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Urban Plunge immerses students in cities

| Monday, November 2, 2015

This winter break, many students will celebrate the holidays enjoying time with with family, relaxing with friends and exploring the causes of poverty. Through Urban Plunge, a one-credit, experiential learning seminar offered by the Center for Social Concerns (CSC), students will travel to 32 sites in metropolitan areas across the country to gain a better understanding of poverty in America and the organizations that are trying to alleviate it.

Melissa Marley Bonnichsen, director of social concerns seminars at the CSC, said students spend time in the classroom for five weeks prior to the trip, studying poverty and the Church in action, and then spend time outside of the classroom in an immersion experience over winter break. There are 32 Urban Plunge sites, and students are encouraged to participate in a site that is close to their hometown.

“We think that maybe students might not have seen an aspect of that [city],” Marley Bonnichsen said. “They may have only been to these downtown areas or urbanized areas for entertainment or a financial district or a cute little artsy part of the section. They might not have seen kind of the full face of that area.”

Marley Bonnichsen said any student can participate in the Urban Plunge, not just those who have an extensive record of participating in service.

“[We’re looking for] a student who’s open to learning a little bit about themselves [and] about these organizations that are working in their backyard, students who are open to thinking a little bit more about poverty and folks that are experiencing that, students who are just looking for something fun and positive to do over break. It really is … open to any one,” Marley Bonnichsen said.

The seminar has been around for 30 years and has grown over time, according to Marley Bonnichsen. The CSC has added more cities as options and more sites within some of those cities, especially when the demographics of the Notre Dame student body are such that there is a large group of students from a particular area. The CSC has also extended the immersion experience — a few years ago students were on Urban Plunge for only 24 hours; now trips last for up to 5 days of immersion.

Marley Bonnichsen said the hope is for Urban Plunge to impact students in a way that will inform the rest of their time at Notre Dame and inform the issues about which they are passionate.

“I think it’s a very easy and tangible way for students to come into contact with a world that’s perhaps not their own, to see what’s going on in their own backyard and to really wrestle with these issues of what does it mean to respond and be active in light of injustice and poverty,” she said.

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About Emma Borne

Emma Borne started as a news writer for the Observer in Fall 2013. She is a senior majoring in Sociology and Peace Studies. She loves writing for the Observer because it allows her to participate in campus life in a way that she otherwise wouldn't and because she gets to work with some super talented, awesome people!

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