There’s a Cooper’s hawk that has been hanging around our house in Philadelphia’s East Oak Lane section the last few weeks.  Two of my sisters are avid “birders,” so our phone conversations often include recent sightings of “life birds” and such.  My mention of the Cooper’s hawk led to a discussion about how many species of hawks are migratory, and I found my thoughts turning to our ever-flapping mascot (“the hawk never die!”) and adding my own corny-but-true corollary—it will also “always fly!”


Over Christmas break, I spent a week with nine students and a campus minister on an immersion trip to Ecuador; we stayed in a very poor barrio on the outskirts of Guayaquil, living simply, meeting with vecinos, listening intently, and reflecting deeply about the challenges that those in poverty face every day.  Other groups went to Peru, to El Salvador, to El Paso, and to Los Angeles.


Faculty and students on Hawk Hill often find themselves “leaving the nest” and traveling out into the world. New majors in our Teacher Education and Special Education Departments find themselves in the classrooms of Philly’s schools for three hours per week within two weeks of arriving here, and they continue their field visits every semester until they student teach.  Our majors are not alone; as many as a hundred incoming freshmen participate in a two-semester service-learning experience. (more here).


I gave a guest lecture in Dr. Clampet-Lundquist’s “Poverty, Ethics, and Social Policy” course this past week–another service-learning course—and asked about where students were doing service.  Some were at Hopeworks in Camden, a Jesuit empowering Camden’s teen.  Another is placed in Center City at Hub of Hope in the rail station under Penn Center, “a clean, well-lighted place” where those who without homes can stop for a shower, a cup of coffee, or just some company.  The shelter is part of Project Home—a nationally recognized program begun by Sr. Mary Scullion—a well-known Saint Joe’s alumna.  Others are in North Philly at Providence Center, working alongside urban teens in an afterschool program run by my daughter Maura—also a former Hawk–who serves as Director there, after doing a semester abroad in El Salvador and a year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Harlem.  The Hawk frequently flies.


Speaking of semesters abroad, I’m glad and proud to say that many of our Education majors spend the fall semester of their junior year abroad, before becoming intensively immersed in their final preparation to become certified teachers.  Most go to Ireland, Spain, or Denmark; as many as a quarter or third of each class will do so.  Those who are able to do so come back with a new perspective on teaching and newfound confidence in their own capabilities.  One senior who studied abroad in Spain is now a finalist for a Fulbright and is discerning whether to accept a teaching position here or to spend another year teaching abroad—a difficult decision, but both options are wonderful.  Another is a Fulbright finalist to teach in Uruguay, which makes me glad; I’ve been a Fulbright recipient to Uruguay myself—the world is small when the perspective is global.


The fact that Saint Joseph’s University sits right at the edge of Philadelphia (on City Line Avenue) opens the door for rich opportunities and strong partnerships in the City of Brotherly Love.  Education majors enroll take them into urban (and, later, suburban) schools; business students work with Philadelphia residents who need help with the tax returns and non-profit agencies looking for assistance with business plans. Students in health-related fields volunteer in hospitals and hospices and shadow health care professionals in fields such as nursing, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy. Many incoming freshmen—about 200 each year—take the opportunity to “get a head start” on the Philadelphia connection by participating in PSIP—the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program—which involves coming to campus a week early, volunteering in schools, shelters, parks and such in the morning, exploring the city in the afternoon, and reflecting on service in the evening.  Around midweek, faculty join students for an afternoon to show a small group some “favorite part of the city.”  I look forward each August to taking a half dozen freshmen on a tour of Fairmount Park and then grabbing pizza or a cheesesteak at the Couch Tomato in Manayunk.


So, the Hawk doesn’t just stay on Hawk Hill.  One of my favorite stories about “flying hawks” concerns an Interdisciplinary Health Services major (a junior) who contacted me in late summer, requesting permission to graduate a semester early.  The University catalog is clear that graduating in seven semesters is “not the norm” and that exceptions are only made with very good reason.  This rising junior—whose cumulative GPA puts her in the summa cum laude category—has dreams of becoming a midwife, and she has found a program that would allow her to travel internationally and shadow midwives in other countries during the spring semester of her senior year.  How could I not approve?  She’ll “fly home” in April—just in time to walk in graduation and to share her adventures with us.


The Hawk will always fly.

Dr. Frank Bernt, Professor, and Chair, Teacher Education; Interim Associate Dean, School of Health Studies and Education