Postgraduate Alumni Reflections

Postgraduate Service Alumni Panel, Fall 2020

Carissa Brownotter ’11 Civil Engineering

St. Michael’s Indian School
Navajo Nation

When Carissa Brownotter ’11 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 Classics Major, Poverty Studies Minor

Passionist Volunteers International (PVI)

Jamaica, West Indies 2015–16

“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.”

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. 

Katherine Merritt, ’14 Science-Business Major

Passionist Volunteers International (PVI) 

Jamaica, West Indies 2014–15

“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 about 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.​

Laura Camarata, ‘16  Psychology and Latino Studies Majors, Education, Schooling & Society Minor

Finca del Niño
Trujillo, Honduras

While it is possible to ask this in a purely selfish way, there is also an altruistic way of pursuing the question. Especially for those of us desiring to lead intentional Christian lives of service beyond these programs, it’s natural and good for us to want to receive things from our experience as long as they are oriented toward the other, and ultimately, toward God. In other words, being self-aware of both the virtues we have, and those in which we would like to grow, is not a bad thing. And so another way of phrasing the question above may be: “What virtues could this program work to cultivate in me?”

Although God works in our particularity, and my experience does not speak to everyone’s, I took a few minutes to gather my thoughts on how I have grown, now 18 months into this journey at the Finca del Niño:

    1) Patience—For one, the Honduran pace of life is slower, more relaxed, and less driven by achievement or efficiency. Additionally, despite much hard work, kids’ trauma-based behavior doesn’t necessarily change overnight; nor do my own sins and weaknesses. I’m learning to live into the Jesuit idea of “trusting in the slow work of God.” 

    2) Freedom—Many personal freedoms that I have in the US are denied me here: I cannot drive at night; I cannot leave the grounds by myself or without permission; my diet is determined by what’s available to the Finca that week. And yet the simplicity of life here offers a much deeper freedom to choose the good. I’m no longer so attached to certain foods, conveniences, or bodily comforts, even when visiting the States. I’m no longer so affected by society’s ideas of what is right and proper for me. Reiterating a continued, whispered “yes” to God through my life’s actions frees me to say a confident “no” to those things of this world I know will not fulfill me.

    3) Perspective—The majority of the Honduran population lives not knowing what tomorrow brings. Although we have more stability than our neighbors in many ways, for better or for worse, quite a few aspects of our lives here at the Finca follow that line of unpredictability. Life lived like this has made me truly gain perspective on what is important. I feel infinitely more in touch with how much of the world lives. 

    4) Prayer—Our community-wide prayer routine, the unwavering faith of the Honduran people, my own smallness before the challenges faced here—all these things act as impetus for truly integrating prayer into my daily life and breath. 

    5) Confidence, courage, and conviction—My first year at the Finca has sowed in me the confidence, courage, and conviction to live a deeply intentional, committed Christian life—and to encourage others to do the same.​​