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Global citizens and scholars of ingenuity

Alex Coccia | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In his work, “How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas,” David Bornstein writes, “In rich and poor countries alike, it is common to find the ‘best and the brightest’ — young people with an array of options — choosing work that allows them an opportunity for social impact.” The students at Notre Dame should be extremely proud to be a part of that dynamic — the best and the brightest who focus on achieving social change for the betterment of the human family.

Notre Dame students are committed and creative in their call to “heal, unify and enlighten a world deeply in need.” Notre Dame students can truly be classified as citizen scholars — global citizens and scholars of ingenuity. Whatever current claims there are regarding this generation’s inability to “link [moral] feelings to any broader thinking about a shared moral framework or obligation” (David Brooks, The New York Times, “If it feels right”), Notre Dame students effectively and in heartfelt action discredit these claims.

Our generation, it seems, is leading the way in creative thought to solve world problems with applicable solutions — the role of the scholar — and a greater understanding of our moral role of obligation within a global community ­— the global citizen. Notre Dame students exemplify this role of citizen scholar. The world is coming closer and closer together, especially through social media and the ability to travel widely, and we are all a part of it. Notre Dame students embrace such a change because they believe that they can be transformative. They utilize the dynamics of change to promote developments in education, health care, sport facilitation, gender equality and income equality. They use their specific skills online, via Facbeook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networking and media sites in order to promote what they are fighting for.

Whether it is sustainable agricultural projects, equitable micro-financing structures, constructive paths of dialogue between religious faiths, for-profit business models to promote literacy or greener ways to run businesses, Notre Dame students have ideas and the passion to implement them. These initiatives include individual research projects, Urban Plunge trips, service learning programs, Playing for Peace initiatives from South Bend to South Sudan and athletic initiatives in Uganda.

The citizen scholar aspect of the Notre Dame student is illustrated by the fact that Notre Dame has placed on the Peace Corps’ list of top universities nationwide for the 12th straight year, ranking 10th in Medium Colleges and Universities. With students who seem to be leading the way in innovative changes, the University must be commended for its facilitation and support of its students’ dreams, and also its creation of such an “array of options.” As decision times came around regarding study abroad for the current sophomores, Facebook statuses professed new homes in Chile, Spain, Ireland, Australia, London and Italy, to mention a few. With an enormous and expanding repertoire of study abroad locations, Notre Dame and its Office of International Studies provide the connections to allow students to combine their academic, social and spiritual interests. OIS states, “students develop awareness of the importance and benefit of a global perspective through international study and complementary campus activities.”

The University provides an enormous amount of funding through a myriad of sources, including the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement, the Glynn Family Honors Program, the Kellogg Institute, the Kroc Institute, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program — a mark of an elite institution, and one that invests in the citizen-scholar potential of its students.

The University focuses on each individual. She asks, “What are your ideas? How do you want to apply them? How can I help?” The University focuses on the individual so that we can bring unique solutions to the problems of the world and so that we can combine and implement our ideas. Indeed, the individual is a key vehicle by which change can occur. Bornstein writes, “An important social change frequently begins with a single entrepreneurial author: one obsessive individual who sees a problem and envisions a new solution, who takes the initiative to act on that vision, who gathers resources and builds organizations to protect and market that vision, who provides the energy and sustained focus to overcome the inevitable resistance and who — decade after decade — keeps improving, strengthening and broadening that vision until what was once a marginal idea has become a new norm.”

One of the important things that Notre Dame teaches, however, is that we need the world, more than the world needs us. Our reaching across borders tears down our own internal barriers and prejudices. Our respect for the diversity within the world creates self-respect for our own uniqueness. Notre Dame not only provides the support for these opportunities to enhance global development by student initiatives, but our university also provides the foundations for personal development as citizen scholars.

Alex Coccia is a sophomore. He appreciates the conversations he has in the Student Welfare and Development Lounge. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.