Summer 2015 Immersion in Nicaragua

Hana Bottger
Hana Mori Böttger
Assistant Professor of Architecture & Community Design
University of San Francisco

For two weeks immediately following the Spring 2015 semester, I led an immersion course to Nicaragua with 7 University of San Francisco students. We stayed with homestay families in the city of León, near the Pacific coast, and traveled daily to the village community of Goyena. The course, ARCD 348: Nicaragua Outreach Summer Immersion, was interdisciplinary, consisting of students from Architecture & Community Design, Environmental Studies, Nursing, Physics and Psychology.

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We were hosted by a local Non-Governmental Organization called ViviendasLeón, with whom the Architecture & Community Design program has had many years of fruitful collaboration both during the regular semesters and during summer immersions.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, and is located in the very center of Central America. For being a relatively small, poor country, Nicaragua has had an enormous presence in world politics especially in the latter half of the 20th century due to a revolution and subsequent power struggles. For the last couple of decades there have been a great number of Non-Profit and Non-Governmental Organizations who have visited and provided aid to impoverished and displaced people, with varying degrees of success.

ViviendasLeón differs from other NGOs due to its focus on human capacity development. Many organizations, including the Nicaraguan government, have come through villages such as Goyena with direct donations of building materials, clothing and shoes, and water well construction, but have not provided people with any methods of empowerment. ViviendasLeón works toward fulfilling this very important need with community-building programs such as skills training and small business seeding.

On a typical day during our immersion, after a hearty breakfast with our homestay families, we met first at the ViviendasLeón office for a Spanish lesson and debriefing on the goals for that day.

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Then, we would hop into our air-conditioned van (the only air-conditioned place we would experience!) for the 20-minute ride out to Goyena, the rural community where we would be working. It was very warm (95-98 °F) and humid so it was not easy to contribute a lot of manual labor for many hours at a time. Still, we managed to make ourselves useful as best we could, drinking enormous amounts of water and taking breaks in the shade. The climate was only one of the constant reminders of our status as fish-out-of-water visitors.

Prior to our arrival, ViviendasLeón had scheduled a number of small projects that they knew we could help with right away. On the first day we set to work at both – rebuilding a toilet facility at the elementary school, and preparing gardens with post-and-string structures for planting. These gardens are part of a successful vegetable cooperative program which has engaged many women in the community to learn farming and business skills in order to sell their vegetables at local markets and earn some income for their families. Most men find employment in neighboring sugar cane fields, some local construction, and even abroad in Costa Rica, Mexico, or the United States. Some of the women who are left behind have become highly engaged in small businesses such as a honey bee-keeping cooperative and sewing, empowering them to not only make changes in their personal economics but also in their family structures.

In both of these initial projects, USF students worked directly alongside local community members, receiving instruction and learning resourceful tips about how to accomplish these jobs, as well as entertaining each other with limited Spanish or English skills.

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A typical morning was concluded by an invitation to lunch – hand-cooked over a wood stove by a local family. Delicious!

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After lunch came another set of activities, which saw the group occasionally splitting up into smaller teams. We were asked to assist with the afternoon arts & crafts enrichment program for children, which took place at the community center in the middle of the village, a building designed with the community and partially built by USF students! Working with the children was very rewarding as communication (often via humor) was quite easy and immediately satisfying.

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After two afternoons with the children, and some conversations with the art instructor, we decided to write up more lesson plans for activities that would use simple and inexpensive materials. Tapping into our collective experiences of art, craft and science activities as children, we brainstormed and then wrote up step-by-step illustrated instructions for the teacher. One element we were careful to incorporate was embedding a lesson of care into the activity. For example, the creation of small paper star ornaments required careful folding of thin strips of paper and getting the angles even enough into a five-sided shape to become a well-proportioned star in the end.

