By Michelle C. Sterk Barrett, Ph.D.
Director, Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning, College of the Holy Cross & Chair, AJCU Service-Learning Professionals Conference

MEmbers of the AJCU Service Learning Professionals Conference at their 2019 Gathering at the College of the Holy Cross

MEmbers of the AJCU Service Learning Professionals Conference at their 2019 Gathering at the College of the Holy Cross

Last June, the College of the Holy Cross hosted the biennial gathering of the AJCU Service-Learning Professionals Conference in Worcester, MA. This was the tenth gathering of the group, whose members have previously met at Loyola New University Orleans (2002), University of San Francisco (2003), Loyola University Maryland (2004), Santa Clara University (2007), Fairfield University (2009, in conjunction with the Commitment to Justice conference), Marquette University (2011), Saint Louis University (2013), John Carroll University (2015, in conjunction with the Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network conference) and Seattle University (2017, in conjunction with the Commitment to Justice conference). These gatherings help service-learning professionals at Jesuit colleges and universities to network with each other, while sharing best practices and recent research in the field.

The fifty-four participants at the 2019 meeting included faculty and staff from twenty-two Jesuit colleges and universities: the largest gathering yet for the Conference. Attendees first gathered for introductions and round-table discussions about challenges currently facing the field. This was followed by an evening out at the Worcester Historical Museum, where Professor Stephanie Yuhl of Holy Cross’ History Department joined participants for a discussion of her work co-curating an exhibit at the museum, entitled: “For the Record: LGBTQ in the Woo.”

Over the next two days, participants heard presentations on the following topics:

Meeting participants thoroughly enjoyed the events and appreciated the opportunity to learn from and with each other. In a post-gathering assessment survey, participants overwhelmingly agreed that the sessions were effective in meeting their needs with regard to the service-learning field and their own campus climates. They also found the activities were helpful for professional networking across the AJCU network. As explained by one participant, “It is such a rejuvenating space, and it felt particularly rejuvenating this time, given the challenges we have had at our institutions and in the United States, It is a blessing to be a part of this group.” Another participant simply stated, “I love this network.”

Our conference planning team of Michelle Sterk Barrett (Holy Cross), Leah Sweetman (Saint Louis University), Elizabeth Seymour (Saint Louis University), Heather Mack (formerly of Loyola University New Orleans and now with Heather Mack Consulting), Kate Figiel-Miller (Loyola University Maryland) and Sean Rhiney (Xavier University), carefully planned the conference content and facilitated conference sessions throughout our time together. Isabelle Jenkins (Holy Cross) and Anh Nguyet Phan (Holy Cross ‘21) did a superb job of managing all logistics associated with the conference and ensuring guests were comfortable throughout their time visiting campus. We are especially grateful to the Provost’s Office at Holy Cross for financially supporting the event and formally welcoming the group to campus.

The AJCU Service-Learning Professionals officially became a formally recognized AJCU conference in 2017. Kim Jensen Bohat (Marquette University) served as the inaugural chair with Michelle Sterk Barrett and Sean Rhiney serving as the respective Vice Chair and Secretary/Treasurer. At a business meeting during the 2019 gathering, Sterk Barrett officially became the new Chair, while Leah Sweetman and Andrew Miller (Loyola University Chicago) were subsequently elected to be the new Vice Chair and Secretary/Treasurer.

I am enthusiastic about serving as the newly elected Conference Chair. Since beginning my career in service-learning at Boston College in 1999, I have found this network to be filled with inspiring people doing inspiring work to animate our Jesuit mission across North America. I have thoroughly appreciated how the Conference has fostered a space for professional guidance/support, critical thinking, innovative ideas, genuine friendships, and rejuvenation. It is a privilege to serve this network, which has been such a gift to me through the years. As we move forward from this gathering, the group is committed to continuing our work on important issues (e.g. our commitment to racial justice and continuing to integrate our Jesuit charism) in the service-learning field, and in higher education today.