To Make an Impact

Postponing career and grad school can offer opportunities for seniors who want to serve

By Brigid Darragh  |  Homepage photo by Meg Orazio, '08

What happens during four years at Loyola that leads so many students to commit to doing full-time service following graduation, instead of applying to graduate school or lining up job interviews and compiling cover letters?

Since 2004, at least a dozen graduating seniors from each class have chosen to embark on a year—and often two or more—of service across the globe through a variety of volunteer-oriented programs.

In November, nearly 60 seniors attended an information fair organized by Loyola’s Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ) highlighting post-graduation service opportunities through these organizations.

Malia Maniyatt works as the outreach program coordinator for CCSJ. “The decision for so many graduates to do a year of service is a reflection of what Loyola’s education is all about,” she says.

“They understand this provides an important piece of growth as a person—as important as going out and getting a job or starting a career—to choose a simple life, to give up a year to be away from loved ones, to serve. These things build character. Their education here prepares them for this next step, which helps them build a foundation for their life.”

Loyola graduates have participated in many domestic and international programs including AmeriCorps, Augustinian Volunteer Corps, Baltimore City Teaching Residency, Vincentian Service Corps, Teach for America, Peace Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps and Jesuit Volunteers International, L’Arche Community, WorldTeach, teaching English in Bangkok, Thailand, and more.

The answers to why students feel called to these service opportunities may surprise you…

Undergraduate students participating in Rostro de Cristo (The Face of Christ), a faith-based immersion experience in Duran, Ecuador.

Undergraduate students participating in Rostro de Cristo (The Face of Christ), a faith-based immersion experience in Duran, Ecuador.

“Who I want to be”

Catherine Kisiel is relishing her final semester at Loyola. She will graduate in May with a degree in speech-language pathology/audiology and a minor in special education.

Her nights and weekends are filled with schoolwork, service-learning hours, and her social life—and she is eagerly awaiting to hear from the Jesuit and Mercy Volunteer Corps, either of which she hopes to be accepted to and placed in for the upcoming year as a volunteer teacher.

The Portland, Conn., native says her peers continue to be surprised at her desire to participate in a service program following graduation.

“Most of the people I do my clinical hours with and my fellow Speech-Path majors are on a track for graduate school and employment in their field,” she explains. “It doesn’t make ‘sense’ in a way for me to apply for a service program when I’ve just finished a degree… but it makes sense for me, for who I am and who I want to be.”

In the fall, Kisiel began researching opportunities in the United States where she could volunteer in schools—programs that focus on education and science, which would pertain to her academic background and the service-learning experience she’s gained at Loyola.

“In a way, I’ve surprised myself,” Kisiel admits. “I came to college as a declared speech-path major. I knew this is what I want to do—I want to work in a school—and I had a 10-year plan when most other first-year students did not. But after I participated in Rostro de Cristo last spring (a service immersion experience in Ecuador), my interest in doing service after graduation started growing. I came into senior year wanting to seriously explore that option.”

Her “new plan” is to apply to graduate school and then defer acceptance so she can immerse herself in a service program for 12 months.

Kisiel’s goal is to complete a master’s degree in special education and eventually be in a classroom. Before that, however, she wants to work in a school serving children who lack access to special needs resources.

Anywhere in the World

Senior Ixchel Ochoa grew up in Venezuela, but she has lived in Manhattan since she was in middle school.

When she returned from Belgium this summer after a year of studying abroad in Leuven, she says her focus shifted to international post-graduate service opportunities.

Ixchel Ochoa, '14, paints a school house in Mandeville, Jamaica. Photo courtesy of Ochoa.

Ixchel Ochoa, '14, paints a schoolhouse in Mandelville, Jamaica. Photo courtesy of Ochoa.

Ochoa had traveled to Mandeville, Jamaica, her sophomore year with The Jamaican Experience, and it was there, she says, that the path to do more when she completed her degree came into focus: “Even if it’s helping one person realize they can do so much more than they think they can—it doesn’t have to be me helping a whole town or changing the world, but helping one life realize its potential.”

These are goals she feels she won’t be able to achieve by entering the corporate world immediately following graduation.

Ochoa has her sights set on teaching English in Thailand at Assumption University, Bangkok’s Catholic, international university; she is also researching programs to teach English at the secondary or college level in China. She is in the process of finishing her application for the Peace Corps, and—if accepted—she hopes to be placed in Africa.

However, she says she is open to “any and all programs, anywhere in the world, where I could be of help and make an impact.”

“My time at Loyola helped me put into perspective how important service is. We are people for people… and that has given me a push to go for it when I finish my degree.”

Ochoa speaks Spanish and French and will receive her degree in international business with a minor in comparative culture in literature studies in May.

Her hope is that a year of service will accomplish two things at once: It will reveal to her “where she fits” in the world as well as how she can best serve others with the tools, education, and skills she has garnered during her time at Loyola.

