasized, rather than impact. She advised future applicants to be open to all religions and backgrounds, to love the children and people at the site, and to be flexible. While each of her responsibilities at the site had the capacity for making an impact, what struck her most was that the experience allowed her “to grow as both a person and a worker.”

This shift away from seeking to make an impact to seeking to learn often occurs in students participating in service learning experiences. Research shows that immersions like the SSLP impact students in multiple ways rather than the other way around.

For instance, participants in social justice service learning reported personal outcomes such as increased understanding of identity, spiritual growth, moral development, and career discernment. There were social outcomes as well, such as cultural and racial understanding, increased social responsibility, activism, and citizenship skills.

In addition, research reveals a paradox that focusing more on service and less on wealth can sometimes lead to earning more. A study from the University of Georgia finds that students who graduated in 2010 made an average of $4,600 more in the first year of their first full-time job if they had participated in service learning courses while earning their degrees. When compared to those who hadn't taken service learning courses, they also received their first raises more than two and a half months sooner.

Christine Mai ‘19, served last summer at Sr. Maura Brannick Clinic, which provides healthcare services to the unemployed or working poor in South Bend, Indiana. “At Notre Dame, we’re taught to make an impact, to change the world. So we go into our SSLP thinking that’s what we should do,” she says.

Instead, Mai noted that her goal of making an impact shifted after spending eight weeks at the site, much like it did for Horwath. “I didn’t do all the doctoring things I thought I would be doing, but I got to help run the clinic in little ways, and that makes a huge impact in the end.” Moreover, Mai noted that she learned how to listen better, and that her perspective about the people at her site changed a lot. “I knew the stats about this population, but now I know the people, I know their lives. Working there made all the issues really real, and it was the faces and stories that changed that for me.” Mai’s experience at the clinic cemented her desire to pursue medical school and become a physician.

Both Horwath and Mai applied to the SSLP with well-intentioned desires to make an impact at their sites. Instead, in post-immersion conversations, they noted that it was the SSLP experience that impacted them.

Horwath is participating in an SSLP for a second time this summer, and she returned to Hopeprint. In her second SSLP interview, she was asked the same question as last year, “Why do you want to do a SSLP?” Her answer this time points to the significant shift in her approach to service as a result of her first SSLP. “I look forward to strengthening my existing relationships and making new ones. I want to explore themes of human dignity, justice, and faith through the lens of public health,” she said.

As a second time SSLP participant, Horwath’s coursework assists her in delving more deeply into issues of social justice and marginalization by proposing a directed readings project. This time around, Horwath is approaching her work first as an opportunity to grow and learn. She writes, “I want to look at Hopeprint through the a public health lens. I now have a clarity about my long term goals. This includes pursuing a Masters of Public Health after graduation. Gaining any experience I can in that field will set me up for success at the next level.”

Both Horwath’s and Mai’s participation in the SSLP indicate that making an impact and being impacted are not mutually exclusive concepts. Their experiences demonstrate that if a student’s intention is first to be open to being impacted, they may gain the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to subsequently make an impact in the community.

 

Friday, December 8, 2017

When junior Bailey Kendall is asked to describe her Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP) experience in one word, her reply is “inconvenient.” Kendall spent ten weeks in El Paso, Texas, at Annunciation House, an organization that provides shelter to economically poor immigrants and refugees. Kendall commented, “What I mean by ‘inconvenient’ is that I learned how to be there for others, to be inconvenienced, to be ok with not having a schedule, not getting my to do list done, with being hospitable to others at all times.” Kendall was surprised how many stories she was privileged to hear when she took this attitude of presence. She has taken the stance to Athens, Greece, where she is studying abroad this semester, and where she also volunteers at a refugee camp. “When you ask questions and just listen, you hear the most amazing things from people.”

Neuroscience and Behavior major Grace Seibert spent the summer at Luke House, a community meal program that provides noon-time and evening meals to the poor in Madison, Wisconsin. “I thought I’d leave my SSLP when I clocked out of the shelter at the end of the day, but I was surprised by the fact that I took it home with me every night. I ended up talking about it with my family at the dinner table, and with my friends when I went out with them.” Seibert perceived solidarity and connection with the people she served. “I saw how alike we all are. And I didn’t get this from doing a whole lot. I was surprised that doing good work doesn’t involve being busy. It involves listening, being present, not getting a big to do list done.” Seibert is studying in Puebla, Mexico this semester and she practices the mindset of presence there as well. “I would never have had the experiences I’ve had here in Mexico without the SSLP and how it taught me to be aware and present for this once in a lifetime opportunity.”

It wasn’t the people at his SSLP site that surprised Kevin Lee, a Neuroscience and Behavior major. Instead, as he puts it, “I was amazed by the Notre Dame alumni families who took me to dinner, invited me to events, hosted me in their homes. That’s a unique part of the SSLP that I’ve told my friends they can’t get with a regular internship.” Lee has applied to do a second SSLP this summer, and he looks forward to the ways he can give back by being present for others. “Before my SSLP started, I was nervous about living with families I didn’t know, but it turned out to be the best experience. They treated me with respect, as an equal, I was made part of a bigger thing, and I now know how to do that for others.”

Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., author of Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, emphasizes the importance of situating ourselves wholly in the present moment because it inspires personal growth and connection with others. “We need to find ways to practice dwelling in the present moment. We need to find ways to establish ourselves in the here and now. If your anchor is not centered in today, then you’ll blink and miss the delight of this very moment, which is always with us and is the perfect teacher.” An attitude of presence can bring about all kinds of gifts, notes Boyle. Not only does it create a better understanding of solidarity, of suffering, of a wider community, Boyle also believes it bridges the distance between direct service and structural change. “I have learned that it’s never about ‘saying’ very much at all, but rather, receiving, listening, and valuing people until they come out with their hands up--feeling, for the perhaps the first time, valuable. Receiving them and allowing yourself to be reached by them is all that’s asked of us. Wage peace by listening.”

When you listen to others and live in the moment, “you learn to love the person right in front of you,” says Holy Cross College senior Ruby Briones, who spent her summer at Andre House in Phoenix, Arizona. Andre House provides assistance to the chronically and transitionally homeless. “I was surprised by the moments when I realized I was actually witnessing some of the scripture verses I’ve read--it was happening right in front of me.” Briones remarked that her SSLP experience led to a greater understanding of suffering, and disabused her of a romanticized notion of kinship.

The SSLP students were not surprised by their ability to dwell in the present moment—they were surprised by what happened when they did that for eight immersive weeks. Briones sees the SSLP as a valuable opportunity to receive the gifts of living in the here and now. “I would tell everyone to do a SSLP in order to experience what’s missing in their lives, and to know what it is to be human.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Rome is the epicenter of the Catholic Church, but there is much more to the Eternal City than papal authority and Baroque architecture. It has many of the same problems that cities face the world over. East of the Vatican lies Termini railway station. Here, the train tracks end. So does the hope of the refugee.

Each morning this summer, I have walked beside these tracks to my job at Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. Middle Eastern and African men, lying atop cardboard sleeping mats and beneath ancient aqueducts, line my commute. They watch me as I walk by.

At the center, I teach English in a small classroom beneath St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church and converse daily with refugees, most of whom come for the hard-boiled eggs and ping-pong tournaments. Some kneel towards Mecca in the early afternoon. Others gather near a cross made of refugee boat wood salvaged from the Mediterranean. All are searching for work in a country that offers little. The doors close before sundown, and visitors return to their sidewalk dwellings at Termini.

I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, home to the largest South Sudanese refugee population outside Africa. When I was a teenager, my dad took me downtown to talk with people who were living on the streets. In conversation with those on the periphery of my Omaha community, I noticed a deep joy within myself, one that has evolved and enlivened as I’ve explored my interests in college.

Last summer, after finishing my freshman year at Notre Dame, I returned to Omaha to work eight weeks at my local homeless shelter through the Center for Social Concerns. Faces I had seen years earlier with my dad moved me, and I decided to use my opportunities at Notre Dame to go forth and meet other displaced peoples around the globe. During my sophomore year, I visited the United States-Mexico border, Salzburg, Austria, and the Italian island of Lampedusa, where I met many migrants and refugees whose suffering is too often forgotten in our world.

My travels began with a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border over winter break with a group led by Leo Guardado, a Notre Dame doctoral student in theology and peace studies. Our meetings with United States border patrol officers and humanitarians highlighted the week, but none moved me more than the stories of the migrants themselves.

One man told how he had fled gang violence in El Salvador, a country the U.S. media often dubs “the murder capital of the world.” After weeks traveling north through Mexico on foot and hidden inside farm trucks, his “coyote,” or guide, led him to group of armed men at the U.S. border. Pointing toward four bodies lying on the ground nearby, the group’s leader said to him, “Join them, or carry these bundles.” This kind of burden is often forced upon migrants at the border.

When drug trafficking is not threatening their lives, the Sonoran Desert is. Water is scarce in those beautiful panoramas. Dehydration kills hundreds of people each year.

In response, humanitarian groups like Samaritans and No More Deaths hike for miles in the heat to drop water jugs along remote trails. The U.S. Border Patrol, arguing that this water lures migrants, responds by slashing these water supplies. Local white supremacists, motivated by something other than national security, unofficially lend their hands to this effort. It is war at the border, and the weapons used are water jugs and the machetes that slice them.

After these local and national experiences, I set out to meet the displaced in other parts of the world. During spring break, I joined another group of students visiting Salzburg, Austria, with Notre Dame social ethicist Clemens Sedmak. Best known to many Americans as the setting of The Sound of Music and the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg is now home to over 4,000 Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees. One of them is Ahyan, a 23-year-old fine arts student from the University of Baghdad.

Abducted by ISIS militants from his home in Mosul, Iraq, Ahyan was ordered to fight for the terrorist organization. Choosing instead to flee, he escaped west into Syria, then Turkey. He crossed the Mediterranean Sea by boat to Greece and eventually made his way to Austria — “the only place,” he says, “where the police don’t hit us.”

These days, Ahyan fights his painful memories with boundless optimism, finding peace in his art. Inspired by the Austrian Alps, he paints the landscapes he sees around him every day.

Yet horrific memories continue to haunt refugees like Ahyan. One man showed me the room where he sleeps at a Red Cross camp. He keeps the blinds closed because the same views that inspire Ahyan remind him of the bodies he saw in the mountains of Eastern Europe. Another young man tightened up as he recalled the mass suffocation he barely survived in a human-trafficking truck, a disaster that claimed the lives of dozens of his friends. A third refugee, his voice quivering, expressed concern for his wife whom he’d left behind in Iraq. He had not heard from her in months.

