By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU

This month’s issue of Connections comes at a time when our schools have been forced to move all classes and activities online. Our theme of “service learning” is surely prompting all of us to think about ways that we can still serve our local communities in an era of social distancing.

Service learning is a critical part of a Jesuit education, one that connects students and faculty with their local communities through academic courses. In this issue of Connections, you will learn about a number of innovative courses, including a neighborhood theater initiative led by The University of Scranton; an MBA course that connects University of Detroit Mercy students with local small-business owners; and an orientation program in Philadelphia for first-year students at Saint Joseph’s University. You will also learn about the AJCU Service Learning Professionals Conference, whose members meet biannually on a Jesuit campus, but maintain close connections through webinars and an active listserv throughout the year.

We are grateful for the ways that our schools make service learning a vibrant and vital part of the Jesuit educational experience for our students. And at this time of great challenge and uncertainty, we pray for our service learning professionals and the communities which they serve.

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.

By Shaily Menon, Ph.D., Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Saint Joseph’s University

Photo of student volunteers courtesy of Saint Joseph’s University
Photo of student volunteers courtesy of Saint Joseph’s University

I learned about the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program (PSIP) soon after I arrived at Saint Joseph’s University in August 2017. PSIP is a four-day optional early move-in experience for incoming Saint Joseph’s freshmen involving community service, intellectual discovery and urban exploration. The goal of the program is to introduce new students immediately and intensely to our Jesuit values of social justice, service to those on the margins, moral discernment and intellectual inquiry. The program is designed to be holistic and includes intellectual, service and cultural components.

I was intrigued by what I heard about the program and interested in participating and supporting it. The goals and activities of PSIP aligned with my passion for liberal education, experiential learning and community engagement. My alma mater is Saint Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India, so Jesuit education is part of my background and Ignatian values of social justice and service learning resonate with me. I wanted to experience PSIP for myself, and see firsthand the impact it made on incoming freshmen.

Finally, in August 2019, I was able to participate by spending the entire day with a group of PSIP students. Grace Young ‘22, the student leader of our PSIP group, had participated in the program the year before as a freshman and loved it so much that she returned for a second summer, this time as part of the leadership team. I was both touched and impressed by Grace’s organizational skills and the care with which she led the group throughout the day.

My day began with breakfast with the students, after which we took a bus to our site, Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. The bus ride into Center City was about 45 minutes long and we had the back of the bus to ourselves. This gave us a chance to get to know each other: I enjoyed hearing about the journeys that had brought each student to Saint Joseph’s. We talked about their fears and anxieties about the start of college, as well as their dreams and aspirations. We talked about the value of a liberal arts education and of experiential learning. They said that this conversation was opening their eyes to remain receptive to all the possibilities at college.

We arrived at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, where we would spend the morning performing service. (The students would return every day for the next four days to continue to work on the service projects they began that day.) A staff member welcomed us and shared the history of the Mission and gave us a quick tour. Founded in 1878, Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission is the second oldest organization of its kind in the country. Originally called the Sunday Breakfast Association, the name was later changed to Rescue Mission to reflect their expanded services: “Helping the Hungry, Homeless, and Hurting.” Rescue missions are similar to a traditional homeless shelter, but focus on caring for people’s spiritual and practical needs.

We donned gloves and split into two groups to sort through donated clothing and personal care supplies. After we had sorted all the clothes into piles, we went up to the stockroom, where we were asked to organize several large bins on shelves in a way that would make it easier for the staff to find and reach items. The students quickly realized that the arrangement of the room made it hard to move around. We realized that if we created a larger aisle, we could access the shelves and arrange the bins more easily.

But the students were hesitant to implement the plan because it wasn’t exactly what we had been asked to do. After some discussion about the vision we believed the staff was trying to achieve, we decided to reconfigure the room, but agreed that we would quickly change it back if the staff objected. When the staff member returned, the students were initially hesitant to explain the change, and then relieved when the staff member enthusiastically praised the new design for the room.

After our morning of service, we had a Philadelphia immersion experience of my choosing (we watched the Apollo landing film at The Franklin Institute) and then ended the day with a meal in the city and took the bus back to campus. All of the student groups would meet later that evening for reflection.

