Students respond to the demands of justice through research

September 25, 2023

This summer, 200 University of Notre Dame undergraduates worked alongside community partners with support from one of several summer programs at the Center for Social Concerns.

The largest two of these programs were NDBridge, supporting 118 rising sophomores, and the center’s Summer Fellowship, for 43 rising juniors and seniors. In both programs, students spent eight weeks living and working alongside marginalized communities to engage, understand, and partner to address the challenges those communities face. Students entered the field with a research question that would be the focus of their time, experience, and work. NDBridge students also had faculty mentors with whom they met virtually during the summer.

“The experience was truly unforgettable,” said Christian Gabriel El Azar, who spent the summer in Chennai, India, at Vidya Sagar, an organization that seeks to empower people with disabilities. 

“My time at Vidya Sagar was an opportunity to grow spiritually, academically, and emotionally,” he said. “I was able to learn so much from the people that I worked with.”

To share this student research and experience, the center held its inaugural Summer Research Award Ceremony on September 7. The 161 NDBridge and Summer Fellowship participants were celebrated for their witness to injustice, their research of it, and their aspirations to address it. The exemplary work of seven students in particular was presented, and each of these students will have the opportunity to return to the community and continue their research or extend it in some significant way.

“Forty years ago, a group of Notre Dame students, staff, and clergy founded the Center for Social Concerns with the goal of bringing students and issues of justice together, whether that be in the classroom, in global communities, through research, or through critical conversations,” said Emily Garvey, the center’s justice education program director.

“The center’s approach has developed over time to meet the evolving characteristics of the students as well as the needs of the world,” she said, “but the purpose has remained the same — to respond to the complex demands of justice.”

Lizbeth Cordova Lopez

Lizbeth Cordova Lopez, a sophomore neuroscience major from Los Angeles, called Columbus, Ohio, home this summer while she participated in NDBridge.

Lizbeth worked with three other NDBridge participants for an organization called Accompanying Returning Citizens with Hope, or “ARCH” for short. The organization helps people released from incarceration to develop the skills they need to transition back into society. Lizbeth’s research focused on aid and relief programs offered in and out of the prison system, as well as the root causes of the actions that led to their incarceration.

Christian Gabriel El Azar

Christian Gabriel El Azar, a sophomore from the United Arab Emirates who’s majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering, lived and worked this summer with three other NDBridge students at Vidya Sagar in Chennai, India. Vidya Sagar offers empowerment services to thousands of people with disabilities through enhanced adaptive equipment, education, and vocational training.

Christian’s research focused on the intersection of disability awareness and adaptive equipment, the results of which will improve Vidya Sagar’s reach and efficacy.

Kate Kirwan

Kate Kirwan is a sophomore from Harrisonburg, Virginia, majoring in anthropology and global affairs with a minor in sustainability. This summer, Kate was with three other NDBridge students at Praxis Center in Costa Rica. Praxis Center is an educational institution that marries theory and practice in partnership with a variety of organizations in Central and North America.

Kate’s research targeted questions of the environment and the common good. Her time was split between the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, assisting in school lessons on environmental education and math, and a community garden at La Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana. She explored how climate change is affecting local communities in Costa Rica and how a person’s environment affects their sense of dignity and ability to flourish.

Ryven Mangundayao

Ryven Mangundayao, a senior majoring in science preprofessional studies, completed a Summer Fellowship at André House in Phoenix.

Ryven’s research focused on why communal spaces like the André House become reservoirs of hope, resilience, and unity. He plans to expand his work into a digital media project that will highlight the resilience of the most vulnerable while also bearing witness to the structural violence that created their vulnerability.

Olivia Ortega

Olivia Ortega is a senior from Oklahoma City majoring in history, political science, and Classics. She performed research as a Summer Fellow at the wiPolo Martyrs Shrine in northern Uganda. The organization is dedicated to promoting peacemaking across all cultures.

Olivia’s research focused on what the Acholi culture can teach others about peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Mary Quirk

Mary Quirk is a junior from Louisville majoring in sociology, with a supplementary major in peace studies, and minors in Catholic social tradition and energy studies. As a Summer Fellow, she lived with guests of Oakland Elizabeth House in Oakland, California. The organization offers housing, education, and recovery assistance to women and children who have experienced homelessness, violence, and addiction.

Mary’s research focused on how living in community with those who share similar experiences strengthens or weakens a person’s path to recovery.

Zach Zielenewski

Zach Zielenewski, a sophomore from Cincinnati majoring in neuroscience and economics, participated in NDBridge at André House, a house of hospitality that ministers to thousands of marginalized people in Phoenix.

Initially, his research was about what people experiencing homelessness need, how to raise awareness about those needs, and the steps needed to end homelessness. His findings did not answer those questions, though. As he shared at the award ceremony, his findings demonstrated the transformative power that the combination of research and experiences may have on a person.

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