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University seniors to pursue service opportunities

| Friday, May 19, 2017

Through ACE Teaching Fellows, a postgraduate program under the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a group of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students in the Class of 2017 will be teaching at various under-resourced schools across the nation after committing themselves to a pillar of Catholic education: service.

Since its founding in 1993 by Fr. Timothy Scully and Fr. Sean McGraw, ACE has devoted itself to serving and enhancing Catholic institutions across America, and has inspired and branched 14 service programs that soon-to-be graduates commit to every year, such as Teach for America and the Pacific Alliance for Catholic Education (PACE). As one of the more popular postgraduate service programs at the University, Teaching Fellows enlisted 45 graduating Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students to serve in ACE’s 24th Cohort.

Scully said these graduates’ commitment to service work is “a tremendous sign of hope.”

“In ACE, we believe that God has made each of the children entrusted to our care for great things,” he said. “The young men and women in this new cohort have so many gifts and experiences to put into the service of their students — so many of whom are on the margins of society.”

Last year, the Career Center and Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research reported that roughly 7 percent of Notre Dame graduates committed to service post-graduation. These students served at over 50 different organizations in roles pertaining to advocacy, administration, education, healthcare, social services, legal affairs or ministry.

Lead postgraduate service coordinator Karen Manier said this year’s class is on track to match this wide range of service.

“Postgraduate service is a popular choice for many students, not just those pursuing a career in education,” Manier said. “Over 100 Notre Dame seniors participate in postgraduate service in any given year.”

Under the program, ACE teaching fellows will teach subjects they specialize in for two years at their assigned placement. They will also spend a few weeks at Notre Dame this summer undergoing intensive studies intended to prepare them for their teaching roles.

Originally drawn in by ACE’s sense of community, senior biology major and poverty studies minor Catherine Wagner interned with ACE her senior year, and committed to Teaching Fellows to explore the possibility of teaching as a long-term vocation. Wagner will be teaching middle school science and religion for grades 6, 7 and 8 at Most Pure Heart of Mary School in Mobile, Alabama, where she said she hopes to help students “realize their full potential.”

“There’s something so special about being united with people that have similar ideas and passions as you,” Wagner said. “The framing of my education through a Catholic mindset and Catholic values had a big impact on my life, so I’d like to continue that for other people.”

History major and education, schooling and society minor Samuel Jezak learned about ACE through an information session in his dorm, Keenan Hall. Jezak said he thought the program stood out through its emphasis of community in the “fight to provide quality education to everyone.” He will be teaching high school history and social studies at Cristo Rey San Jose in San Jose, California.

“ACE was a win-win for me — a way to serve under-resourced communities, as well as receive fantastic training in pedagogy that culminates in a master’s degree in education,” Jezak said. “The cohort is an incredible collection of talent and human capital that will also be there to lift me up when times are challenging while teaching.”

As a graduate of a high school that hosted ACE teachers, history major and secondary education minor Itzxul Moreno, a Saint Mary’s senior, said she has known about ACE since high school, where she was inspired by many ACE teachers. She will be teaching fourth grade at St. Philip Neri Catholic School, a Notre Dame ACE Academy in Indianapolis.

“As a product of ACE’s efforts in under-resourced Catholic schools, I have always carried its very special mission close to heart,” Moreno said. “I knew I was going to apply to ACE, but was considering various other postgraduate programs, jobs and even business school. Through it all, I realized that nothing brought me more joy than working with students and serving communities in need.”

Another graduating intern of the program, mechanical engineering major John Assaf, said he committed to ACE rather than a career in engineering because he believes engineers are charged to make the world a better place, and teaching “perfectly fulfills [that] goal.” Assaf will be venturing to San Antonio to teach high school math at St. Gerard Catholic High School.

“In a way we’re disciples, because these kids, these students and these families at the schools we’re going to flat-out need [our help],” Assaf said. “It’s not like we’re going to provide all of it — we can’t — but if we can start to help people with their backs against the wall, then in a way we’re starting to claw towards that goal of helping people, which is what God wanted to try to do always.”

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she served as Editor-in-Chief at The Observer for the 2019-20 term. She is pursuing majors in political science and television with a minor in journalism. // Twitter: @KelliSmithNews

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