Grace Young ’22, was a student leader for the 2019 Saint Joseph’s Philadelphia Service Immersion Program. She led the group that Menon joined at the Sunday Breakfast Mission and later shared some of her reflections on the experience:

“As leaders of PSIP, we were asked to reflect on the meaning of our service with our group in order to bring depth and purpose to our day. After Dr. Menon introduced us to this intentional approach, I noticed each of us feeding off of each other’s proactive energy as we offered our own perspectives and ideas to perform our tasks with creativity and heart-felt intention.

This was empowering to experience for myself as a leader because I saw each of us realizing how rich our experiences were when we fully immersed ourselves in them and, as Dr. Menon eloquently stated, saw ourselves as ‘partners of the vision’ of the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. It was really special witnessing the bond that comes from different hearts and minds fully taking on that partner role and working for and with each other for a greater good, which to me is at the heart of PSIP’s mission and is why I love the program so much.”

The small incident at the sorting site and their initial resistance to the idea affected the students more than I thought it would. They said they had come to the service-learning project with a checklist approach – get a list of tasks our service partner wanted us to do, and then check off each task when it was completed. Sort the clothes. Move the boxes. Stack the bins. They hadn’t fully considered the staff’s plans for a new distribution system or imagined the work that would be happening beyond their service project. Now they saw themselves as partners in the process, understanding with empathy the goals of the service partner and then using innovation and systems thinking to share in accomplishing the goal. And they learned that they can bring empathy, creativity and systems thinking to every project they do.

The service immersion experiences, such as this one with PSIP and a more recent weeklong immersion at the U.S. Mexico border with the Kino Border Initiative as part of the Ignatian Colleagues Program, have helped profoundly in my work at Saint Joseph’s. These powerful experiences are reminders of the purpose of higher education to change lives and of the Jesuit call to be people for and with others.

By Julie Schumacher Cohen, Assistant Vice President for Community Engagement and Government Affairs, The University of Scranton

Julie Schumacher COhen (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)
Julie Schumacher Cohen (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)

As The University of Scranton, we pride ourselves on our host city being a part of our name. Indeed, we know that St. Ignatius “loved the cities,” and that most Jesuit institutions serve as anchor institutions in their communities. By their very presence, our colleges and universities help boost local economies, bring jobs and, most important, provide excellent educational opportunities. In addition, they often involve their faculty and students in community engagement activities, including organizational partnerships, student service and community-based learning (CBL).

Scranton’s Office of Community-Based Learning was established in 2017, and is now led by sociology professor Meghan Ashlin Rich, Ph.D., who serves as the Office’s faculty coordinator. She said, “The University has always been highly engaged in the Scranton community but with the Office of CBL, we now have a formalized support system for faculty who utilize this high-impact practice in their courses.”

At Scranton, we intentionally place our students throughout our local community and, in the case of CBL courses, connect these experiences back to their academic disciplines. Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus, has written about university education being “aimed at universal citizenship.” This kind of citizenship places students “within the perspective of the common good and of personal responsibility for that which is collective, for the res publica, what is of interest and of benefit to the whole community.”

Business Courses Address Economic Development in a Rust Belt City
For the past several years, Abhijit Roy, DBA, professor of marketing in Scranton’s Kania School of Management, has had students in his Consumer Behavior course lead projects that enhance local community development. “I value the importance of experiential learning in all my courses,” Dr. Roy said. “This is a win-win situation for both the students and the clients. The students learn by being exposed to local problems and broaden their horizons by seeing how the subject matter can help them solve these problems.”

The projects have focused on everything from redeveloping downtown Scranton, to finding ways to redesign a nearby retail marketplace, to increasing subscriptions for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic. Recently, students in Roy’s Digital Marketing course were tapped to evaluate and make suggestions to improve municipal communication for the office of the Mayor of Scranton.

“The learning outcomes varied depending on the scope of each project,” Dr. Roy said. “In each case, the students learned to solve a local problem, using the lenses and frameworks of what they had learned in class. It was up to the client to then act on the recommendations made by the student.”

