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Graduates commit to service work programs

Megan O'Neil | Friday, May 13, 2005

If someone had asked senior Lyndsey Bergen a year ago what she would be doing after she graduated from Saint Mary’s, her response certainly would not have included traveling to Africa for a stint as an English teacher.

Yet just 24 hours short of receiving her diploma, Bergen is committed to two years of service with the Peace Crops and is waiting to hear exactly where on the continent she will be placed.

“I really feel that this is what I am suppose to do,” Bergen said.

Bergen is just one of a few hundred Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s seniors who have committed themselves to post-graduate service work. According to Liz Mackenzie, director of senior transition programs at the Center for Social Concerns, Notre Dame typically sends 10 percent of its graduating class to service work.

“We have about 150 [seniors] who have registered, saying they are doing post-graduate service,” Mackenzie said.

However, not all students register with the CSC, Mackenzie said, and she estimates the number to be roughly 200. While there are dozens of different programs, the most popular are Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), Holy Cross Associates, Teach for America, AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.

There is a CSC service sendoff Saturday at 9:30 a.m. in the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts.

The decision to postpone graduate school or a career and pursue post-graduate service work came to Bergen, a political science major, after studying international politics and world affairs. Bergen said African nations, still reeling from the effects of colonialism, are particularly needy.

“I was given the choice of Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, and I have been interested a lot in Africa,” Bergen said. “I have been studying on what is going on Sudan.”

Bergen said a friend at Notre Dame was “tossing around” the idea of joining the Peace Corps, prompting her to research the program. Not practicing any specific religion herself, Bergen was attracted to the secular framework of the Corps.

She began communicating with a recruiter based out of Chicago and completed the long application process in September.

“My dad is not happy,” Bergen said. “I called [my parents] when I found out I was nominated, and they were like ‘Oh, great.’ I don’t think it is going to hit them until I leave.”

After three months of intensive language training in the United States, Bergen will travel to a country where she will teach English as a Second Language (ESL), girls’ empowerment and AIDS prevention. In terms of language, Bergen only knows that she will not be working in a French-speaking nation.

Bergen acknowledges poverty exists domestically but said third world countries lack even the basic resources to alleviate the extreme circumstances of their poor.

“I don’t know how I’m going to change that, but I am going to try, a little bit at a time,” she said.

After studying world politics and learning about the struggles of the poor, Bergen said it would have been impossible for her to do anything else but serve after she completed her schooling.

“I don’t want to be able to go on with a regular life,” Bergen said. “I’ve never wanted to work for money, I have always wanted to work for what I want to do, and this is what it is shaping up to be.”

Bergen said she anticipates the experience will influence the direction of her life in future years.

“This will help me decide what I am going to do with the rest of my life. I have a feeling that this is something I will do for the rest of my life.”

Studio art major and theology minor Alexa Puscas will participate in Echo, a program through the Institute for Church Life designed to revitalize catechesis classes in various parishes scattered throughout the United States. Only two years old, it currently has 26 participants.

Puscas will spend two consecutive summers at Notre Dame taking course at the graduate school of theology eventually receiving her masters in theology. During the academic year she will work at a parish in Indianapolis.

Puscas said she felt “very strongly called to serve” and described her decision to do post-graduate work with the program as a continuation of her education.

“In order to complete everything that this University has given to me I feel like I needed to share it,” Puscas said. “The Notre Dame experience isn’t just for me, it is for everybody.”