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Around the Globe, Ozanam Scholars Make a Difference

Monday, November 25, 2013

For students in the Ozanam Scholars Program, global service is a defining part of their St. John's University education. "Global citizenship is one of our core themes,” observed Carline Bennett, the director. "We want students to understand what that means by exploring new cultures, then taking what they've learned and applying it here."

Launched in 2007, the Ozanam Scholars Program is a highly selective academic initiative combining service, research, and global learning. Accepted students—about 25 each year—receive up to $10,000 in scholarship assistance to work with faculty and mentors on seeking solutions to some of today's most pressing social problems.

In addition to volunteering thousands of hours at community partner sites in New York City, Ozanam Scholars travel to a number of sites around the world, including Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and Vietnam. The trips blend service with a research component that intensifies each year.

During the freshman trip to Puerto Rico, Ozanam Scholars spend an intense two weeks addressing the immediate needs of poor communities. "I had no idea what I was in for," said biology major Daniel Chen '16C. "For the first week, we volunteered twice a day at two sites.” During the second week, students went to a new location every day, including a school for disabled children, a homeless shelter, and a nursing home.

Government and politics major Carolina Hojaij '16C had performed community service in her home country of Brazil, but after visiting Puerto Rico, she said, "I realized the need is everywhere. It really changed me."

Natalia Salazar, coordinator of the Ozanam Scholars Program, organizes the Puerto Rico trip. She noted that working with students is the best part of her job. "I literally see the light bulb go off—and they get it,” she said. “They understand that doing the work is not enough. You have to stand up on behalf of the people you are working for and be their advocate."

Josh Bliss '16P, a pharmacy major, traveled to Ecuador. He divided his time between serving as an English teaching assistant and researching clean water options for the village in which he served. "I'm very interested in public health,” he said. “We had the freedom to do independent research on a project we chose."

Being an Ozanam Scholar, he observed, is challenging but rewarding: "It forces you to go outside your comfort zone. It's changed my perspective on almost everything. I'm always concerned with how a situation affects others."

Jessica Cole '14C has completed all three trips. The English and history major said her Ozanam experience inspired her to reevaluate her career goal of working as an editor at a top publishing company. “Now,” she said, “I'm focused on a career helping others.”

While in Vietnam, Gabrielle Fonrouge '14CPS, a mass communication major, wrote, shot, and edited a documentary about rampant sex abuse and prostitution in that country, all while completing her required service. Her film has been viewed more than 6,000 times on YouTube.

In Vietnam, criminal justice major Christina Clyburn '14CPS researched and presented on the negative stigmas attached to Vietnamese children suffering from HIV. As a result, she wants to focus on helping people to overcome personal difficulties. "I've learned how to be a leader,” she said.