Postgraduate Alumni Reflections

Carissa Brownotter '11 Civil Engineering
St. Michael's Indian School
Navajo Nation

Carissa Brownotter ‘11, an engineering major, hadn’t planned on working in public health. “I intended to go straight from my undergraduate program to graduate work in structural engineering.” A career as a professor was the track she had set her sights on as a student at Notre Dame--her vision of success. Until she visited her younger sister’s high school algebra class during winter break of her senior year, just a few months before receiving her B.S. in Civil Engineering. Carissa was appalled by the poor teaching. She knew from her own experience that these students, her sister included, would not be prepared adequately for college math--an additional burden for the Lakota reservation youth who already had an uphill climb to college success.  When Carissa came back to Notre Dame for her final semester, she knew that she had to do something about what she had witnessed--an unjust educational system and lack of opportunity for her people. Carissa looked into Teach for America but, after receiving an email from Professor Brian Collier about education service at Native American schools, decided to apply for a year-long teaching service opportunity at St. Michael’s High School on the Navajo Nation.  Carissa, half-Lakota and half-Dine, found herself following her heart, and using her math skills, in service of her people. And she hasn’t regretted it for a single moment. Her path has taken her from her service year to paid teaching to a job in public health.  Currently, Carissa is a youth coordinator for Partners in Health, a well-known and respected international organization that has one site in the U.S.-- Navajo Nation. And her next step is to complete graduate work in public health, taking advantage of her Gates Millennium Scholarship before it expires. She knows that at the heart of it all is her interest in empowering youth, working with them as they strengthen and claim their identities. When asked if she would make the same choice again, taking into account all that she has experienced, she answers with a resounding “yes.” “It was tough living on $100 per week during my service year,” Carissa explains, but she gained so much in return: a chance to do what she believes in, what she feels is right. And that is success.

Victoria Ryan, '15
Passionist Volunteers International (PVI)
Jamaica, West Indies 2015–2016

"I graduated from Notre Dame in May of 2015 and volunteered with PVI from July of 2015 to August of 2016. While at Notre Dame, I majored in Classics with a concentration in Latin Language and Literature and a minor in Poverty Studies. I was also a four-year member of the Women's Rowing Team and lived in McGlinn. I chose PVI over other programs for many reasons. A few of the main factors that drew me to PVI were the length of the program with an option to extend, the sense of (and actual) community associated with the program, and the variety of places where I could (and did!) work. While volunteering with PVI, I was able to work in a health clinic, at a boys' orphanage, in a basic school (preschool and kindergarten aged) and a few other schools. Working in each of these vastly different settings greatly helped prepare me for working in the professional world in many ways. Specifically, I improved my time management and leadership skills. Working in the health clinic also gave me invaluable exposure to healthcare that even my friends who are currently in medical schools do not have. Currently, I am working at a community hospital in my hometown and working on applying to Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant programs. Living and working in such a different environment from anywhere I have lived before has changed my view of the world for the better."

Katherine Merritt, '14
Passionist Volunteers International (PVI) 
Jamaica, West Indies 2014–2015

"As a science-business major on the pre-med track, I sought an international service experience for a gap year opportunity. I thought that this would be an important step towards medical school because I would get a front-row seat to learning about global health, the workings of a different national health system, and opportunities to explore other things that I love such as teaching. PVI was a perfect fit for me because it was a chance to live in community and share my experiences with other recent graduates, explore my faith through many outlets, and allowed me to be a part of many communities in Jamaica by working at multiple service sites rather than only one for the entire year. Following my year in Jamaica, I returned to Notre Dame and completed the Masters of Science in Global Health program, and I am now working through the Eck Institute for Global Health as a global health research fellow at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka. PVI taught me a tremendous amount myself, including my strengths and weaknesses and the ways in which I interact with and live in community with others. Additionally, I gained first-hand experiences that I could apply to my Master's program and that I will be able to apply to future work in the global health field. PVI stands out from the crowd of other international service programs because of the small size of the program and the direct impact that each volunteer has on his or her service sites and the PVI community as a whole. I am confident that PVI has better prepared me to be a physician and succeed in medical school and beyond."

Jade Bowman, '15 Anthropology Major
Precious Blood Volunteers
KC Care Clinic, Kansas City

"Over the course of these past three months in Kansas City, I've grown into a better me....Some would be intimidated by the prospect of moving to another city to volunteer without any peers.... I knew, however, that this would give me an opportunity to flex my independence muscles and figure out who I am and what I like, really. ...I’ve had some rough days at work, but the good days more than make up for those where I am tired, stressed or frustrated. Thus far, my most profound experiences at the clinic have been the interactions I have with patients." Read more of Jade's story.

Ryan Majsak, '15 Accounting and Psychology Majors
Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC)
Eviction Defense Collaborative, San Francisco

"Unlike the typical corporate jobs that I would have started if I hadn’t joined JVC, through my placement helping low-income tenants fight their evictions, I have the opportunity to make significant positive impact on others’ lives every day. The victories are wonderful and the defeats can be crushing, but the involvement allows me to feel intense emotions and put my whole self into my work. This is both a rewarding and challenging opportunity." Read more about Ryan's experience, including being part of a community and simple living.