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A home, a history, a family

| Friday, March 23, 2018

My first interaction with ND Listens comes not from my time on campus or a flyer in the Dining Hall, but from my dad’s phone ringing around dinner time when I was young. Sometimes he would brush off the student on the line or quickly rattle off his credit card number, but with others he would sit on the phone and talk to the student. When I arrived on campus and heard of an open position at the Phone Center, I thought of those nights with my dad on the phone. How he felt connected back to campus while listening to the students tell their stories. How he imparted that love of Notre Dame in me.

Last January, I got a job at the University’s Development Phone Center, and suddenly I was that student I remember my dad conversing with years ago. It was somewhat easy work — lots of voicemails and hangups. Sometimes an alumnus was happy to hear from me and would make cheerful conversation before knowingly offering his credit card number. Others would enthusiastically vent about their chosen flaws of the University, ranging from Crossroads to losing football, Vice President Pence speaking at Commencement to President Obama doing the same close to 10 years before. But mainly, I attempted Sudokus while mindlessly chatting with those around me.

In August, things quickly changed when my coworkers and I arrived on campus and our boss told us, “OK, you’re no longer asking for money.” We thought, “Uh … that’s all we do.” Instead, she told us that we were to call members of the Notre Dame family and simply talk with them — no ask, no motive. We weren’t sure exactly what this would look like, and at the time, neither did she. “We’re the only University in the country approaching a call center in this way. Let’s see how it goes.” Ever since, we have been creating ND Listens as an outreach platform committed to listening to, learning about and loving the ND family.

When I clock into work, I no longer take down credit card numbers or work on Sudokus. Today, I call parents, alumni and friends of the University to say happy birthday or thank you or simply “tell me your Notre Dame story.” These conversations would be difficult in person but are so much harder without the aid of body language and facial expression. I have in turn become a better storyteller and a more careful listener. When professors or interviewers comment on my ability to speak eloquently on my feet, I credit my time at ND Listens for the practice.

I consider ND Listens a start-up of sorts, and have loved the opportunity to mold my own job — a rare chance I might never have again. I love how my input has been heard and applied, how I am consulted in shaping the foundation of the platform as a whole, how I am encouraged to propose ideas and improvements. The responsibility and freedom we have been given has allowed all of us to rise to the challenge. Like my boss said, we are the only University in the country approaching a call center in this way, and being part of that transition has been one of the most rewarding parts of my college career.

I have had so many incredible conversations at ND Listens — from an alum telling me about a car crash, a World War and a Bengal Bouts fight, to another who spoke of drunken wanderings in Ireland and an Austrian street brawl over spilled beer. I’ve spoken with a court justice who was one of the first women at Notre Dame and a gregarious man from Texas who laughed loudly, saying, “I was what you might consider an academic fifth-year senior.” My perception of Notre Dame — as a home, as a history, as a family — has been colored and formed by these stories. When I’m stressed about schoolwork, internships or friendships, coming to work is the best reality check. The people I speak with remind me to look at the bigger picture, to appreciate what I have and to see past the current stresses and moments. For all these reasons, ND Listens has been an integral part of my student experience.

If you are interested in being a part of our story, you can join the ND Listens team by checking out the online Student Job Board, ND Listens Student Ambassador.


Mary Kate O’Leary


March 21


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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