Helping Professions Are a Natural Fit for Community-Focused Learning
Since 2006, Debra Fetherman, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the University’s Community Health Education program, has incorporated community-based learning into several of her courses.

For the fourth consecutive year, Fetherman’s Health Communication Methods and Techniques course is conducting a project with the St. Joseph’s Center’s Employee Wellness program. Students assess employees’ health risks, needs and health literacy, and then create a method for intervention, ranging from interactive group health lessons and learning stations to motivational interviewing sessions to online health resources. Fetherman explained, “Students apply health behavior change theories to develop, implement and evaluate each intervention.”

All told, Fetherman estimates her students have participated in about 5,000 community-based learning hours over the past 13-plus years. She said, “The employees and group participants really act as mentors for the students. The community wants to see the students succeed. Students think about and reflect on how their actions are affecting community members as well as themselves. They learn that the real world can be messy, and that they can do positive work that can address current health problems.”

Scene from “The Porches Project” (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)
Scene from “The Porches Project” (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)

Humanities Project Shares Neighborhood Stories and Builds Relationships
In an effort to honor Scranton’s local history, Hank Willenbrink, Ph.D., associate professor of playwriting, dramatic literature and theatre history and Theatre Program director at Scranton, recently collaborated with local director Jennifer Rhoads to create “The Porches Project.”

Willenbrink and Rhoads had students and recent graduates go into Scranton’s Hill Section neighborhood to collect biographical stories from residents. Out of that material, the group wrote six original short plays that were directed by Rhoads and performed by the University Players on the porches of select Hill Section homes.

The student dramatists and their Hill Section subjects proved to be highly receptive to each other, in the process breaking down assumptions each side may have had about the other. Willenbrink said, “By putting both populations in a room together and having them exchange stories, we were able to establish connection between both groups. So, in many ways, it wasn’t us taking from them, but trying to create these plays together through collaboration and give and take.”

“I don’t subscribe to the ivory tower model of education,” Dr. Willenbrink continued. “I think that part of the mission of the University and of higher education is to be an active part of community creation and to think toward community wellness. By exposing our students to narratives and encouraging their participation, we help make them a part of the larger community.”

Scene from “The Porches Project” (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)
Scene from “The Porches Project” (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)

Social Sciences Provide Needed Community Assessments
Over the past decade, Loreen Wolfer, Ph.D., professor of sociology and criminal justice at Scranton, has developed a productive working relationship with local nonprofit, Outreach – Center for Community Resources. As a result, students in her Research Methods and Statistics courses have had the opportunity to learn research in an applied setting as a means of seeing their real-world utility.

Students have worked with Outreach’s data from the Texas Christian University Criminal Justice Comprehensive Intake (TCU CJ CI) assessment, which Outreach conducts on inmates within 14 days of their arrival at Lackawanna County Prison.

“While [Outreach] uses this information to help individual clients, they have few resources to analyze this information and to see whether there are demographic patterns across groups. My students help with this,” said Dr. Wolfer, noting that as a result of this work, the students are learning the concrete skills of SPSS coding and data analysis.

“Frequently, the concepts students learn in class seem abstract, and even if students read articles about people’s experiences or how information is used, it is still somewhat, ‘Well, that’s them,’ meaning students really can’t relate in a meaningful sense because they simply are not exposed to the actual conditions,” Dr. Wolfer added. “Community-based learning makes the concepts learned in the pristine, somewhat removed academic environment more real.”

Care for our Communities
In all of these examples, Scranton’s CBL activities are addressing community-defined needs. Ignatian practices of Cura personalis and Cura apostolica extend beyond our individual students and institutions, and into our local communities, preparing students to understand common challenges facing humanity, identify systemic problems, and develop a commitment to their communities.

By Molly K. McCarthy, Writer-Editor, Office of Communications, Le Moyne College

A Le Moyne student abroad (Photo courtesy of Le Moyne College)
A Le Moyne student abroad (Photo courtesy of Le Moyne College)

Le Moyne College sophomore Mallory Difelice recently returned from an eight-day service trip to the Dominican Republic filled with gratitude for the people she met there. That included the caring tour guide who shared stories from his childhood and opened up about his relationship with God; the little girl Difelice tutored in math and with whom she forged a deep bond; and the people she met at a banana plantation, who modeled the dignity of work for her. The experience gave the physics major and aspiring engineer a new appreciation for all of the opportunities afforded to her through Le Moyne.