Europe’s version of the Sonoran Desert is the Mediterranean Sea that separates Europe and north Africa. Refugee boat routes resemble migrant trails. Small islands function as border checkpoints. One of these is the tiny island of Lampedusa.

Lying about halfway between Libya and Sicily, Lampedusa has been a Mediterranean crossroads since ancient times. Greeks and Romans frequented the island to refill their hulls with fresh water, rabbit meat and wild herbs. Today, the island attracts other kinds of wayfarers. Tourists come to visit Lampedusa’s clear-water beaches. Refugees come to escape the terrors of Middle Eastern and north African societies.

Earlier this summer, I traveled by myself to Lampedusa, where Professor Ilaria Schnyder von Wartensee of Notre Dame’s Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity introduced me to refugees from Gambia, Mali, Afghanistan, Liberia, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone. I listened to their hopes of becoming doctors and engineers, teachers and writers, mothers and fathers. Their optimism contrasted starkly with the despair I now see in Rome every day. The Lampedusan refugees do not yet know the cardboard dwellings I walk past every morning at Termini.

But all is far from idyllic for these refugees, even on Lampedusa. The alluring blue waters that surround it have attracted international concern. Some 400,000 migrants have landed on the island in the last two decades. Thousands more have drowned when their overcrowded boats or leaky rafts capsized or sank near its shores. The International Organization for Migration has called the central Mediterranean “the deadliest migration route in the world.” Pope Francis called attention to it when he visited the island in July 2013.

Standing behind an altar constructed of wood from a refugee boat, Francis said the human costs of the migration had become “a painful thorn” in his heart. “So I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness,” he continued, “but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated!”

Four months after the pope’s visit, the tragedy did indeed repeat itself. A boat carrying nearly 500 refugees capsized off Lampedusa, adding 359 people to the estimated 15 to 20 thousand who, according to the IOM, have died along this route since the year 2014.

Wrecked refugee boats are often towed to the shores of Lampedusa. Here, an Italian carpenter uses salvaged wood to create sacred chalices. One of these belongs to Pope Francis, another to Father Dan Groody, CSC, ’86, ’92M.Div., a Notre Dame theologian and international authority on immigration and globalization. I received a cross from that same carpenter during my visit. It hangs around my neck as a constant reminder of the suffering and forgotten displaced people in our world.

Pope Francis warns us against “the globalization of indifference”, an apathy toward suffering that he perceives permeating society today. Before these encounters with migrants and refugees from Omaha to Rome, I too was indifferent. Christ’s words, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me,” held no meaning. But my experiences this year have globalized my encounter with human suffering, converting it into a concern for these migrants and refugees. If Thomas the Apostle, my namesake, needed to put his fingers in Jesus’ wounds in order to believe in him, then I needed to put my fingers into the wounds of humanity. We share the same resounding realization, “My Lord and my God!”

I will return to Italy in the spring and summer of 2018 to participate in the International Scholars Program at Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway. The curriculum I created for myself includes an Introduction to the Quran course at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, an internship with Jesuit Refugee Services and a research project that ties Notre Dame theologians to my work with refugees in Rome.

Back at Termini, a homeless man I have spoken with all summer says, “Tell USA no more sending to Afghanistan” and hands me a toy fighter jet. He says he lost his daughter to a U.S. military strike years ago that forced him to flee his home in search of a new life in Europe. He now lives separated from family and unemployed on the streets of Rome.

I don’t know how to respond to the gift from this suffering man, but I find meaning in our interaction and others like it. The ancient Greeks’ word for the bringing together of discrete entities gives us the English word “symbolic.” In this sense, the word describes this encounter of two people who once were strangers. The Greeks also gave us a related word: “diabolic.” It means “to separate and scatter.” Avoiding the stranger is diabolic. It divides me from my brother.

At summer’s end, I return to Notre Dame for my junior year with a toy fighter jet in hand and a vision of global change in my mind.

Thomas Doran is a junior studying theology with a minor concentration in philosophy, science, and mathematics and a minor in Catholic social tradition. His summer in Italy was funded by Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.

 

Monday, June 19, 2017

While Notre Dame students study abroad in Dublin during their junior year, they have the option to learn and serve with local community organizations through a collaboration with the Center for Social Concerns. Community-based learning (CBL) placements with at-risk youth, people experiencing homelessness, the elderly, and refugees afford students weekly opportunity to encounter and build relationships with Irish youth and adults and other residents of Dublin. 

The integration of these experiences with the Introduction to Ireland course taught by Professor Kevin Whelan, director of the Notre Dame Dublin Global Gateway, are facilitated by regular journal prompts and discussion with onsite staff.  Students in the program write six journal entries during the semester in which they reflect on their experiences. In the final journal entry they address the theme of displacement in response to a reading taken from the book Compassion co-written by Fr. Don McNeill, CSC, founding director of the Center for Social Concerns.

