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Seniors participate in post-graduate service

Becky Hogan | Friday, May 18, 2007

While Notre Dame has an established tradition of undergraduate service to those in need, a new trend is emerging with many graduating seniors who choose to participate in postgraduate service programs in Africa.

In the past, many students have traveled to Latin America for service opportunities. Recently, however, some students have chosen to focus their efforts in Africa due to the University’s involvement in Uganda, as well as an increased campus awareness of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

“Many students are intrigued by the culture in Africa, and want to experience it more fully,” said Liz Mackenzie, director of senior transition programs at the Center for Social Concerns.

Approximately 160 seniors plan to participate in postgraduate service, Mackenzie said, and that number is likely to increase to about 210 participants by the fall – meaning that 10 percent of the Class of 2007 will participate in various service programs around the globe.

“We are on target this year for the 10 percent,” Mackenzie said. “This number has stayed constant for the past several years.”

Former student body president Lizzi Shappell will travel to Uganda at the end of August to work for the Holy Cross missionary program. She and four other graduating seniors will teach there for 16 months.

Shappell said she was attracted to the program because of its “strong emphasis on community.”

While Shappell said she knew she wanted to participate in international service after graduation, it was not until she traveled to Uganda last spring that she realized she wanted to be more involved in service there.

“There is a lot of flexibility [in Uganda] to work with women’s groups or HIV/AIDS,” she said. “I will be able to make the program my own.”

Shappell hopes to pursue a career in international relations or public policy after serving in Uganda.

Mackenzie said the teaching service programs are the most competitive due to their popularity among graduating seniors. Teaching service programs include Teach for America (TFA), Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), the Puerto Rico Center for Social Concerns, and various magnet schools – including Crystal Ray and Nativity Prep.

Other postgraduate service opportunities include work with Notre Dame’s Campus Ministry, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and service work with the children or elderly.

“A few more women [participate in postgraduate service] than men, but I think a lot of the programs now are marketing towards men.” Mackenzie said. “I don’t know if the numbers will even out, but [service organizations] are definitely aiming to get more men involved.”

Mackenzie explained that many seniors find service activities to be an attractive post-graduation option because it allows them to “give back to the community.”

“Others have been fascinated by a previous service experience and want to learn more,” she said.

Shappell said Notre Dame has helped her to prepare for service work.

“The one thing that I love about Notre Dame is its emphasis on social justice and service learning,” Shappell said.

Many seniors participating in postgraduate service have previous service experiences, particularly service projects through the Center for Social Concerns (CSC).

“The CSC has so many great resources, and the popularity of all of these programs … speaks for the culture of service that the CSC helps to build up,” senior Bradley Jenkins said.

Jenkins credits Notre Dame for “fostering” the idea of doing a year of service after graduation and for providing resources to pursue several service opportunities throughout his undergraduate career.

Jenkins participated in service in Kampala, Uganda, and worked at the Shalom Catholic Worker House in Kansas City, Mo. He now plans to perform his service work in Washington, D.C. for the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. Mennonite Voluntary Service sponsors this program.

“I’m going to be working on an asylum law project … helping refugees with legal immigration service,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he decided to participate in this program because he is interested in immigration issues, particularly human rights for refugees. Coincidentally for Jenkins, after the 2006 Notre Dame focused on global health care issues, including those in Africa, the 2007 forum will focus on immigration issues.

After a year of service, Jenkins plans to either work in non-profit administration or attend graduate school to study theological ethics.

Some teaching programs, including ACE, offer participants master’s degrees upon completion of the programs.

Senior Matthew Hughes will teach fourth graders in Rio Grande City, Texas as part of the ACE program.

“I know that about half my students come across the border with Mexican visas everyday,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he decided he wanted to dedicate two years of service to the program after his friend participated in it.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to support a different type of community that I haven’t experience yet,” Hughes said. “I am very excited about the opportunity to learn more about what is going on here.”

Although he is not sure what his future holds, Hughes is considering teaching and will use his two years of service as a time to discern.

“I think the CSC has really been formative in my interest in social concerns and social outreach,” he said.

Graduating seniors participating in service will be honored at the Senior Service Send-Off ceremony Saturday at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Leighton Hall. University President Father John Jenkins and Lithuanian President Valdus Adamkus will address seniors and their families.