One of the main motivations for the “lesson of care” emphasis was the fact that these children were all from a small neighborhood within Goyena, called Nueva Vida. This area is unique in that the resident families have been displaced from their original lands a great deal, and now live in close proximity because they no longer own any land that could be cultivated with crops or husbandry. More than other surrounding communities, the people of Nueva Vida have been victims of non-sustainable charity efforts by a variety of organizations prior to the arrival of ViviendasLeón. Over time the community has learned to depend on these direct donations and have stayed in very poor conditions without learning how to improve their situation or gain employable skills. They have also become known as the community least likely to attend capacity training or informational workshops, and seemed to be the most fractured. Their main “oppressor” is a huge sugar cane company called Ingenio San Antonio, which own all of the land surrounding Goyena. They fumigate by airplane right over their fields which are directly next to the village, and every time they do, residents are sickened to the point of throwing up. They also know that their well water is being contaminated by the chemicals but they have no choice but to pump it daily and drink it. It may be too difficult or even impossible to directly influence the sugar cane company, but one thing we can slowly do with daily results is to help the people of Goyena develop a stronger sense of community so they can feel more empowered and eventually become more organized.

So, after our first half-week of observations and discussions with ViviendasLeón leaders, we decided to work on two things – developing a culture of care, and helping young people to attain habits of community engagement early (which are linked, and both lead to empowerment which, at its best, will allow them to stand up against their oppressors). To this end we created two things – one was the set of care-oriented lesson plans for the kids’ art/craft activities. The other was an environmental health survey, which was carefully worded to link their environmental health concerns with a need to engage with their fellow community members. We talked to about 40 young people between ages 15 and 25, and almost all of them identified the fumigation and chemicals used by the sugar cane company as bad for their health, and almost all of them also identified that they themselves would like to participate more in community activities such as cleaning public areas and learning about environmental hazards. The next step is to design and implement these programs, as well as to secure more investment from the 3 or 4 people we talked to who were clearly energized and had strong leadership qualities. It was very exciting work, highly rewarding to talk to these individuals at length!

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The trip was certainly not without its share of pure fun, as well. In our weekend between the two work weeks, we managed to fit in several significant outings including a day trip to the beautiful colonial town of Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, a highly energized baseball game between the top rival teams of León and Managua, and a hot dusty hike up the side of Cerro Negro Volcano, rewarded by an even dustier descent by “volcano boarding”.

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By all accounts, the trip was highly memorable and even life-changing for our students. According to their final reflection essays, their greatest concern was whether they had done enough, had they made any difference in the lives of the people we visited. As some time passes and the lessons of this immersion trip sink in, I trust they will realize that the greater point of this experience was its effect on their future endeavors – everything they tackle from now on will benefit from their having a little more perspective to contribute.

Live. Learn. Serve.

Traveling the world with the University of San Francisco

Isabella headshot

Isabella Gonzalez Potter
2015 Privett Global Scholars Participant
Cochabamba, Bolivia

Outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia at the Parque Ecoturistico Pairumani outside of Cochabamba the mountains bore a tremendous resemblance to the Catalinas and reminded me of the landscape of Tucson, Arizona where I was born and raised. It is ironic to travel thousands of miles to find yourself in a place that feels remarkably like home, yet foreign at the same time.

As someone who is a double major in Environmental Science and Latin American Studies I have a strong sense of belonging here, because I am blessed to have the opportunity to study my two passions in the field. As the child of two immigrants the chance to study in Latin America is a homecoming. My father immigrated to the United States at the age of 16 from Altotonilco El Alto, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico to work for Ford. My mother is an American who was born in Lima, Peru and was raised throughout South America because my grandfather was an accountant for the United Fruit Company. Thus the creation of my last names, Gonzalez Potter, and myself always an interesting experience to explain.

Through my participation at USF this past year I have been able to travel near and far. I have been on countless adventures throughout the Bay Area, I have seen the Galapagos Islands where Darwin came up with the theory of Evolution and Guayaquil, Ecuador (through the Biology Department), I have experienced snow in Chicago (I attended the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, USHLI, with Latinas Unidas), I have been to Washington, D.C. and stood at the steps of the white house (during DIAS an annual conference for my sorority, Lambda Theta Nu), and now I am in Cochabamba, Bolivia. But what this past year meant most of all, is that I rediscovered happiness through myself.

