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Service opportunities attract many students

John Paul Witt | Thursday, January 18, 2007

For hundreds of Notre Dame students, winter break was more than an endless chain of lazy mornings, football games and home cooked meals.

More than 300 students utilized their month off as a time to immerse themselves in one of the Center for Social Concerns’ four winter service-learning seminars.

The Church and Social Action: Urban Plunge; Organizing, Power and Hope; the Holy Cross Mission in Education; and Border Issues seminars drew 302 students – an increase from last year, said the CSC’s urban programming director Rebecca Pettit.

Junior Dmitri Martinez and sophomore Michael Angulo took advantage of these seminars, which are only offered during winter break.

Martinez decided to attend the Holy Cross seminar since he has aspirations of teaching.

“I’m considering applying to the ACE program, so the Holy Cross Education seminar was an easy choice,” he said.

Pettit said other participants were motivated by their personal passions or faith.

Angulo said the “experiential learning” element of the seminars was important to his decision to attend.

“I’ve been on the Appalachia Urban Plunge, and now the Organizing, Power and Hope seminars, and I think that the method the CSC uses of taking thoughts from the classroom and putting them into practice is a great educational tool,” Angulo said.

As part of the seminar, students are required to attend lectures and complete readings and write a short reflective paper in the spring, which earns them one theology credit.

Through the service seminars, participants engaged in various forms of direct service. Students in the Border Issues seminar worked in a house for migrant refugees in El Paso, Texas. Holy Cross Education seminar participants worked with children and teachers in a Catholic school in Goodyear, Ariz., as well as in a homeless shelter and in a program for expectant mothers.

Urban Plunge, the most popular winter seminar, attracted 273 students. Participants worked in social service organizations in different urban environments across the country while spending their nights in the inner city.

Since Urban Plunge sites were located in 35 different cities, Pettit said the program admitted more applicants than the seminars, which were limited to 15 participants each.

Notre Dame’s bowl appearance did not deter applicants, Pettit said, and provisions were made for participants to watch the game.

“The bowl game was integrated into our experience,” Martinez said. “One evening we had a bowl watch with the ND alumni club of Phoenix.”

For Angulo, the chance to watch the Irish take on LSU paled in comparison to the opportunity provided by the CSC seminar.

“I take learning about social justice and democracy over Notre Dame football any day,” Angulo said. “You have to prioritize your life. Luckily the CSC scheduled this seminar the week after the game.”