Difelice was among nearly forty Le Moyne undergraduates who spent part of their January break volunteering in communities in the United States and abroad. In addition to the Dominican Republic, they journeyed to El Salvador, Jamaica and Camden, N.J. These young people broadened their world view, made connections to those living on the margins of society, and learned what it means to be men and women for and with others. They lived out the values of simplicity, social justice, solidarity and spirituality. But perhaps most important, they grew closer to God and gained a deeper understanding of what they want their contribution to the world to be.

There is no doubt that service opportunities like the ones that Difelice and her peers participated in are an invaluable part of a Jesuit education. “I hope that these experiences add to the education our students receive, regardless of whether they are majoring in business, political science or biology,” said Alice Zicari, who directs domestic and international service opportunities at Le Moyne. “Beyond that, I hope that these service and immersion opportunities allow them to open their minds and to keep the poor in their hearts as they build their personal and professional lives. It’s easy to say I am for others and not act on it.”

A Le Moyne student abroad (Photo courtesy of Le Moyne College)
A Le Moyne student abroad (Photo courtesy of Le Moyne College)

Through participation in service trips, each of the Le Moyne students found a way to meet that challenge. Difelice and others who went to the Dominican Republic took part in the Caribbean Social Immersion Program, whose goal is to provide participants with a deeper understanding of the region from an economic, social, cultural and historical perspective. The students who traveled to El Salvador teamed up with CRISPAZ, an organization that builds bridges between marginalized communities in that nation and the rest of the world. The group assigned to Jamaica spent time with children at schools, visiting with the elderly at a nursing home, and assisting at a local outreach center. And, closer to home, the group that traveled to Camden, N.J., worked with elderly residents and those struggling with homelessness. The Jesuit themes of a preferential option for the poor, building community and growing closer to God were central to the students’ experiences.

“So often, in so many classes, it is stressed to be global citizens, learn about the experiences of others, and be willing to take a leap into the unknown,” said history major Michael Songer ’20, who traveled with Difelice to the Dominican Republic. “In theology and religion, I learned about social justice and standing in solidarity with the marginalized. In history and education, I learned about the importance of knowing history of places and about the lives of individuals. In the Dominican Republic, I did just that. In philosophy and critical writing, I was pushed to engage with the unknown, question, and search for a purpose or meaning in actions and ideals. In the Dominican Republic, I came with questions, and I left with perspective.”

Meanwhile, students like psychology major Katherine Locastro ’22, who went to El Salvador, discovered what it means to be truly active listeners, as they learned about the history of the nations they visited through the people they met there.

Le Moyne students abroad (Photo courtesy of Le Moyne College)
Le Moyne students abroad (Photo courtesy of Le Moyne College)

“This experience has added to the way that I value my education,” Locastro said. “I want my education to introduce me to other cultures and ways of life. I knew so little about El Salvador prior to this trip and it really made me aware of how consumed I am with my life in America. I worry about my grades and my own priorities so much that I often lose sight of the privilege of an education. Moving forward, I want my education to involve gaining more perspective and valuing the opportunity that I have to pursue my interests.”

For Difelice, traveling to the Dominican Republic gave her a greater understanding of her role as a citizen of the world, and her responsibility to care for others, to address systemic problems, and to act to solve them. It also gave her an important insight into her future.

“My time in the Dominican Republic transformed my previous love of travel into a love for the idea of travelling with purpose,” she said. “I hope that this experience will guide me in my future work as an engineer. I also hope that in the years to come. I can continue to travel to other countries with an open heart and a mind willing to learn and immerse myself in the lives of others.”

