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Post-graduate service shapes lives

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, April 13, 2005

When Matt Kloser graduated from Notre Dame in the spring of 2002, he was about to embark on a service mission to the depths of Birmingham, Ala. as a teacher for the Alliance for Catholic Education Program. To onlookers, it may have seemed strange that a bright pre-med student, already accepted into medical school, would delay further education to devote two years of his young life to service. But to Kloser, it was a calling he could not ignore.”Medicine is a wonderful thing, but it provides patches and band-aids for diseases and inflictions,” Kloser said. “I learned that education gets at the root of things because those who can become well educated can thrive.” The program changed the course of Kloser’s career. Currently an assistant director in the ACE office at Notre Dame, Kloser works with ACE schools all over the country coordinating retreats and workshops for future mentors. For the past decade, approximately 10 percent of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s seniors have applied to several service programs each year, including the Alliance for Catholic Education, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Teach for America, and the Peace Corp, among many others. Each of these programs allows graduates to take an active role in community service for a number of years. Although acceptance rates for seniors vary greatly between each of these organizations, Notre Dame students tend to be extremely successful. For ACE, out of the approximately 130 Notre Dame students who applied, 87 were offered spaces after graduation. Teach for America has not yet accepted any seniors as interviews just ended, but the program expects similar results from last year. “At the first application deadline [in October 2004] Notre Dame seniors had an acceptance rate of 53 percent, which was significantly higher than the nationwide acceptance rate of percent,” said Brad Leon, recruitment director at Teach for America. Students choose to do service for a variety of reasons, but all are driven by a need to help others, or they would not do it, said ACE director John Staud. “We interview all our applicants. The most common motivation is a strong desire to serve. They really want to give of themselves,” Staud said. According to Liz Mackenzie at the Center for Social Concerns, that number has stayed consistent despite the improving economy and increasing number of jobs available to graduates.”[Catholic Social Services] has done studies and found that those numbers don’t change based on the economy. It’s not as though people volunteer because they can’t get a job,” Mackenzie said. Still, many students choosing to do service express uncertainty with where they want to go in life, implying that perhaps ACE and other programs like it are ways to delay making longer-term life-planning decisions.Kristen Kramer, a 2002 history and American studies major, chose to do ACE because she wanted to discern whether or not teaching was a viable career for her. After two years, she was convinced. Kramer decided to stay for a third year at her school in Jacksonville, Fla. and is now looking for teaching positions in her hometown of Atlanta, Ga.And Kramer is in the majority of her ACE peers. According to Staud, 70 percent of ACE graduates choose to stay in education and 60 of those are in doctoral programs.”My sense is ACE opens the door to people professionally. If they go on to be lawyers, we don’t view that as a mistake because they will have a better knowledge of public health,” Staud said. Kramer credits ACE with getting her to where she is today.”It is highly unlikely I would be where I am if I hadn’t done ACE,” Kramer said. “I think I might have gotten into education eventually, but it would have taken me a lot longer to develop as a teacher.” Senior Katie Hesmond, who was recently accepted into the ACE program, said her post-service plans are yet to be determined and is hoping that her work in the Catholic school system will help her choose an occupation that suits her.”I have no idea what I will do,” Hesmon said. “Anything from medical school to international service.” Mackenzie says that as long as students go into their service programs with the right attitude, the reasons for them choosing to do service are not important.”There may be some people who do it because they can’t find a job, others might not be sure what they want to do with an Arts and Letters degree, and they want to test the waters a bit,” Mackenzie said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn more about themselves and broaden their view of the world.”Senior Ryan Greenberg, who will be doing service with the Holy Cross Associates after graduation, said that doing so provides an opportunity to give back to the rest of the world.”I think post-grad service is a great opportunity, not to put the ‘real world’ on hold like some people think, but to learn what the real world actually is,” Greenberg said.Though locations, time commitment and reasons for doing service vary, one fact remains constant: giving back provides invaluable insight into what life is like outside the ‘bubble,’ Greenberg said.”I think one of the common aspects is this: some people graduate with loans, but everyone graduates with debts,” Greenberg said. “We receive many blessings as students at Notre Dame and we have an obligation to do good things when we leave.”