Rising senior Hayley Hofmann, a math and sociology major with an international development minor, describes her experience this way. “I think what makes CBL particularly special is the extra stage of displacement that it forces us to take. Not only are we displaced as American students studying in Ireland, but through CBL we have the opportunity to interact with different aspects of Irish society and people ingrained therein that we otherwise would not have had the opportunity to (meet).  I’ve met some wonderful people – coworkers and children alike – and I really feel like I developed genuine relationships with them even though our time working together was so fleeting. These relationships were the defining element of my time with Foundations (an organization serving the needs of homeless families), and from their progression I can most definitely understand the changes I’ve seen in myself and in my experience as a whole.”

The opportunity for relationship through this additional displacement within study abroad is a cornerstone of the program. Annie Richelsen, who studies marketing and international peace studies, writes that “sometimes we forget that although we come from very different places, cultures, religions, and countries in the world, we are still all human and experience the some growing pains as life goes on.” 

Susan Zhu, a political science and chemistry major, echoes this in her reflection: “The mission statement and goals of Don Bosco, aligned perfectly with the idea of finding solidarity with the brokenness of fellow human beings. It provides a home and a safe space for at-risk young men – a cohort of society that is often overlooked and forgotten. It seems easy to assume that young men cannot be vulnerable in the same way that unmarried mothers or orphaned children are, but that would be unfair.  Displacement calls for the awareness of a shared existence with the broken and struggling because we are all broken and struggling.”

This program, which moves students beyond what Fr. McNeill and his co-authors call “the ordinary and proper” place during the study abroad semester, creates the conditions for Notre Dame students to take the perspective of those they would not have encountered in a classroom setting. 

Annie Roble, a biological sciences major, describes learning to appreciate an element of the Irish culture in a particular way while working with at-risk youth in an afterschool program.  “If you really care about something, you should make your voice heard, even if you’re just speaking one-on-one to someone and have something you really want them to know. I think the Irish tendency to be brutally honest, especially in children, really rubbed off on me and made me see that keeping important opinions or thoughts to yourself won’t help anybody.”

Derek Meyer, a member of Navy ROTC who studies math and actuary sciences, in writing about his placement with refugee youth describes his shift in thinking this way: “in the ever globalizing world, the experience of living in a foreign country will help me to value the cultures and viewpoints non-Americans can bring to solve world problems.  While living in the United States, I did not really appreciate the burdens on families that were forced from their homes due to fighting in the Middle East. I never stopped to think about what it would look like for a refugee family trying to set up lives in a new country.”

These new perspectives will will continue to impact these students long after leaving Ireland.  Annie Roble expects to reshape her involvement in a mentoring club at Notre Dame. “I’m most excited about applying what I’ve learned at Solas (an afterschool youth program) to my volunteer work with College Mentors for Kids…I’m hoping to approach CMK next semester with a renewed sense of motivation to make the club a more involved and welcoming place for the kids to look forward to, just as the kids at Solas do.” 

Susan Zhu gained new insight toward her intended career choice in the nonprofit field.  “It is not all rescuing starving children or carrying dogs out of burning buildings. It is a lot of sitting at computers, stressing over budgets, ordering twenty first-aid kits, eating two ham sandwiches at lunch and learning the nuances of homemade jam. I plan to go into public health after graduation and have always wanted to work for a nonprofit, and this semester has been important in showing me that the behind-the-scenes work, although not always exciting, is just as vital as the sexy frontlines work.”

Annie Richelsen summarizes her take-away lesson from community-based learning in creative writing program this way: “to understand a culture, you must assimilate, or in this case voluntarily displace, yourself in it. I would have had such a different experience if I would have not volunteered every week because I got to meet so many Irish people from the ages of 12 to 65 who shared with me little pieces of their life and culture that I will keep with me forever.”

Students write their final papers for Professor Whelan’s class on themes related to their CBL placements and are invited to consider future independent research based on those topics.  Upon return to campus, they participate in a re-entry session hosted by the Center for Social Concerns staff and are included in the preparation of future cohorts of Dublin study abroad students engaged in community-based learning.

Contact: Rosie McDowell, rriordan@nd.edu, or Eimear Clowry Delaney, eimear.clowry.1@nd.edu

Sophomore Prathm Juneja gains insights into civic discourse at College Debate 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Many Americans have expressed their displeasure at the ugly tone of this year’s unusual presidential election. Prathm Juneja, a University of Notre Dame sophomore studying political science and computer science, and his peers have been working to counteract this tone by encouraging civic discourse at their universities.

Juneja applied and was accepted to participate in College Debate 2016, a nonpartisan initiative that seeks to empower younger citizens in the electoral process. The first-of-its-kind initiative was created by Dominican University of California, a Voter Education Partner of the Commission on Presidential Debates. College Debate 2016 drew on technology and social media to generate discussion of issues important to students and to bring those issues to the attention of the moderators of the presidential debates. The focus was on promoting civil discourse, understanding responsible digital citizenry, and avoiding stereotypes and assumptions while focusing on issues rather than party politics.

Juneja and his 124 fellow College Debate delegates gathered on the Dominican campus in June for a planning and training session.

“At the June event, all of the students had the opportunity to meet for a few days, hear some amazing lectures on civic engagement, discourse and social media, and discuss how we planned on engaging our own student bodies,” Juneja said.

The delegates reconvened at Dominican shortly before the presidential debates began for the 2016 College Convention. The convention culminated with a 90-minute moderated town hall meeting.