By Angeline Boyer, Assistant Director of Media Relations, Saint Peter’s University

Members of the Saint Peter’s Modern Physics class with their professor, Debing Zeng, Ph.D., at a local high school as part of their service learning project (photo courtesy of Saint Peter’s University)
Members of the Saint Peter’s Modern Physics class with their professor, Debing Zeng, Ph.D., at a local high school as part of their service learning project (photo courtesy of Saint Peter’s University)

At Jesuit institutions, faculty and staff are tasked with bringing the core Jesuit values to life for their students. Examples of these values include cura personalis, a Latin phrase meaning care for the whole person, and the tenet of being ‘men and women for and with others.’

There are many ways to accomplish this goal but, according to Kari Larsen, J.D., associate professor of criminal justice at Saint Peter’s University, the best way to do it is through a service learning course. In addition to her role in the criminal justice department, Larsen also serves as the director of the service learning program at Saint Peter’s.

A service learning course involves coursework that is integrated with community service. In order for a course to be designated as a service learning course, students must perform a service project that is related to the academic content of the course, and to which the students perform a set number of hours of service. In addition, they must complete an assignment in which they reflect upon the service project; the relationship between the project and the academic content; and the transformation that took place through the service – whether it was a transformation in themselves, the individuals they interacted with, or transformation within the community.

Service learning courses are offered by a variety of programs and departments at Saint Peter’s, including nursing, sociology, criminal justice, business and physics. There are currently thirteen service learning courses being offered in the Spring 2020 semester, with approximately 229 students participating in service projects. This means that Saint Peter’s students could perform as many as 4,580 service hours during this semester alone!

Through participation in meaningful volunteer and service learning experiences with more than thirty Hudson County nonprofit agencies and religious organizations, Saint Peter’s students and faculty directly contribute to the empowerment of local constituencies. In their roles as tutors, mentors, outreach workers, researchers and social work assistants, students share their time and talent with their neighbors in need of encouragement, support and assistance.

Saint Peter’s service learning projects have seen tremendous success in the communities in which they serve. For example, as part of a “Modern Physics” course taught by Debing Zeng, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics, Saint Peter’s students taught short physics lessons to area high school students, who then demonstrated what they learned by participating in physics experiments themselves.

Another example of a successful service project with a positive community impact occurred in Fall 2018, when a dedicated group of nursing students worked with The Campus Kitchen and the Saint Peter’s University Food Pantry and Clothes Closet to collect new and gently used items of clothing, toiletries and other children’s necessities. These products were then made available every Saturday for local families facing economic challenges in a welcoming space inside the former convent at St. Aedan’s: The Saint Peter’s University Church . The nursing students then partnered with Saint Peter’s art students to brighten up the space, now called the Kids Corner.

The Kids Corner also provides opportunities for students to present educational programming to parents on topics such as nutrition, as well as play games with the children. It is all part of the Jesuit mission interwoven into the School of Nursing’s curriculum, according to Kathleen Motacki, M.S.N., R.N., B.C., clinical professor of nursing at Saint Peter’s. “Our students are following the Jesuit mission of lifelong service to others,” she explained. “Their efforts have been met with overwhelming gratitude from parents.”

Not only do these service learning projects impact the local Jersey City community, they help to shape the Saint Peter’s students who participate in them. For example, the University’s “Leadership in Criminal Justice” course includes a service component in which students serve as mentors at the Boys and Girls Club in Jersey City. The Saint Peter’s students involved in this program were completely moved by their experience.

One student said, “The time you spend with the kids is the only chance you have to try to get them on the right path and tell them they have to do the right thing.” Another student said, “It makes me want to cry when I think about leaving.”

While Kari Larsen has the goal of offering fifteen service learning courses per semester, she is proud of the progress that the program has made. “The courses tend to be more work for our faculty members, but once they run one, they tend to do so frequently because they see the impact that they have on the students,” she explained. “In the end, we are ensuring that our students are provided with opportunities for what we as a Jesuit institution intend for them to experience.”

By Ron Bernas, Office of Marketing and Communications, University of Detroit Mercy

Campus photo courtesy of the University of Detroit Mercy
Campus photo courtesy of the University of Detroit Mercy

Service learning is an integral part of many disciplines at the University of Detroit Mercy. During the 2018-19 academic year, students at Detroit Mercy Law provided 20,000 hours of assistance to residents of metropolitan Detroit through legal clinics. Detroit Mercy Dental students completed just over 77,000 patient visits that added up to more than $800,000 in unpaid care to underserved communities. The McAuley Health Center, an off-site clinic affiliated with the University, addressed the health needs of more than 1,100 underserved individuals of all ages.