Creating Systemic Change

Andy Choi, ’11, on the other hand, went on to complete a master’s program before joining the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps.

With his M.A., Choi was certified to teach Spanish, and he knew he wanted to use his degrees to benefit underserved Spanish-speaking populations. So he accepted a position in and moved to Managua, Nicaragua, where he has lived and worked since 2012.

The CFVC program seeks to place volunteers in marginalized areas, working and living in solidarity with the people whom volunteers serve. In his current role, Choi serves as the in-country delegations coordinator for CANTERA, a center for communication and popular education. CANTERA serves children, urban youth, and women, with a focus on gender equality and spirituality.

Choi works with high school students and adult groups visiting from the United States. “I plan, organize, and accompany the delegations or immersion groups from the States as they learn more about our organization and the work that we do through cultural exchanges and building relationships,” he says.

“We believe that through cross-cultural relationship building, we can create systemic change in our greater community and world.”

Andy Choi, '11 (front right), leads a group from Baton Rouge, La., along with other members of the community of CANTERA, in Cuidad Sandino, a town outside the capital city of Managua.

Andy Choi, '11 (front right), leads a group from Baton Rouge, La., along with other members of the community of CANTERA, in Cuidad Sandino, a town outside the capital city of Managua. Photo courtesy of Choi.

When he returns to the United States at the end of this year, Choi says he would love to find a job similar to what he is doing now—only “instead of planning at a local level, I would like to perhaps bring the groups down from the States.”

“The thing that fulfilled my soul”

Meg Orazio, ’08, joined the Peace Corps after graduation. She was placed in Lesotho for two years, where she lived with a family in a village and worked as a site tutor serving 100 student teachers in more than 50 primary schools throughout the Butha-Buthe district.

Orazio studied elementary and special education at Loyola and was able to apply her degree to her work in rural and mountain primary schools, assessing students in classrooms. She was additionally responsible for facilitating teacher workshops in literacy, classroom management, assessment and material production, and administering monthly two-day workshops that provided direct instruction on content, teaching methods, lesson planning, and scheming.

Orazio created and co-wrote curriculum for a new college course focusing on religion, guidance and counseling, and life skills.

Meg Orazio, '08, smiles as she carries a child from her village in Lesotho. Photo courtesy of Orazio.

Meg Orazio, '08, smiles as she carries a child from her village in Lesotho. Photo courtesy of Orazio.

Outside of her work with the Butha-Buthe schools, Orazio planned and co-conducted a literacy workshop at four different schools in the Sefako area and promoted a culture of reading through assisting two local primary schools and one high school in obtaining and organizing school libraries.

Ultimately, Orazio’s Peace Corps experience led her to pursue a master’s in international educational development from Columbia University.

Today she lives in her hometown of Fairfield, Conn., where she works for Save the Children.

“The most striking part of my Loyola experience that played a role in my decision to join the Peace Corps was my exposure to the Jesuit ideal of nurturing not only the mind, but the body and spirit as well. Peace Corps for me wasn’t a career move, or my trying to make the right contacts to get into graduate school… It was about finding the thing that fulfilled my soul, what made me discover and love the person I was—and the person I was becoming.”

Hands-On Experience

For Andrew Cevasco, ’11, joining the Jesuit Volunteer Corp following his graduation from Loyola afforded him not only a life-changing experience in service, but practical experience he uses every day in his current position as an Admissions Counselor in Undergraduate Admission at Loyola, where he has worked since 2012.

The JVC was a bit of a family legacy for Cevasco. Two older siblings and a cousin had participated in the program.

However, his family members’ experiences were only one of the reasons he decided to apply in the spring of his senior year.

Cevasco says it was his time at Loyola—and one class in particular—that led him to apply to JVC during this second semester of senior year. “I took a service-learning course during my senior year called Reporting on Urban Affairs with Dr. Elliot King. The course focused on the media’s perspective on the criminal justice system, particularly how crime was presented in the news.”

As a part of the course, students worked with at-risk youth in the Baltimore area through the CHOICE program.

Andy Cevasco, '11, and his housemates at their fall retreat. Photo courtesy of Cevasco.

Andy Cevasco, '11, and his housemates at their fall retreat. Photo courtesy of Cevasco.

“This semester-long service experience helped me realize the injustices that face those affected by the justice system. It also inspired me to want to work for reform. That was how I ended up at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) in Washington, D.C., working as a community organizer.”

Cevasco credits his work with CFSY and the various roles he played at the Campaign with helping him to build the skills required for the success in his current position with Undergraduate Admission.

“I worked with high school students, kept in touch with parents, developed mass communication messaging, created and performed information programs, and learned how to have tough conversations with families—all of which have transferred to my current role.”

Bookmark and Share

No Comments

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment