Postgrad service not limited to faraway places

Marquette students are able to do post-grad service here in Milwaukee. Photo courtesy of Kerstyn Carr '09

With every fall semester come new opportunities and thoughts regarding the future. For college seniors, there are several postgraduate options, including graduate school, finding a job or getting involved in a service program.

Though students considering service may think their only option is going abroad, some non-profit organizations show there is work to do in the U.S., and especially in Milwaukee.

Kerstyn Carr, a 2009 Marquette graduate, is a program manager for City Year, a national non-profit organization that works to close the achievement gap in low-performing schools.

City Year works with Milwaukee Public Schools to provide tutoring and mentoring services in an effort to help students suffering in the “ABC” areas: attendance, behavior and course performance. Tutoring is provided in hopes of helping students meet their appropriate grade levels.

According to Carr, students who continue to have issues in these areas through the sixth grade are likely to drop out of school.

In making the choice to join City Year, Carr, like many graduating students, was not certain what to do in the future. She initially wanted to go to law school but chose to work with City Year instead — first in New York and now in Milwaukee.

Carr said her Marquette experience helped her make the decision to apply for and join City Year.

“The four pillars include service, and I became intrigued by that through my sorority, which was tied to philanthropy,” she said.

Carr said she encountered education inequities through her sorority work at the Sojourner Truth House, where members helped tutor children.

“It was then that I realized the children’s education was not that great,” she said. “So I asked myself how I could I help with that.”

In her third year with City Year, Carr said it is easy to forget about the issues that Americans face because of the United States’ status as a world power.

“I don’t think people know that there are problems in the United States because we’re not a Third World country,” she said.

Kirsten Lehman, a senior in the College of Engineering and president of Engineers Without Borders, agreed. Engineers Without Borders is an international service program in which members travel abroad to solve problems for communities in need.

Lehman said although the need abroad is different than what exists here, the need in the United States is still important.

“(The need) is more pronounced and has a different face abroad,” Lehman said. “In Milwaukee it’s more subtle because we’re here all the time and we don’t realize it’s around us.”

Lehman referred to an electricity project in Guatemala, where members rewired homes to make them solar-powered. They also built a bridge across a river so that community members could get to vital places when flooding occurs during rainfall.

Though the organization does service abroad, Lehman said there are service opportunities here in Milwaukee as well.

“There are so many in need in Milwaukee that there is no reason to have to go abroad to do service,” she said. “Small steps in Milwaukee could make a difference.”

Ann Mulgrew, assistant director for Campus Ministry, organizes international and domestic service trips and believes there are more students applying to service programs at home than abroad.

“International volunteering may look more glamorous or seem ‘bigger and better,’ but it requires a two-year commitment away from home,” Mulgrew said in an email. “Many students are interested in volunteering but are also ready to start their careers and lives within their vocations.”

She said completing service abroad does not qualify anyone for something “special” over those who do service at home.

Still, she believes it is natural for students at Marquette to desire to do service, as it is embedded in the Jesuit maxim of being “men and women for others.”

“Truth be told, if you graduate from Marquette University without experiencing one aspect of service, then you have really isolated yourself and do not understand what it means to ‘Be Marquette,’”  Mulgrew said.