The University’s Detroit Collaborative Design Center has, over its 25 years of existence, provided design services to more than 100 nonprofit and civic organizations, and hundreds of people in the community are regularly served by Detroit Mercy’s Counseling and Psychology clinics.

In addition to that impressive list, two service learning projects garnered attention in the media last year. Here is a brief look at them.

Helping a Nonprofit Help Others
Last year, students in the Detroit Mercy MBA program helped create an e-commerce business plan to sell hand-made clothes, bags, blankets and other home goods to raise funds for the Inkster, Michigan-based charity, Zaman International, and its clients. The plan was the culmination of a semester of work by seven Detroit Mercy MBA students as a class project sponsored by a grant to the University from the Ford Motor Company Fund through the Ford Community Corps Partnership.

“Zaman International has a community-driven approach to help households meet their needs and break the cycle of poverty,” explained MBA student Sarah Fioritto. “Their mission is to facilitate change and advance the lives of marginalized women and children by enabling them to meet essential needs common to all of humankind.”

Zaman, whose CEO and founder, Najah Bazzy, was one of ten CNN Heroes last year, offers classes in sewing, culinary arts and English literacy for women, to teach them skills that could help them earn wages. Some women end up designing their own items and selling them at craft fairs.

But getting the items to and from fairs is a logistical and expensive challenge; MBA student Nicole Fitch said that in several of her team’s visits to Zaman in person, students found how challenging it was for clients to make sales off-site. “Our experience taught us how important this would be to them,” she said. “This can help families become self-sufficient while working from home.”

Fitch’s team eventually chose Shopify, a web-based commerce platform, to allow Zaman’s clients to sell their products online without the expense and logistical hassles of working away from home and traveling to craft fairs.

Abigail DeMars, volunteer coordinator for Zaman International, said that the students received substantial hands-on experience on how to work with clients; how to respond to specific needs and requests; and how to make changes based on feedback. She said that the experience of working on a team to complete the project will also help prepare students for their future jobs in business.

Detroit Mercy’s Director of Service Learning, Rev. Tim Hipskind, S.J., said that the students’ work fulfills the mission of service learning by not only providing them a sense of accomplishment, but a chance to make personal connections with clients, volunteers and staff members at Zaman. “We like to think that Detroit Mercy teaches students professional skills – and something more. That ‘something’ is being graduates who lead and serve in the community,” he explained.

As a result of its work, the student group won the Empowering Marginalized Through E-Commerce $5,000 scholarship from the Michigan Colleges Alliance. “This service-learning project was very valuable for me,” said Abir Mouhajer, a member of the student team. “I am a firm believer in the notion that each individual has the ability to create changes in the community around them. Making even a small impression can change a person’s day, and possibly even change a child’s perception of their future.”

Winter 2019 was the first time that the course was offered. Since then, subsequent groups of students have continued to work with Zaman.

Faces on Design
A cane that can lift legs. A glove than can sense muscle commands. A programmable cushion designed to eliminate bedsores. These are only a few of the many assistive technology projects that have been designed and built by Engineering and Nursing students at Detroit Mercy for disabled members of the metro Detroit community.

Every year, Detroit Mercy Nursing students are asked to identify potential clients in their local community who have a quality-of-life issue that might be addressed with an assistive technology device. Last year, student teams presented three projects to clients at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center, including one project that was designed to reduce on-the-job injuries. This year, they have been joined by Product Design students from the College for Creative Studies, a neighboring institution, to design for four clients, including one who is a Detroit Mercy employee. Later this semester, the teams of students will present their products to their clients.

“This experience is truly transformational for our students,” said Darrell Kleinke, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Kleinke developed this capstone project more than ten years ago, and called it Faces on Design, for the way it helps students to see how their work has the ability to change peoples’ lives. In-person collaboration puts a face to the theories that students have spent years studying.