The first night with my new host family I was treated like the daughter they had always had. After waking up from a short nap after a week of not sleeping, the mom, Leny asked if I was ready to go to the youngest son Ivan’s kinder performance. After a quick rubbing of my eyes I smiled and agreed. We hopped into a trufi, Bolivia’s version of a taxi, and rode a few miles until we arrived at the school.

I was overwhelmed by the quantity of people – hundreds of children accompanied by mothers and fathers who were dressed in everything from traditional aymara and quechua clothes of the Andes, to young parents adorned in the latest Hollister and Aeropostale that was de moda. The show eventually began and the first group of kindergarteners descended upon the audience fully dressed in indigenous Bolivian clothing. They were paired boy to girl and they began to dance in sync with the music. Sparklers were joined by young girls who came out in outfits that remained me of carnival and danced behind a group of kids who couldn’t have been older than four.

As the night continued on I found myself looking into the sky. I couldn’t help but think of how we all look at the same moon, no matter where we are on the planet, there is only one. I thought about all of my loved ones back home and wondered if any of them were looking at it too. The mountains in the distance reminded me of Arizona and the Catalinas I would stare at every day when I drove to high school, or rode my bike, or went for a walk, or took a weekend trip with my family. All of those rides when I would just look out into some place that was both so close, yet seemed so far. For whatever reason I feel that I am in the right place at the right time, it is all meant to be.

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During our first week here, at the Parque Ecoturistico Pairumani I learned that I should have brought more than one bottle of water, and wearing Vans was a terrible idea.

Throwing up my sorority’s “L” in a foreign country where I am continuing to learn about myself and the world around me, exemplifies where I am currently at. My only hope for the future is that I allow myself to be fully open to whatever comes my way.

Live. Learn. Serve.

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Reflection from the Martín-Baró Scholars Program Director

David Holler

David Holler
Associate Professor, Rhetoric and Language
Director, Martín-Baró Scholars Program

Only now in mid-summer am I able to truly take stock of the impressive collaboration that took place over an entire academic year between the Martín-Baró Scholars and the Faithful Fools. First, let me say that the entire process (described above) could never have worked as well without the compassionate and generous cooperation of the Faithful Fools—and Sam Dennison in particular. Not only are the Faithful Fools sui generis, they are sui generous!

What made it work was ostensibly simple—total commitment to patient, compassionate, experiential learning on the part of the Fools—and absolute faith that first-year students could rise to the challenge of our project—both in conducting poet interviews and in book preparation. However, as anyone can tell you who has ever worked in “community-engaged learning” (that’s the term I far prefer to “service learning”), genuine collaboration is anything but simple.

It began with summer meetings more than a year ago to chart out the arc of our year together. Both Kara Knafelc, co-instructor of MBS, are so grateful that Sam and Carmen Barsody of the Fools allotted so much time long before the students ever stepped foot on campus to plan the logistics to ensure a meaningful learning experience. It is little wonder, then, that the Fools were awarded the McCarthy Center’s Community Partner of the Year Award, which they richly deserve.

And while we had to adapt our plans on several occasions, as is necessary with any complex project, the lines of communication between MBS and the Fools remained more than open when scheduling changes became imperative. Students also adapted admirably to technical and software challenges when they arose. (Producing 11 edited interviews and 190 pages of poetry is, as you might guess, anything but easy to manage, even with a group of committed students who work for an entire year.) I am so proud of the immense efforts of the MBS students who were clearly driven by more than simply a deadline during the last 6 weeks of class. They understood that they were honoring people’s voices and lives through their work, and they wanted to get every detail and nuance correct.

Another aspect that helped immensely: Sam and Carmen came frequently to class to discuss details in-depth—and all the while they listened to and prioritized student voices and input, allowing students an amazing amount of creative and artistic freedom. These sessions took many hours—they were not just perfunctory visits. Sam, for example, spent quite a lot of time with us going over video recording options and techniques, as well as time in our CIT lab on manuscript preparation using InDesign (which every student had a hand in learning).