“When we got to the town hall, we already knew each other and were able to quickly get to work,” Juneja said. “The premise of the town hall was simple: students, representing schools from across the country, sharing the issues that matter to them most in this election, and the questions they hope the candidates are asked. It truly was an incredible experience. I had the opportunity to spend a few days with some really motivated students, share my own political story in front of millions of viewers on ABC Digital and MTV-U, and discuss politics, both in terms of our own political views and also in terms of our aspirations to bring civic engagement to our college campuses.”

The convention also gave Juneja an opportunity to gauge the direction his peers are leaning leading into the presidential election.

“Obviously, I didn’t have a chance to speak to every delegate, but the information I received closely reflected what one would expect from college-educated millennials,” he said. “Most of the delegates were planning to vote for Secretary Hillary Clinton, or at least leaning toward voting for her, as they were still upset about Sen. Bernie Sanders’ primary loss. That’s not to say there weren’t supporters of the other candidates there; in fact, there were a decent amount of Trump supporters, and many of those delegates were incredibly involved in the campaign and were quite outspoken about their beliefs. There were also a few delegates considering Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, which makes sense given Johnson’s large percentage of support among the youth. Overall, while the support definitely leaned toward Clinton, there was an incredible diversity of views at the town hall, which gave way to some influential political discussions.”

Fresh off his College Debate experience, Juneja is looking to impact the way students have civic discourse at Notre Dame. He is a member of the NDVotes ’16 Take Force and director of National Engagement and Outreach for Notre Dame Student Government. NDVotes is a nonpartisan campaign of the Center for Social Concerns and the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy to promote voter education, registration and mobilization. The group fosters engagement in political and civic life among students.

“Student government is by far one of the best mediums through which we can create change at this University, and through National Engagement and Outreach, I and the members of my department hope to make our impact by changing the way we have civic discourse at the University,” Juneja said. “Whether that means having events such a mock debate and mock election, to really spark conversations between students who don’t talk politics as often as we should, or whether it means hosting the New York Times economic reporter Binyamin Appelbaum to bring another perspective to politics, our goal for this semester is to really impact the student body in a manner that gets them excited about politics.”

Juneja notes that as a dual-degree computer science and political science student, he has passions for both innovation and reform.

“I see both my majors as means toward the same end of making a difference,” he said. “Whether that means a pathway that involves technological entrepreneurship or political policy work, I know I want to do all that I can to help serve as many people as I can.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Notre Dame sophomore, Prathm Juneja was recently named a panelist for the Town Hall meeting of student delegates at College Debate 2016, a non-partisan initiative that seeks to empower younger citizens in the electoral process. Delegates are college students from across the country tasked with identifying key issues and questions that younger voters would like to see addressed by the presidential candidates.

In the Town Hall on Wednesday, September 7, Dr. Sybril Brown moderated a caucus of the delegates who determined the final questions they want candidates to respond to during the presidential debates in September and October. Elected from among 125 college students participating in the conference, Juneja spoke on the importance of the economy and the election.

During the Town Hall, Juneja asked how the candidates would restructure governmental assistance programs for the unemployed and impoverished to help them obtain self-sufficiency. That question was chosen for submission to the Commission on Presidential Debates for possible inclusion in a presidential debate this fall.

A political science and computer science major from Edison, New Jersey, Juneja is a member of the NDVotes '16 Task Force and director of national engagement and outreach for Notre Dame Student Government.

NDVotes is a non-partisan campaign of the Center for Social Concerns and the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy to promote voter education, registration, and mobilization. The group fosters conscientious engagement in political and civic life among students. Throughout this election season, NDVotes will offer educational events for the campus community and voter registration assistance through TurboVote, an online voter registration service created by Democracy Works.

For more information, contact: Rosie McDowell or Christina Wolbrecht

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

During the upcoming week there will be a series of events in Rome celebrating the canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa on Sunday, September 4. Masses, prayers, vigils, exhibitions, and a musical will be devoted to the Albanian religious sister who established the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India in 1950.

The International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) at the Center for Social Concerns has worked with the Missionaries of Charity since 2001. Each summer ISSLP students participate in eight-week immersions that focus on Catholic social tradition, social analysis, and the corporal works of mercy.

Students who participate in the ISSLP are required to do either a final paper or art project in which they reflect on their experience. The painting below was the final project of Steven Fisher, ’16 and is offered here in celebration of Blessed Mother Teresa’s canonization.

 

Madonna and Child: Kolkata, India 

Steven Fisher (2014) 

Burlap, oils, paper, gold leaf

Artist Statement

The painting Madonna and Child: Kolkata, India serves as a disclosure of my experience and a mode of expression of my spiritual growth during the summer in Kolkata, India with the Missionaries of Charity. More than personal reflection, however, Madonna and Child: Kolkata, India conveys the beauty of the Divine and Mother in Christian tradition within the cultural context of West Bengal. The representation emerged from the witness of the poor, the Missionaries of Charity, fellow volunteers, and the legacy of Blessed Mother Teresa.     

