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Graduates share service experiences

Ann-Marie Woods | Thursday, September 24, 2009

In preparation for the Postgraduate Service Fair, the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) hosted a panel discussion Wednesday evening featuring former domestic service volunteers from a variety of different organizations.

Groups in attendance included Americorps, Teach for America, Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the LaSallian Volunteers. The event gave students, specifically seniors, an opportunity to learn from the four panelists’ unique experiences and ask questions about the many aspects of postgraduate service.

Director of Student Leadership and Senior Transitions at the CSC Michael Hebbeler stressed the importance of this panel and tonight’s international service panel as resources for preparing for the service fair and researching the many opportunities available to students in postgraduate service.

“The four former volunteers on the panel are pretty diverse,” Hebbeler said. “This is intentional to give you a better feel of what’s out there. These are four little stories of service options in our corner of the world.”

Each panelist offered a brief description of their particular program of service, giving a unique glimpse into the application and decision making process, the type of work performed, the community environment, the difficulties faced during their service and the impact of the experience.

Cheron Wilson, a class of 2007 Notre Dame graduate, served with Americorps State Nation, a domestic program that focuses its work in specific community organizations helping them build their infrastructure.

“I worked in a South Bend juvenile correctional facility,” Wilson said. “I met with the inmates and helped them learn different life skills and set goals for themselves as far as their education goes or their family life. Once they were released, I worked as a case manager for them.”

Wilson said she also worked for the American Red Cross as a health and safety program associate to create a junior Red Cross which brought in area middle and high school students to help them give back to the community.

Joe Kolar, a 2007 Loyola University of Chicago graduate, worked with the LaSallian Volunteers teaching high school in Baltimore, Maryland, at a school run by the de La Salle Christian Brothers.

Megan Meyer served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Billings, Montana, working with abused and neglected children and their parents and living in community with other volunteers.

Patrick Murren, a Notre Dame graduate, worked with Teach for America in New Orleans teaching sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

“Teach for America’s goal is to close the achievement gap in America,” Murren said.

Hebbeler and the four panelists explained the process of deciding what type of service program is best for each individual, as well as the significance of looking at a variety of factors to take into consideration.

The type of community living, faith-based versus secular programs, site placement and type of work and financial matters are all important aspects of postgraduate service that must be considered carefully and thoughtfully, Hebbeler said.

Some panelists emphasized the importance of a faith-based program and community living as a significant source of spiritual and emotional support during their experiences.

“A faith-based program for me was a big deal,” Kolar said. “I wanted that anchor – a wellspring of why I was doing this.”

Others emphasized the opportunities of living independent from a formal community in a secular program, such as Teach for America.

“You are very much on your own, you’re an adult,” Murren said.

The four panelists addressed the pressures and expectations from family, friends and peers when choosing to do postgraduate service.

“When I told my mother that I was going to be doing a service term, she wasn’t the happiest about it,” Wilson said. “She got over it though.”

The four panelists are now enrolling or have enrolled in graduate study programs, including engineering, non-profit administration, law school, and master of Divinity.

“Now more than ever, people are understanding what service is all about, that its not just a year off,” Kolar said.

As many seniors begin to explore postgraduate service options, Hebbeler and the panelists suggested identifying specific criteria for what individual students are seeking in a service program.

“Think about what are my passions and what are my skills,” Hebbeler said. “When you start to narrow things down, make contact with the service organizations and ask them to put you in contact with a current volunteer to see what a day-in-the-life is like.”

The Postgraduate Service Fair will take place on Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Joyce Center Concourse.