As a class we spent numerous sessions on site with the Fools (at least 10 sessions) and I echo Sam’s sentiment expressed above—and the students’ sentiment—that even more time there would have been ideal in terms of experiential learning.

Also crucial to our entire year was the incommensurable experience of the Street Retreats, which the Fools have now organized on a monthly basis for more than a decade. And while 5,000 or more people have walked alone for hours without wallet or phone through the Tenderloin’s streets, no two walks, no two experiences, have ever been the same. Our students were invited to participate in a Street Retreat in September 2014 as a kind of orientation, as a way of understanding that the Fools’ home on Hyde St. is indeed an extension of the streets. (Of course Kara and I also walked, and also took away valuable lessons from the neighborhood as well.) We finished our year with another Street Retreat in late April, at the semester’s crescendo, and it was clear in our final reflection that our MBS students had matured immensely. (The Street Retreats, I hope, will become the subject of a much more in-depth blog entry in the future.)

If there’s any advice I’d like to impart to others working in community-engaged learning, it is simply that there are no shortcuts to creating the conditions for a meaningful experience for students. Planning, I believe, shouldn’t be done primarily from campus. Get in as many meetings as you can off-campus, preferably on-site with the community partner long before class begins. Enjoy each other’s company and take your time. It really doesn’t feel like work when we get to share our enthusiasm and compassion and love of learning alongside the Fools.

As Sam (and Carol Burnett long before her) said, “I’m so glad we’ve had this time together.”

Faithful Fools and David Holler

This blog is a companion piece to the Faithful Fools article posted earlier in the week. Read it here.

A Year’s Work Together with Faithful Fools and Martín-Baró Scholars

Sam_Faithful_FoolsSam Dennison
Community Advocate, Educator / Faithful Fools Street Ministry

For the past year, Faithful Fools Street Ministry and the Martín-Baró Scholars, a year-long live/learn community of freshmen students at USF, have worked, learned, and served together. During the year, the students shared two classes and one large service-learning project with Faithful Fools. At the end of the school year, we talked about what worked and what didn’t. The one thing that the students, faculty, and the Fools all said was “Our best days of learning were the days we worked together on-site at the Fools [headquarters].”

Our service-learning project was bringing together 5 volumes of our poetry & arts anthology, Living in the Land of the Dead into one comprehensive anthology of anthologies. This project served the Fools and it served the learning outcomes for the students’ literature and rhetoric/communications requirements. We Fools, were a bit overwhelmed when we realized that the poetry of Tenderloin Poets, curated by Tenderloin editors, and published on the Fools’ office printer had achieved the status of college literature textbook. We write and produce these journals for the sake of passion, as a human vocalization of the panoply of emotions that ebb and flow through the streets, but we never thought that someone at a University would one day include our poetry in a syllabus or that students would read it with the same respect they give Carl Sandburg or Alice Walker.

But the Martín-Baró students did read our poetry and then they went to work. They talked with the Tenderloin poets and journal editors, and they imagined what this anthology of anthologies would look like. One student said, “I read the poetry, I talked with the poets, and then I felt like I was living the poem from the inside out.” Another student saw the poetry as a map of the Tenderloin and in that moment began the design process for the new volume. The students saw the poems as intersections between human experiences of hope, fear, and tolerance and this place called the Tenderloin. And so it is that the sections of the new volume holds poems that belong at the crossroads of “Lust and Ellis,” and “Tolerance and Larkin.” This new anthology is a work of art worthy of these Tenderloin poets.

So, yes, a very successful year, but what made it so successful was the fact that we spent a lot of time together and much of that time was here at Faithful Fools. The implications of this has taken a while to become clear. We worked with other service-learning classes this year and with varying degrees of success. What we have discovered is that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time students spend at the Fools and the success of the service-learning.

We also learned that even when we ask students to come to us, if it is not facilitated either by the syllabus or by the instructor, it sometimes doesn’t happen until too late. Students, as we all know, have many motivations for prioritizing what they do (just like faculty, just like Fools, just like anyone else in our culture), but one way to ensure that students have the time to form relationships necessary for success is allocate class time to meet with community partners, and better yet for the syllabus to identify times to go to the community partner site.

