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Students dedicate summers to service nationally, globally

| Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For the past several months, Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns (CSC) provided students the opportunity to serve with partner agencies, examine social issues and reflect on their experiences through the Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP) and International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) grounded in the roots of Catholic social thought.

Two hundred and seventeen students completed SSLPs in 175 sites across the country, which were sponsored by 106 Notre Dame alumni clubs. Fifty three students completed ISSLPs in 17 countries, according to CSC  international service learning and justice education director Rachel Tomas Morgan. The ISSLP offers a chance to combine academic studies with hands-on volunteer activities in vastly different cultures across the globe, she said.

The program includes a “year-long academic service-learning program that comprises two courses and the eight-10 week service-learning field placement so students receive an academic framing that surrounds their immersion experience,” Tomas Morgan said.

Theological reflection and summer service learning director Andrea Smith Shappell said the SSLP also encourages students to learn academic and personal lessons through active service and integration in communities.

The SSLP “recognizes that building relationships with people who live on the margins of society brings knowledge about people and social issues in ways that cannot be taught in a classroom setting,” Shappell said.

Both programs require students to take workshops and classes on campus and then immerse themselves in the topic of study. Tomas Morgan said the ISSLP, which encompasses a three-credit pre-departure theology course and one credit for summer work, forces students to recognize and evaluate the existence of extreme poverty across the globe.

“Through our classes, students are introduced to pressing global issues. Students who participate … already have a strong heart for the poor. It is our hope that our students also develop and cultivate a mind for the poor,” Tomas Morgan said.

Shappell said the SSLP can also open students’ minds to future academic and career decisions and deepen their commitment to community service. SSLP students earn three theology credits for their summer work.

“The SSLP has the potential for being a transformative experience for students,” she said. “This may be a new understanding of putting their faith in action, redirecting their career plans or deepening their commitment to community engagement.”

Sophomore Amber Bryan spent her eight-week SSLP in New Orleans serving at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church for the Local Organizing Ministry.

“I did a wide variety of things — help with the opening of a new school in the community, establish a good neighbor ordinance between community members and businesses with alcohol beverage permits, pack food in the food pantry and map blighted property,”  Bryan said.

Bryan said the SSLP sparked a deeper interest in policymaking and reinforced her previous interest in education.

“It was rewarding to help people get more than the immediate change that can be completed in 20 hours or so,” she said. “After the SSLP, I am going to be taking more research and policy courses. This experience reassured me that I want to work in education policy.”

Senior Emily Horvath spent eight weeks in Chennai, India, working at Vidya Sagar school for children with developmental disabilities. She said her passion for occupational therapy led her to seek the opportunity of an ISSLP, which would push her outside her comfort zone.

“I spent my time working in the occupational therapy department and teaching a creative movement (music and dance) class,” Horvath said. “The curiosity to travel to a random city in a random country, knowing no one, and see if I could come out of the experience with amazing new relationships plus a strong desire to pursue occupational therapy in a setting where I’d be working with children with developmental disabilities, made me choose to participate in an ISSLP.”

“This experience also opened my eyes to the battle for the rights of people with disabilities that is currently being fought in India,” she said. “I formed friendships with people who face these issues every day. Forming these relationships has transformed my perspective on issues of global human development.”

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About Kyle Witzigman

Kyle, of Springdale, Arkansas, is a junior political science major and constitutional studies minor. He lives in Morrissey Manor.

Contact Kyle