NDBridge, Summer Fellowships leverage connections across campus and around the world

March 20, 2024

In early June, 200 undergraduates from Notre Dame will spread out across the nation and around the world to participate in the Center for Social Concerns’ signature summer programs — NDBridge for rising sophomores, and Summer Fellowships for rising juniors and seniors.

In both programs, students spend eight weeks living and working alongside marginalized communities while exploring a research question of their own choosing.

The 200 students represent majors in the School of Architecture, College of Arts & Letters, College of Engineering, College of Science, Keough School of Global Affairs, and the Mendoza College of Business as well as numerous University programs such as the AnBryce Scholars Initiative, Hesburgh Program in Public Service, Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program, Transformational Leaders Program, and Questbridge.

In addition to the Notre Dame network on campus, the two programs also promote and utilize this great community by connecting students with ND alumni clubs in 50 cities worldwide. The alumni club members offer students wonderful insights about the community they’re immersed in, as well as the ability to see how ND alums have used and are using their degrees to be a force for good.

For the students, their placement in NDBridge or the Summer Fellowship is an opportunity to apply the interests they’re pursuing on campus in a real-world context.

Travers Mason

Travers Mason is a sophomore neuroscience and behavior major with aspirations to be a doctor. He’s one of four NDBridge students who worked last summer at Vidya Sagar, a disability services and support organization in Chennai, India.

“Spending eight weeks immersing myself in a different culture and conquering adversity completely transformed who I am,” he said. “Both for my career discernment as a pre-med major and my moral development, the program was invaluable.” 

This summer, Mason will continue formational work, both professionally and personally, through a Center for Social Concerns Summer Fellowship in Guam. He’ll gain experience interacting with patients while working at the internal medicine clinic of the U.S. Naval Hospital and assisting medical staff one day per week at a local public hospital.

Linnea Barron, a sophomore majoring in biology and peace studies, is passionate about the environment and the subsequent justice-related issues. She and three other rising sophomores from Notre Dame spent last summer at Govardhan EcoVillage in India as part of NDBridge.

“I wanted to learn more about how different places treat environmental issues,” Barron said. “It was very cool to see how the individuals at Govardhan treated ecology, and how much more it was integrated into their daily life and their spirituality.”

Linnea Barron

This summer, Barron has a Center for Social Concerns Summer Fellowship with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

“I’ve developed an interest in climate migration. I’m really hoping to learn more this summer about experiences in migration and take that into my research,” she said.

More than 100 faculty members, from numerous departments, will serve as mentors this summer as students research questions of justice and the common good. With this faculty support, students will be able to concretely connect the two experiences of research and working for the common good.

Maira Hayat, assistant professor of environment and peace studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs, is Barron’s faculty mentor for this summer. Barron is already working with Hayat on a research project about water use and water sharing between Mexico and the U.S. along the Rio Grande.

“It’s been an amazing alignment of what I’m doing on campus and what I’ll be doing this summer,” Barron said.

Isaac Bernsten, a junior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies, is headed to Nazareth Farm in West Virginia for his Summer Fellowship. He visited the Catholic community as part of the Center’s Appalachia Seminar when he was a sophomore.

This summer is Bernsten’s last before graduation, and he’s looking forward to spending it in a place that encourages people to consider questions about what it means to live well.

“I think Nazareth Farm has kind of perfected, as close as I have seen, a certain type of living where it’s very sustainable, very simple, very generous to the community around it,” Bernsten said. “Hopefully, I will take lessons from that back to my own life, and to whatever happens after I graduate.”

Griffin Wilczewski, a first-year student majoring in neuroscience and behavior, will travel to Jinja, Uganda, this summer to work at St. Andrew’s Primary School through NDBridge.

Wilczewski will apply what he’s learned from years as a math tutor and a volunteer teacher assistant at the La Casa de Amistad preschool in South Bend.

He’ll also be able to delve deeper into his interest in global health. Through his involvement in the Global Health Club of Notre Dame, he has been able to meet with Dr. Bernard Nahlen, director of the Eck Institute for Global Health, and graduate student Henry Kamugisha to help him prepare to spend the summer in Uganda.

“I really hope, through eight weeks of immersing myself in the community of Jinja, that I’m able to learn a little bit more about what accompaniment looks like, especially outside of the United States in a culture that’s not mine,” Wilczewski said.

“I know I’m not going to Uganda to make a completely drastic change in Jinja. I’m going there to try to build relationships and make a small impact on at least a few students’ lives,” he said. “But a lot of the time you can be a force for good, and it doesn’t need to be an act that makes you famous, it doesn’t need to be overly glorified. You can do that just by making a difference in a few people’s lives.”

Klyrissa Porter makes grilled cheese at Joseph’s House in Camden, New Jersey.

Klyrissa Porter, a sophomore sociology major from Austin, Texas, participated in NDBridge last summer in Camden, New Jersey. She worked at a homeless shelter called Joseph’s House, where she witnessed the power of accompaniment.

“I wanted to connect with people who had stories that were unheard and untold,” Porter said. “I think most of the time people just need support. That can simply be spending time with a person, listening to them. Knowing that I could make a difference by showing up and listening was very powerful.”

This year, she’s going to Colorado Springs for her Center for Social Concerns Summer Fellowship at Forge Evolution. The organization focuses on restorative justice practices and reintegrating youth that have been in the criminal legal system back into society through therapy and classes that help them manage the circumstances that got them into trouble.

“More than anything this summer, I want the youth I work with to know that, although I haven’t been in their exact circumstances, I can relate to what it means to yearn for someone to support me and to care about me. That is something I am really passionate about. I just want people to feel loved,” Porter said. “Just offering myself is something I want to get out of this summer.”

Learn more about NDBridge and the Center for Social Concerns Summer Fellowships.