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Seniors discuss plans for postgraduate service through ACE

| Friday, May 21, 2021

With the help of postgraduate employment resources such as the Meruelo Center for Career Development, Notre Dame boasts one of the highest graduate employability ranks in the country. Over 60% of graduates from the class of 2019 began full-time jobs following their time at the University.

But such a massive commitment to career development makes it difficult to pursue alternative postgraduate plans, senior Maria Ritten said.

“At a place like Notre Dame, there’s a lot of pressure to go directly into the working world, and I think it’s easy to just follow the pipeline that you’re directed on,” Ritten said. “But there is a lot of value in exploring different things.” 

Ritten is one of 45 graduating seniors who will begin their service with the University’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program this summer. ACE is a two-year fellowship through which former tri-campus students teach in under-resourced Catholic schools across the country, earning their master’s degree in education after two years of service. Founded in 1993, the fellowship will begin programming for its 28th cohort this summer. 

And although uncertainty still abounds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming year of service will likely look very different than the last: ACE fellows from the class of 2020 completed their summer programming almost completely virtually, and many were faced with nontraditional classrooms in their first year of service.

“All of our ACE teachers have lived in community with one another and served in their respective school communities,” ACE associate director for recruiting Michael Comuniello said of the fellowship’s 27th cohort. “There has been some flexibility in the mode of teaching — some in-person, some virtual and some hybrid.” 

Majoring in political science with minors in sociology and poverty studies, Ritten comes from a family heavily invested in education and service. Like others in her cohort, she will spend the summer living in a Notre Dame residence hall, taking courses to prepare to lead a classroom of her own. Come August, the group will scatter across the country to their assigned ACE communities. Ritten, for one, will travel to Denver, Colorado, to teach middle school social studies at Guardian Angels Catholic School.

The most exciting part of the ACE program is the ability to continue her relationship with Notre Dame while expanding her experience, Ritten said.

“I’m in a unique spot just because I’m finishing a chapter here for sure, but also I’m starting a new one right after,” she said. “Also, I’m just excited to be in a new place and to actually be in front of a classroom. I’ve never had the opportunity to do that.”

Lia Acri, a graduating senior majoring in psychology and theology and another member of ACE’s 28th cohort, will be teaching fourth grade at Gesu Catholic School in Detroit, Michigan, in the fall. Placement decisions are made entirely by ACE faculty, and Acri said she was happy about her assignment and appreciative of the trust and care put into the decision.

“When I heard about what the community of the school is like, and the kind of teacher that they were looking for, in a way it was humbling to think that they had filled me in that spot, or had thought of me to be in that position, in that community,” Acri said. 

But the impact of ACE extends far beyond the classroom, Acri noted — throughout their two years of service, fellows live in community with each other and are also encouraged to become a part of their schools’ local communities. 

“I’m really excited to go from Notre Dame to … a scaled-down, smaller community where I feel like I can make a difference and be immersed in a school community where I won’t only be teaching kids in the classroom,” Acri said. “I’ve been thinking of clubs that I could do with my students and also attending their sports games and connecting with their parents … I’m really excited to immerse myself into the community of Gesu.” 

Reflecting upon the discernment process that ultimately led her to ACE, Acri offered advice to current students considering postgraduate service: Don’t be afraid of the “closed doors” of commitment. 

“I was afraid of closing doors by saying yes to ACE, but when I did it, I think my experience was the total opposite,” Acri said. “It was so liberating for me to commit to something … there were doors that were hypothetically closed, but once I walked in that door, there were so many other possibilities within that decision.” 

Ruminating on the fellowship’s cohorts — past, present and future — Comuniello commended the work of the program’s participants.  

“All of our ACE teachers have dedicated themselves to serving the students and families entrusted to their care,” he said. “They are, and continue to be, a great sign of hope for our Church [and] the world.”

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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