Over time, Kleinke has expanded the project to include Nursing students under the direction of Molly McClelland, professor of nursing. They bring different problem-solving skills from their own academic training. In recent years, Megan O. Conrad, Detroit Mercy’s Clare Boothe Luce Professor in the College of Engineering and Science, has played an important role with the development of the College’s Assistive Technologies Laboratory.

Clients say that the products designed — which cost on average of $1,000 to $2,000 and are funded by donations — will change their lives. The University hopes one day to partner with a manufacturer to produce some of the products.

“Having students apply the knowledge that they’ve gained from their education and use it in a multi-disciplinary collaboration to improve the life of other people is exactly what earning a college degree is all about,” explained McClelland. “It’s very rewarding to see students working together across disciplines and campuses to provide a device to help someone in need.”

By John Hill, Media Relations Director, College of the Holy Cross

A Holy Cross student works with elementary school students in Worcester, MA (photo courtesy of the College of the Holy Cross)
A Holy Cross student works with elementary school students in Worcester, MA (photo courtesy of the College of the Holy Cross)

Students taking Latin 101 at the College of the Holy Cross usually spend long hours studying complex grammatical concepts and memorizing verb conjugations to ready themselves to read Roman literary masterworks. As a result, there’s not too much of a focus on words or phrases that might show up in an introductory course of a modern language — they don’t describe the objects they find in their rooms or recount their daily routines in detail, for example. But when a group of fourth graders wants to talk about their favorite Thanksgiving foods with you in Latin, you figure out a way to do just that.

As a way of integrating Community-Based Learning (CBL) into his Latin 101 course, Dominic Machado, assistant professor of classics at Holy Cross, has been traveling with small groups of students to Worcester, MA elementary schools four times a week to teach introductory Latin to fourth and sixth grade students.

“The young students wanted to know about ancient science, so my students learned about Pompeii and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius,” Machado says. “Not only is the student-teaching reinforcing what we cover in class, but it’s pushing Holy Cross students to stretch the boundaries of what they know and don’t know.”

Machado isn’t surprised that his students have embraced the teaching aspect of his class. “We’ve seen research that active learning and community-based learning are big drivers of student achievement. CBL supplements exactly what students are learning and helps them to make it real. We always hear [that] teaching is the best way to learn. The students are so used to receiving knowledge and memorizing it. Now they have to produce it.”

The education goes both ways.

“Going into the classrooms has helped me to expand my own Latin vocabulary and embrace ancient Roman culture,” says Peter Blunt ’21, an accounting major with a minor in peace and conflict studies.

Planning Latin lessons for grade schoolers also helps Holy Cross students consider a bigger question: Who gets to study the classics?

“Classics are primarily taught in universities. You think of a classics professor wearing tweed, right?” Machado jokes. “But by interacting with a population that’s exactly not that, and seeing how they respond to Latin, the students consider how we think about language and culture and whether that [approach] makes sense.”

A Holy Cross student works with elementary school students in Worcester, MA (photo courtesy of the College of the Holy Cross)
A Holy Cross student works with elementary school students in Worcester, MA (photo courtesy of the College of the Holy Cross)

The class’ on-campus format is mostly on par with other sections of Latin 101; students meet three times a week to learn the basics of the language. Three times during the semester, however, a representative from the Holy Cross CBL office takes over the class for a week, to introduce CBL-related concepts such as toxic charity or interacting with students from different backgrounds. Students also spend class time coming up with lesson plans for the elementary school students.

Chris Shakespeare ’20, a chemistry major with a minor in religious studies, is a fan — of both the language and the teaching.

“I have come to realize that I learn best when I can contextualize the material that we cover in class. CBL gives me the opportunity to investigate different facets of the Roman culture so that I am prepared to answer any questions our students may ask.”

For Peter Blunt, the most surprising thing to see is how quickly the young students catch on. “[This experience] showed me that when we have engaging lessons with interesting vocabulary words, they connect with the material.”

A lesson in education that applies to any language and any age.

