Ten years ago, I started my first semester at SJU. Writing this, I overlook campus from my office located in a building that didn’t exist during my freshman year. Moreover, I appreciate that I work for the Faith-Justice Institute today all because of an invitation from one person. This single connection led me to an on-campus job my freshman year, an added major and minor, and a redirected post-graduate career path, all of which led me back to Hawk Hill. 

Connection: That is what I believe every moment comes down to. It is reaching out to that one person, sitting down for a conversation, listening intently to what is being said, expanding a circle and inviting someone into community. These simple moments of connection are the ways we build deeper relationships and learn from one another. These values of intention and connection, foundational principles of service-learning, were emphasized during my student worker position for the Faith-Justice Institute and became guiding principles of how I’ve engaged with society and communities over the past decade.

 

Our work in the Faith-Justice Institute is grounded in the Jesuit principles of care for the whole person, reciprocity, and community-based learning. We offer year-long seminar sequences for freshman students which seek to build community in the classroom and with our local partner organizations. Freshman Service-Learning students participate in three hours of direct (relationship-based) service each week with a nearby community partner organization. Students integrate classroom material with building relationships at service through an engaging transformative learning experience. This unique class experience allows freshman students to engage in year-long mentorship by our student employees, as well as serving with the same placement organization over two semesters, building depth of connection, knowledge, and familiarity. 

After freshman year, students can participate in other forms of community-based engagement through semester-long service-learning classes. For such classes, the course content and service experience is more specific to the subject matter. Project-based service-learning classes allow students to work with classmates and community partner organizations to complete a project together, either locally or internationally. Additionally, international partnerships offer opportunities for students to take a semester-long study tour course, where the class meets over the semester and travels as an informed class community for an in-country experience. We believe these opportunities marry important subject theory with real-world experience and relationship building. 

I consider myself a triple Hawk: a graduate of the class of 2013, an ACESJU education fellow from 2013-2015, and now working with community partnerships in the Faith-Justice Institute since 2017. Each day arriving at campus for work, I reflect on how grateful I am to be employed by my alma mater, to be working for an institution that means so much to me. As a college student, I felt troubled by not identifying a clear career path. I knew I wanted to connect personal values with learned academics to create a fulfilling career, but didn’t know how to accomplish that. I distinctly felt that Saint Joe’s held great meaning for me, and I dreamed that someday I would return to work at Hawk Hill and become a member of this great community again. My first connection to the Faith-Justice Institute and the Service-Learning program taught me that integrity matters and that valuing each person is integral to relationship building and learning.  These were and are values I cherish in my personal and professional communities. I love, and am grateful, that I am able to continue to contribute to that value system every day here at SJU.

–Danielle Critelli ’13, Community Partnerships Administrator for the Faith-Justice Institute