Oh, I know this is a lot to ask. But it is the working together, the time spent on site, and the relationships that students build with the community and the people that best serves both academic and service-learning outcomes. As experiential learning develops as a strong partner to academic modes of learning, we will find that institutional policies will need to change to facilitate student learning outside of the classroom. We will also find our roles as community partners requiring that we set aside time to get to know students and facilitate learning — for them and for us.

Faithful Fools

Faithful Fools is USF’s Leo T. McCarthy Center’s Community Partner 2015 award winner

Being the “underdog” of the McCarthy Fellows

Jaileez Campos

Jaileez Campos
2015 McCarthy Fellow
Department of Housing and Community Development

I have recently graduated from the University of San Francisco in May 2015. I received my degree in B.S. Biology with Minors in Chemistry & Neuroscience. With a scientific focus all throughout my undergraduate career, how did I end up becoming one of the McCarthy Fellows in Sacramento? During my last semester at USF, I began to contemplate various career choices. I always thought I could “change the world from here” by being a physician and healing the lives of people. Throughout the semester during my sociology class, it dawned on me that there might be another career out there for me that would allow me to heal the lives of people on a regional scale. Healing the lives of a large regional group of people through public health policy would help improve the physical, mental, and socioeconomic health. Prior to my sociology class, I was exposed to public health policy through my internship at UCSF. Thus, when I heard about the McCarthy Fellowship in Sacramento, I applied because it was an opportunity for me to explore a career in health career. Through my interactions with the female participants from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, I felt angry about the socioeconomic gap that exists in American society. The socioeconomic gap was the cause of health repercussions, such as elevated stress levels, increased risk of obesity, shorter life span, suppression of immune system, and malnutrition. At the start of college, I used to strive to make myself better. Now, I realize that I can improve myself by striving to make my surrounding environment better. Thus, I was drawn to the McCarthy Fellows program because I found it to be an opportunity for me to grow by incorporating public service, public health, and public outreach.

One of the biggest challenges that I may face during this program is being the “underdog”. Given my science-based background, I need to familiarize myself with California politics more so than others in my cohort. Previously, I have abstained from politics because I thought it was “too complex”. But, politics does not differ too much from the biological sciences. Nothing is really complex—it can easily be broken down into simple components. It is through the understanding of the simple components and their relationships to one another that we understand its complexity. My scientific method of analytical thinking may not be applicable in the political realm. Thus, I will have to find a way to either alter my old ways of critical and analytical thinking, or find a new method. I need to familiarize myself with the new jargon, acronyms, and writing styles. Thus, it may take awhile for me to fully understand a topic or document. As of right now, the biggest challenge is overcoming the overwhelming feeling of being a “beginner”…

I am currently working at the Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD) at the Division of Financial Assistance (DFA) branch. I have been analyzing fiscal data from several different affordable low-income housing projects throughout California and determining strategies to preserve affordability. Another project that I am doing this summer is I am working on a geographic information system (GIS) platform for HCD. GIS will map the housing project, then other data can be laid on top of this map to help provide information about the correlation about housing, demographics of residents, environment, and public health. I am currently gathering public health data about the residents and the housing projects, such as the distance away from health clinics, hospitals, and a grocery store that is a participating in food stamp programs. GIS will allow HCD to plan, develop, and improve new and existing housing projects. Through my projects this summer, I have the opportunity to exemplify how housing is a social determinant of health.

I hope to learn more about the how housing and community development is linked to public health in California. My personal goal is to feel more optimistic about society by contributing to projects that can help influence public policy and politics in California. The focus on fair and affordable housing is a huge focus and all-eyes are on HCD, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling about “disparate impact” in housing. By improving California, it can serve as a model state of positive change for the rest of the United States of America.