To portray the Virgin Mary as an ethnically Bengali woman constitutes a deliberate choice to deviate from dominant Western representations of Mary that picture her with a Caucasian complexion and traditional veil. Her sari, constructed from collected tickets from Kolkata public bus stops, envelops her silent posture in motion and texture. I did not paint Mary with the intention to force an emotional response. With  Mughal art in mind—particularly the work of Indian painter Amrita Sher-Gill—I tried to create a portrait that is not expressive of Mary’s feelings, but instead communicates the virtues of compassion, fortitude, and love. Mary’s nose is pierced and a bangle further creates a Bengali identity that contributes to the diverse portrayals of Mary in art history. To forge a sacred image within a particular culture allows me to communicate a broader understanding of Mary that brings together a faith tradition, local experience, and theology. The result is a picture that reclaims the diversity of Mary’s image as a source of vitality.

To serve with the Missionaries of Charity in the Mother House, at Daya Dan, and at Nirmal Hriday as an artist helped me craft an understanding of myself, my vocation, and my mission to share in the work of Christ. In the city of Kolkata, stopping ay a Pauline Bookstore, I came across a battered blue booklet labeled “To Artists,” written by St. John Paul II in 1999. It was only 15 rupees. I bought and started reading it during Adoration. It was a letter, the Saint explained, to inform the artist that, in “giving aesthetic form to ideas conceived in the mind,” the artist gains “a new dimension and an exceptional mode of expression for his spiritual growth.” Through her work, the artist speaks with others and enables them to know their inner life as they contribute to beauty. I thought, as I read these words, “That is why I draw and paint.”

With that spirit I continued to draw for the residence homes and paint for the Missionaries of Charity. During that time I articulated the vision for Madonna and Child: Kolkata, India, enabling a reflective process during its creation. The double portrait is the spirituality written in images and color. Soaking the terrain of the burlap canvas with ochre, vermillion, and umber oils evoked the sensory diversity of Kolkata; cementing the crinkled bus tickets refreshed the daily trip to Nirmal Hriday; and crowning Mary and Christ with gold leaf reflected the transition from the ordinary to the sacred, the ability to discern a dimension of Christ in the everyday. And it is in that spirit that I hope the space around this piece will become a place of prayer and beauty.

 

She Applied Anyway - One Engineer’s Journey from Ecuador, to Notre Dame, to Nicaragua

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Daniela Lugo Romero (class of 2018, civil engineering) was born and raised in Ecuador, a place she describes as a small country with an incredible amount of cultural and natural richness. She was raised with two sisters, aged fifteen and three, and a large extended family who would gather together weekly—30 people meeting up every weekend.

Daniela grew up surrounded by her Catholic family and a strong sense of faith.

“Ecuador is a traditionally Catholic country,” Daniela explained, “but in my family it was definitely practiced. They taught me very strong values and a sense of responsibility, and that is something that I try to carry with me all the time.”

While her family is full of lawyers, and many expected Daniela to follow the same path, she was always interested in construction and civil engineering. She did intern at a law firm, but it was her experience as an intern at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development that helped solidify her path.

During her internship, she was able to observe how infrastructure was a key part of people’s lives and could affect people for better or worse. It was something that could be addressed immediately to improve lives of the people in her country. The sense of social justice that her family was able to advocate for as lawyers, Daniela believed she could advocate for through buildings.

“In a country with a lot of political instability, like Ecuador, politicians promise reforms and you ultimately get nothing,” Daniela explained. “With infrastructure, it’s like a tangible way of assessing people’s needs.”

She volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in Ecuador and saw firsthand how infrastructure could affect people. She learned that it was difficult to be working on site—difficult to be taken seriously as a high schooler and a woman in construction, difficult to perform the demanding physical labor throughout the day, difficult to simply perform a job and leave without having the community deeply involved. But she left not only a house that she helped build, but a home for a family that needed one. And she left with even more passion to follow her dreams.

“I saw how much impact some concrete could have on people. It was their house. It was their home. I was even more motivated because I saw that infrastructure was beyond the physical dimension. It could become something so dear to people. So I started looking for opportunities to do this in college. To continue with these same types of projects,” Daniela explained.

As she continued to explore her options for her future after high school, she learned of Notre Dame.

“I didn’t know much about it, but I started researching it, and fell in love with the university. It was everything I was looking for. From academics, to spirituality, to a sense of community and sports. It was my dream school,” Daniela described.

The economics of moving to a new country for school, plus having a father sick with multiple sclerosis, and a sister born when Daniela was a junior, made Notre Dame seem like an impossible dream. Her college counselor even told her not to apply, as there was no way she would get the financial assistance she needed.

She applied anyway. Then she began to wait.

The same week she received her acceptance from Notre Dame, she also received an acceptance letter from another university, ranked number one in the USA at that time. Everyone assumed Daniela was choosing the latter.

Then Daniela had the opportunity to attend the Hesburgh International Scholars Experience (HISE) at Notre Dame, a campus visit program that provides international students, mostly from Latin America,  the opportunity to experience Notre Dame’s campus over five days.  She attended classes, met with future professors, stayed in a residence hall, and experienced the Notre Dame family

“The moment I visited ND, I felt completely at home, ” Daniela said. “Not only were the people super nice and welcoming, but it was also a very peaceful place. From all the meetings with faculty and information sessions, I got a strong sense of service related to academics, even in engineering, which is sometimes hard to find. I realized ND is one of those places where engineering is taught with a focus on human dignity and service.”