By Jenny Smulson, Director of Government Relations, AJCU

On March 25, Congressional leaders and the Administration agreed to a $2 trillion stimulus package in response to the coronavirus crisis. This legislation must pass the Senate and the House and be signed by the President before it is enacted; all parties are working tirelessly to move the bill forward quickly.

Given the dramatic losses suffered by institutions of higher education, and in an effort to hold students and employees harmless during this crisis, AJCU has been working to alert Members of Congress about the challenges that our schools continue to face. AJCU Presidents were deeply engaged in advocacy and pushed hard to ensure that students and institutions received support in the legislation. We await the final legislative language, which will provide details about what has been made available for colleges and universities and their students.

AJCU Public Service Loan Forgiveness: A Federal Program Aligned with Jesuit Values
When you attend a Jesuit school, you come to know deeply the value placed on service. Service to others is embedded in the philosophies of ‘women and men for others,’ Magis and a faith that does justice. This issue of Connections’ focus on service learning reinforces that the spirit of service remains vibrantly alive on our Jesuit college and university campuses. And because the Jesuits educate for justice, it is no surprise that many graduates of Jesuit schools continue that mission-centered work after graduation.

While the Jesuits have been at this since the 1540s, Congress has also long recognized the value of service to our nation. One recent example of the federal government’s recognition of service resulted in the creation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF). Authored by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 2007, and codified into law with the signature of President George W. Bush, PSLF was created to enable young people to “help solve the problems of their communities.”

It takes great commitment to successfully earn student loan forgiveness under the PSLF program. There are several specific criteria one must meet to be eligible for PSLF. Individuals seeking to qualify must have a federal direct loan or a loan that has been consolidated as a federal direct loan; work full-time for a government or non-profit organization; be enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan; and make 120 qualifying payments (regular on-time payments over ten years). After meeting all of the criteria, the successful candidate will have the remaining balance of the outstanding loan forgiven (tax free).

The program is an equalizer. It provides students interested in public service with an opportunity to give back to society without fear of an overwhelming debt burden or concern about the significant, forgone lifetime earnings from taking a lower-paying public service job. PSLF encourages graduates to work in schools, in criminal justice, as first responders, in public health, in valuable non-profit or local, state and/or federal government service.

Problems and Change
In spite of the great promise associated with the PSLF program, there have been many challenges. These include criticism about the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) management of the program; a lack of transparency about why candidates have been denied loan forgiveness; a lack of accountability for loan servicers who have been accused of providing inaccurate information to participants during the loan repayment process; and great concern about how few individuals participating in the program have successfully received loan forgiveness.

In response, Congress has taken steps to hold the DoE accountable, to provide greater oversight of the program, and to improve program operations. After hearing reports of a 1% success rate for students successfully receiving loan forgiveness, Congress created the Temporary Expanded-PSLF (TE-PSLF) as a remedy for individuals whose payments were mis-recorded or who had been directed to the wrong repayment plan by a servicer. It seeks to address other hurdles that have hindered eligible participants from benefiting from the program. With TE-PSLF now in place and with continued Congressional attention, advocates for the program hope to see a real increase in the percentage of successful participants.

Legislative Advocacy
The PSLF program was authorized under the Higher Education Act (HEA) and has its champions and detractors in Congress. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, HEA was a priority issue on Capitol Hill. The House Committee on Education and Labor passed the College Affordability Act (HR 4674) that reauthorizes PSLF and seeks to improve the program by making the repayment process simpler and more transparent for borrowers. Legislation has been introduced to improve program operations in the Senate by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (S.1203 – What You Can Do for Your Country Act of 2019), and in the House by Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD) (HR 2441). That is good news.

But influential members on the important Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, including Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), have expressed less enthusiasm for the program and may seek to limit its benefits. Other Senators, including Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), remain steadfast in their support of PSLF.

As the President’s FY 2021 budget eliminates PSLF (though grandfathering current participants), ongoing advocacy is critical to preserving and improving the program. We are thankful for a strong advocacy community united to preserve PSLF.

In this time of uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, our public servants are on the front lines, including health professionals, educators, community servants, and local, state and federal government officials. Programs that encourage service to others, from a Jesuit perspective, are worthy of investment and worth fighting for.

For more information on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, visit and