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San Francisco Pride 2015

Andrea Wise headshot

Andrea Wise
Assistant Director of Community-Engaged Learning
Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good
Co-chair, USFCA LGBTQ Caucus for Faculty/Staff

For the past three years, I have had the pleasure of co-chairing the USF LGBTQ Caucus for Faculty/Staff, which grew USF’s presence in the SF Pride Parade from 75 people in 2013 to 200 participants this year. Our spirited marchers are green and gold-clad USF faculty, staff, students, alums, and their families who are committed to the Jesuit calling of respecting the dignity of every person. The group shows what a richly diverse and loving community we have at USF. Given the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling, the Pride parade was even more fun than usual, with people holding “Love Wins” signs, dressing up as the Supreme Court Justices, and glittering up every corner!

In 2013, Ammon Corl (Assistant Professor, Biology) and I voluntarily stepped into the LGBTQ Caucus co-chairs positions to direct a loose network of 200+ faculty/staff aimed at promoting LGBTQ scholarship, community, and social justice on campus. I was excited, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I saw it as a great opportunity to apply what I learn and teach in the Leo T. McCarthy Center – How do you make change? Who do you work with to do so? What do “equity” and “social justice” really mean and look like?

As co-chair, I have had the opportunity to work with faculty, staff, students, and administrators to bring the campus community together to address LGBTQ equity issues. These issues include: successfully advocating for gender inclusive restrooms and gender inclusive housing, creating a way for students to easily change names on university documents, adding gender to the university nondiscrimination policy, and more. It has been an amazing leadership experience, teaching me about the importance of dialogue, trust, allyship, patience, and collaboration.

While I’m hopeful that now we can just say “marriage” instead of “gay marriage,” there’s more to be done, (read more here: Give me a shout if you want to use what you’ve learned from the Leo T. McCarthy Center to help me in the movement… We’ll be at it long after the rainbow Facebook profile pictures go out of style.


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To view the rest of our Pride photos by photographer Julio Cesar Martinez, visit our Flickr album and share with your friends! If you were at the Pride parade tag us in your photo to be featured in our Flickr album!

First Adventures in India

Kristian Balgobin 2015 Privett Global ScholarsKristian Balgobin
2015 Privett Global Scholar
Udaipur, India

My initial reaction getting off of the plane in India was complete shock. It was very reminiscent of documentaries and Bollywood movies. The cars/bikes beeped their horns every four seconds, eight lanes in the wake of a two lane distinction, and more. I was being stared at constantly, overcharged for most services, and the food was not sitting well in my stomach. Then I transitioned into the village. If I thought I was in shock before, this was my wake-up call. All the facilities were outside, and I took showers with at least four spiders, a plethora of bugs, and mold. The toilets welcomed flies and insects from the sewers, the electricity never worked, and I used the facility with the flashlight from my cellphone. I said many times “I cannot do this.”

Luckily, my experience began to change by day three. I was known in the village as “curly boy” because of my hair, and most people thought I was from Africa, because “you can’t be from America, they are all white.” But in the village, although I was different, I was welcomed with open arms, and open-ended questions. The people took a genuine curiosity in getting to know me and forced me to unlock a level on Hindi I did not know I was capable of.

From an American standard, it would be impossible to thrive in the village, but I feel like I am privileged, as the amount of food they eat is enough for 20 people per person, and the love and affection for each other is overwhelming, something unseen in the cities of U.S and even elsewhere in India. Most of all their genuine ability to just “be” – be who they are and comfortable in their skin. I am finding it difficult to understand why these amazing, resilient people are the “untouchables,” when they work 12 hours a day and manage to take care of their families and be hospitable hosts without much help from the Global market. They should be the framework for development, not the other way around.

Live. Learn. Serve.


The McCarthy Fellowship from a Dominican University Perspective

Navi Dhaliwal

Navi Dhaliwal
2015 McCarthy Fellow
Office of California State Senator Jerry Hill, District 13

The McCarthy Fellowship is clearly a perfect match for someone, like me, who had an interest in public policy and the passion to make the world a better place ––– a notion which former legislator and Center founder, Leo McCarthy shared.My journey to this program has definitely been an interesting one. As one of two Dominican University students participating this summer, this fellowship is an opportunity to try new things and help create a bond that connects two phenomenal learning institutions, Dominican and USF, together. I was encouraged by both faculty and staff to apply for an experience that would instill life long lessons and skills.

