Students Recognized for Service-Learning Commitments

June 12, 2023

Two St. John’s University students will benefit from financial awards announced by the Office of Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) at a luncheon held on June 6 in Lourdes Hall on the Queens, NY, campus, home of the Vincentian Institute for Social Action, which directs AS-L.

Joseph Kowalski of Hainesport, NJ, will receive close to $5,000 as the 2023 winner of the Janet E. Mangione Endowed Scholarship, named in honor of the late triple alumna and former Director, Office of Academic Service-Learning. 

Meanwhile, Gabriella S. Aordkian of Douglaston, NY, will receive a $1,000 stipend as winner of the AS-L Student Essay Contest, awarded annually to the student whose description of their service work best represents the values of the office.

The Office of Academic Service-Learning offers a mix of classroom and experiential programs that involve students in community service initiatives. Projects can include working with those impacted by homelessness, food insecurity, or access to education and health care; efforts to increase civic engagement; and more. Students are required to reflect on their experiences in a paper or presentation. Candidates for the Janet E. Mangione Scholarship must have undertaken at least two AS-L courses.   

On the 25th anniversary of the student essay contest and the 10th anniversary of the Janet E. Mangione Scholarship, Matthew Donnelly ’87C, ’89G, ’14GEd, Adjunct Associate Professor, Institute for Core Studies, said service-learning is at the heart of the University’s mission.  

“When you engage in academic service-learning, you’re truly engaging someone,” Prof. Donnelly said. “You’re going that extra mile to show you care.”  

Joseph, a member of the Ozanam Scholars program, was recognized for his work helping the underprivileged in Ecuador. In January, he spent almost three weeks in the South American country, helping to refurbish homes, teaching English, and engaging with local children. 

Gabriella was selected for her work with AOC’s Homework Helpers, a tutoring network supported by US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“I’ve always believed in service,” Joseph said. “Ecuador was a little surreal. You would see people there all excited about things we take for granted. The children there got great joy out of just playing with my cellphone.”   

Joseph recently completed his third year in the five-year Bachelor of Arts/Master of Arts in English dual-degree program. His goal is to continue his passion for service as an overseas English teacher, either as a member of the Peace Corps or a similar global instruction program such as the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.   

He was especially honored to receive the scholarship, he said, because of the spirit of service evident throughout the St. John’s student population. 

“There are so many people who have taught me so much about the value of service,” Joseph said. “It’s great to have these people around you who reinforce that attitude of service.”      

Gabriella recently completed her first year in the six-year Doctor of Pharmacy program. Like Joseph, she is committed to serving the underprivileged in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.

“As a student at St. John’s, it is easy to pick up on the value of service and why it’s important,” Gabriella said. “People here really care for each other and for the community.”

She dedicated an hour a day, three or four days a week, to Homework Helpers, assisting mostly students in the New York City area. One student, a fourth-grader from Brooklyn, NY, caught her attention immediately.

“He is a great kid,” Gabriella said of her student. “He just needed a little help. This was just the start for him; you never know how far a person can go once they’re inspired to learn.”