Being on campus gave Daniela a renewed sense of belonging at Notre Dame. Through programs she learned about during HISE, such as NDSEED (Notre Dame Students Empowering Through Engineering Development) and Engineering2Empower, it became more obvious to Daniela that she would return to campus as a student.

“The other university I was accepted to might be perceived as the perfect university by many people. Notre Dame was the perfect university for me,” reflected Daniela.

She told her family her decision when she returned home. HISE had given her a greater awareness about the world outside of Ecuador and how much there is to be done. She knew it would be hard spending four years in a foreign country, missing out on her sisters growing up. Daniela knew she was doing it for a reason.

“I want them to enjoy a better future, a better Ecuador, a better world. I want to contribute my little grain of sand to that,” said Daniela.

So she boarded a plane and flew from Quito to South Bend, a week before classes started in 2014. Her HISE friends and the strong Latino community she had come to know made the transition smooth, and she never felt out of place at Notre Dame.

“I realized that although all of the students are from very different places, and very different contexts, students here have really strong values. It reaffirmed that I had made the right choice in coming to Notre Dame. People might be from a different country, but they have the same sense of caring and respect for everyone,” Daniela said.

As Daniela began her studies, she searched for ways to connect with that culture of service in engineering she had been exposed to at HISE. She reconnected with NDSEED, an undergraduate student chapter of the NGO Bridges to Prosperity, which builds pedestrian bridges in the developing world. Daniela learned that this was a unique group on campus—new members for the chapter are chosen through an application process conducted by current members. Her friends in engineering said it would be hard to get in, and very hard if she did get in.

She applied anyway. Daniela was accepted to be part of the summer traveling team and to be in the Engineering for International Development course during the Fall and Spring of her sophomore year.

Daniela and her colleagues began preparing for a summer 2016 trip to build a bridge in a Nicaragua. They started off in September 2015 by attending the Bridges to Prosperity Conference in Colorado.

Throughout the academic year, NDSEED members are expected to fundraise for travel and supplies. Daniela and her team all applied for grants from the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) and the College of Engineering, and they were awarded funds to attend the conference.

While Daniela attended many technical and hands-on workshops on bridge building in Colorado, she also chose to attend sessions that addressed the the social side of bridge building: Community Impact Assessment, the Empowerment Model, and alumni talks from prior student engineers. She was exposed to a network of professionals dedicated to international development through infrastructure, and she became even more committed to doing her best work on this team.

In order to take advantage of the experience that Nicaragua would provide, Daniela and some of the NDSEED members chose to enroll in the International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP), which includes the Global Issues Seminar through the Center for Social Concerns.

“During that class, we had to do a lot of readings about basic human rights, preferential option for the poor, social justice all these other aspects of service that we didn't have exposure to through our engineering classes. One of the topics that caught my mind a lot was Catholic Social Teaching, because I realized that the minor ties together the different dimensions of my life goals—the spiritual part, as well as the human and professional parts. I added it as a minor. It helps me find a greater meaning behind my major,” Daniela explained.

As coursework and planning continued, the NDSEED members began a letter-writing campaign to help raise additional funds to send the team to Nicaragua that summer. Each student sent letters to their friends and family asking them to support the team in their fundraising efforts. Daniela watched as her classmates mailed out letters and received donations.

“There’s a very strong culture of donating to projects like this in America, and that doesn’t happen in Ecuador. My letter-writing was unsuccessful, and I felt like I was being a burden on the team,” said Daniela.

Then Daniela remembered her experience with CUSE from the conference in September. She had attended the Center’s grant-writing workshops and met with its advisors in the process of applying for her Conference Attendance grant. She returned to her CUSE emails and the website to see if there was anything more she could do.

She learned about the CUSE Eagan Fellowship, which is an opportunity to earn $5,000 to fund a summer project. Projects have to be academically grounded, supported by faculty, and offer a springboard for future intellectual engagement. The award specifically targets underrepresented students on campus who can demonstrate financial need.

Daniela began working with her faculty mentor, Dr. Tracy Kijewski-Correa, on her grant proposal. Dr. Kijewski-Correa is heavily involved in NDSEED and was able to help Daniela focus her research question and outline her methodology.

She then met with Dr. Yvonne Mikuljan, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Research at CUSE, to work through her proposal writing. She took the time to learn the processes and procedures of grant writing through the CUSE office, and she continued to refine her proposal. Dr. Mikuljan warned her that the process would continue to be difficult and was very competitive.

She applied anyway. 

“In Ecuador, at my school, I was always at the top. If I applied for something, I knew I had a decent chance of getting it. At Notre Dame, I found myself surrounded by extremely passionate and qualified people. I didn’t think I had a chance,” said Daniela.

She received word several weeks after applying that she had been selected as 2016’s only Eagan Fellow.

“I was at my job in the Bond computer lab, so it was completely silent. I ran toward the sophomore Architecture studio in the middle of their class time and told my friend, who had helped me with my proposal. As soon as my shift was over, I called my parents. They were ecstatic. I went down to the grotto and lit a candle in thanksgiving, not only for the Eagan, but because I knew that in spite of what everyone may have thought, I made the right decision by attending Notre Dame,” said Daniela.