Political science courses at my University put more of an emphasis on federal government and the legislation that occurs within Congress. Having skipped over the state/local government curriculum all together, I wanted to make sure that I had at least one class that would result in gaining an understanding about the specific sector of American politics, that is state and local government.

As an incoming student body president, my desire to lead Dominican’s students is motivated by the McCarthy Fellowship. It is proving to be a choice that will pay off immensely. Not only am I learning about California’s legislation process and the politics that surround it but I also have the opportunity to work along side the state’s decision makers.

Working in Senator Jerry Hill’s office so far has made me both confident and comfortable in my consideration to choose public service as a potential career path. Having role models, including his staff as well as the Senator, who encourage me to sit in on meetings and take part in legislative work has proven to be an enriching experience so far and its just the beginning!

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Reflections of the Director

Corey with Urban Affairs students

Corey Cook,
Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center

One of the things that drew me to USF as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics nearly a decade ago was the opportunity to work with the McCarthy Center. At that time, the Center was already nationally-recognized for its expertise in community-engaged learning and was contemplating a summer program in Sacramento. As an academic studying state and local politics and interested in developing service-learning courses, the Center seemed like an incredible resource. I knew that I would enjoy helping to develop the Sacramento program and that I had much to learn from its outstanding staff. It never occurred to me that I would ever become the director of the Center.

Six years later, I’m grateful to so many colleagues, partners, and collaborators who gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to help implement Leo McCarthy’s compelling vision to “urge students who pass our way to embrace passionately some mission in public service.” The Center has grown pretty dramatically in the past few years but always with an eye on Leo’s vision and the objective of perpetuating his legacy of promoting ethical public service by implementing academically rigorous programs, cultivating authentic community partnerships, and creating transformational experiences.

This past week was another reminder of the amazing people involved in the Center’s work. At the McCarthy Center graduation, we honored an exceptional faculty colleague, Helen Maniates, for her work in service-learning and a phenomenal community partner, Faithful Fools. Our diverse, intelligent, and inspiring graduating undergraduate students more or less swept the University’s awards and continued to demonstrate their integrity and deep commitment to social change. And we graduated our first ever class of masters students in Urban Affairs and fourth cohort of Public Affairs graduate students, each of whom is prepared to make a meaningful contribution to public service in pursuit of the common good. And then this week, our summer programs began with a cohort of Privett Global Scholars traveling to Bolivia and India to work on sustainable development projects and McCarthy Fellows heading to Sacramento to work in and around the capitol. And I think the Center is poised to do bigger and better things in San Francisco, Sacramento, Washington, D.C., and around the globe in the years to come.

Future Advocate for Community Engagement

Nicole V.

Nichole Vasquez
USF Student, Incoming ACE 2015-2016

In my second semester of my freshman year, I became involved in the non-profit organization Generation Citizen, which has since become a recognized club here on campus. Generation Citizen works to civically engage youth, by having college volunteers act as democracy coaches in classrooms around the Bay area. After becoming more involved with Generation Citizen as the educational director, I met our Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE), and I saw the work she did with service-learners.

I knew that becoming an ACE was something I wanted to do in my time here at USF, as service has become such an important part of my life. The service-learning experience has changed my perception of what service is and how it should be done, and I think it plays a pivotal role in the overall college experience.

After submitting my online application, and having my in-person interview, I was ecstatic to hear I was selected as an ACE for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year. In the month of April, we had our spring training where I was able to meet my fellow ACE’s. We learned which organization we will be working with, including MagicZone, Upward Bound, Viviendas Leon, and others.

I will be working with Family House, who will be opening up their second location at Mission Bay in the fall. After our training, I had the opportunity to shadow the current ACE for Family House, Joey, and sit in on his final reflection with his service learners. Reflections are one of the most important parts of the service-learning experience, and allow the students to engage with one another and share meaningful experiences they have had. It was great to hear how some perceptions of service had changed, and the powerful experiences had at Family House.

I am looking forward to meeting the service learners for the fall, and I can’t wait to begin my service at Family House!