Daniela had spent two semesters going to classes, attending weekly planning meetings, and participating in construction workshops on cold winter weekends. It was finally time for the team to head to Nicaragua. They would be helping build a bridge across a river in Terrero Sur, a rural community in northern Nicaragua.

Each member of the team had a specific role on site. Daniela was the construction manager. With help from other team members, she had to take all that she learned about the stages of the construction process and develop a schedule and implement it on site. This involved coordinating materials, tools, time, and people.

She was also one of the two native Spanish speakers in her team. Because of this, she was in charge of communicating between the ND team members, the community members, and the Bridges2Prosperity foreman.

“It was very delicate. I had to make sure not to offend any party, and still get things done with the highest standards possible,” said Daniela.

Due to different circumstances, there were several times where she was the only Spanish speaker on site. Because of her communication skills, Daniela also took over logistics, like getting food and laundry for the team. She coordinated local deliveries and spoke with the municipality representatives regarding the project.

Her team from ND had a hard time adjusting to local conditions in Nicaragua. Many of them got sick, and that left Daniela coordinating hospital visits and operating a construction site that had fewer workers than scheduled.

“As a team, we became very strong,” Daniela said. “We had to find a way to take care of each other as a family, take over the responsibilities of whomever was sick or overwhelmed.”

Daniela and her team worked steadily over the course of two months. The 52-meter bridge they were constructing traversed a river that kept the main community cut off from the road, agricultural fields, and neighboring towns during floods.

“It even happened while we were there. One night, it wouldn’t stop raining, and the next day we couldn’t cross to the other side to work because the river was so high. And that was just one night of raining, and it wasn’t even the worst part of the winter. So we experienced first-hand what the need in the community was,” Daniela said.

Working side-by-side with the community, they completed the bridge to specification and changed the lives of many people in Terrero Sur.

“This project helped me realize how capable we are of actually creating something that will improve other people’s lives. It made all the past and future sleepless nights of studying for engineering tests worth it. It took a year of preparation and 8 weeks to actually build the bridge. However, during those 8 weeks we were also able to help a community believe in themselves. In Nicaragua I experienced firsthand how much there still is to be done in terms of international development and was reassured on the fact that people don’t just need our aid; they need us to be tools to show them how to make the best use of their potential,” Daniela said.

Daniela’s next adventure has landed her in Australia for a Fall 2016 study abroad semester through Notre Dame International. She continues to work on her civil engineering courses, and she is enrolled in a graduate level course titled “Conservation of Cultural Landscapes, Historic Towns, and Urban Precincts” to begin to learn more about placing civil engineering in a cultural context.

Moving forward, Daniela hopes to continue her involvement with NDSEED, helping the next team throughout this year and being involved as an alumna. She wants to continue working with Dr. Kijewski-Correa, who has plans this upcoming year to conduct research in Daniela’s home country of Ecuador.

Since the earthquake in Ecuador in April 2016, Daniela is even more committed to using her talents to help rebuild her own country.

“The best way I can help right now is by gaining as much experience from countries that have better technology and platforms to handle different issues related to infrastructure,” Daniela explained.

She hopes she can attend graduate school in the future, where she would like to study something in the fields of international development, anti-seismic structures, disaster relief and resilience, and/or urban planning and conservation. When asked what she’d share with people considering following a similar path, Daniela said, “I would tell them that my summer in Nicaragua was one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences in my life. It’s not the kind of thing you can do without an open mind and heart. You might have a passion for infrastructure or service from the beginning, but the only way to maintain it is by interacting with the people around you. Share with your teammates, share with the community. It may sound clichéd, but there is actually a lot more that you will learn from them than the other way around.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

First year student Prathm Juneja has been selected to represent Notre Dame as a delegate to College Debate 2016, a group of 125 students who will participate in a national, student-led conversation about issues important to college students. Students were recruited by Dominican University of California, a Voter Education Partner for the Commission on Presidential Debates, of which Notre Dame President, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. is a member. The purpose of College Debate 2016 is to generate discussion of issues important to students, and to bring those issues to the attention of the moderators of the Presidential Debates in the fall.

In June, delegates will travel to Dominican University of California to learn how to organize issue-focused events at their schools. During the summer, they will facilitate student discussions of issues on campuses and through social media. Then in September the delegates will attend the 2016 College Convention, which will culminate in a 90-minute moderated Town Hall meeting that will be streamed lived to delegates’ home campuses across the country.

A political science and computer science major from Edison, New Jersey, Juneja is a member of the NDVotes '16 Task Force and director of national engagement and outreach for Notre Dame student government. NDVotes '16 is a non-partisan campaign of the Center for Social Concerns and the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy to promote voter education, registration, and mobilization.  The group fosters conscientious engagement in political and civic life among students.

Throughout this academic year NDVotes has hosted educational events for students and registered over 1,000 Notre Dame faculty, staff, and students through TurboVote, an online voter registration service created by Democracy Works.  Plans are underway for additional voter registration and education events hosted by NDVotes for Fall 2016 in the months leading up to the general election in November.

For more information, please contact Rosie McDowell or visit the ND Votes page.

 

COLLEGE DEBATE 2016 | SOCIAL MEDIA DELEGATE TRAINING

June 1–2, 2016

Listen to the broadcast of interview with Prathm Juneja, student delegate, on Penguin Radio, the official radio station of Dominican University of California.