A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career In Federal Service

My name is Rudy Antoncic and I am a senior Political Science major from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I am writing this guide with hopes that through sharing my experiences I will be able to assist fellow students who wish to enter federal service.  To date I have interned at two federal agencies and assisted operations in over six different offices, including a recent stint this fall in the Director’s Front Office at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Working in these environments in conjunction with my education at Holy Cross have enhanced my College experience more than I could have possibly imagined over the past two years and has allowed me to participate in some tremendously gratifying work.  Experiential learning is one of the single most effective ways to make yourself competitive and marketable to enter the extremely competitive atmosphere of the federal hiring process and this guide will show you how to use the programs available to you as a student at Holy Cross in order to do so. 

Understanding Yourself and The Process

Before you start the journey of pursuing an internship on the federal level here are some things that you should understand.  First, the process is extremely competitive, like any large firm or corporation it is not uncommon for thousands of people to apply for a single internship program, the federal government is no different.  In order to stand out and put your best foot forward, have a well thought out reason for wanting to gain experience within an agency’s program and be prepared to articulate that reasoning effectively in writing and in an interview.  Expressing knowledge of the agency’s mission and how your skillset may fit into and improve that mission while pursuing your own career ambitions is always a great strategy to market yourself for programs across the federal space.  Simply ask yourself, Why do you want to work for this agency? What does their mission mean to me? And finally, How will I be value-added to this mission through my skill set?  If you can answer these questions effectively and you feel that you will make positive contributions to the agency while achieving career progression you have already made yourself tremendously competitive.  In short, be aware, be knowledgeable, and be an asset to the agency.  

Second, the most valuable mental asset aside from your understanding of the agency, its mission, and how you will enhance that mission is flat out perseverance during the application process.  The simple fact of the matter is that there are hundreds of highly competitive students vying for only a certain amount of spots each year in a given agency, inevitably this means that you may not get in on your first try, but it is imperative that you learn from the process and continue to apply yourself.  Personally I have learned a tremendous amount throughout each hiring process I have been involved in and have used those experiences even if they didn’t pan out toward eventual successful applications.  Do not be discouraged, keep trying and if nothing else this experience will prepare you extremely well for any other positions you may pursue even outside of the federal space. 

Third, be aware of positions that require a security clearance process, the clearance process is only started after you are extended a conditional offer of employment by the agency.  Positions that require a security clearance process are often posted months in advance of a potential start date so be aware of application due dates if the program in question requires one.  There are many resources available online from official sources that will help you understand this process.  Please note that different agencies often have different clearance requirements and processes so be sure to be knowledgeable about your agency’s standards and be sure to be prompt with any paperwork that the process requires.  It may seem simple but quick submission of accurate paperwork will be a major asset to the entirety of the process. 

Tools of the trade

Below are some of the essential items you will need to possess to have a successful hiring process. If you don’t have these components yet, work on finding them before you enter the internship application process at any agency you are applying for.

  • An Up to Date USAjobs Account: USAjobs is the U.S Government’s primary hiring website.  Here you will find all of your internship job postings, however please note that not all agencies use USAjobs. Be sure to check agency websites for details of specific internship postings as well.  Undergraduate students will usually qualify for unpaid internships and other programs within the GS-4 and below grade code range.  Most applications for internship programs are fairly straightforward needing only a resume, cover letter, and transcripts.  However, some of the programs (mainly unpaid internships) will require an interest statement to go along with the rest of your materials.  Be sure to upload all of these materials to your USAjobs account and keep them up to date so you can quickly access them in your documents tab to apply to multiple positions of interest.  Remember, perseverance is key, if at first you don’t succeed keep applying.  
  • A Well Written Resume and Cover Letter:  A thoughtfully constructed resume and cover letter combination are absolutely essential to a successful application.  Federal hiring managers at various agencies review hundreds of resumes, well structured and well written content are the primary weapon to get you through the door to the interview stage at an agency.  Constructing ironclad documentation to support your application takes hours of proofreading, which is a great opportunity to start using the resume and proofreading resources available at the Center for Career Development at Holy Cross. Remember, these documents are the agency’s first glimpse into who you are and what you could provide as an intern, first impressions are everything, if your paperwork stands out you will too. 
  • An Up to Date List of Internship Deadlines:  This “tool” may sound simple but it is a powerful strategy for applying to federal internship programs.  As previously mentioned, federal internship applications sometimes open six months to a year in advance of a start date due to clearance processing and other requirements.  If you are applying for multiple positions (which I highly recommend) be sure to chart out when due dates are and when positions open and have your most recent resume, cover letter, and transcripts ready to go to apply.  I have seen time and again deadlines come and go for internship programs that qualified applicants have missed due to scheduling errors, be attentive with clock and calendar with regard to due dates and be prepared, do your research. 

Awareness of Internship Options

There are many types of internships throughout the federal government but listed are some of the different categories of programs to choose from and look out for.  First is the Virtual Student Federal Service or (VSFS).  VSFS allows students to participate in project opportunities all throughout the federal government in a virtual environment with many top agencies including NASA, ODNI, and the U.S State Department to name a few options.  VSFS is a great and affordable option for students to be involved with part time even while taking classes throughout their college career and is a great option to be paired with the Academic Internship Program offered through the J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World.  

The second broad option is in person unpaid internships, most agencies have a general unpaid internship program in which undergraduate students can gain experience in their agency.  These are wonderful opportunities to go to D.C. or other regions of the country and experience agency operations first hand and can easily be coupled with the Holy Cross D.C. semester program if the internship is in the D.C. area.  The great part the federal government is that there are all sorts of opportunities to get involved whether you are a physics major wanting to study operations at NASA, a biology major interested in healthcare at the CDC or the NIH, or an aspiring teacher studying education policy at the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government will undoubtedly have a functional area to enrich your interests. 

The third and final internship type are Pathways programs.  Pathways programs are often paid internships that upon completion of your education program and the Pathways program requirements carry with them the opportunity to possibly convert into the federal government upon graduation.  These programs are often the most highly sought after internship programs in the whole of the federal government for this reason are extremely competitive.  If you have an opportunity to apply for one of these programs be sure to put your best foot forward as you will likely be competing with a wide variety of individuals vying for an opportunity to directly enter the federal government.  Be sure to note that most pathways internship programs have application cut offs, for example if an application has a cut off of 100 applications the hiring officials will only consider applicants within the first 100 applicants, timing is often key for being considered.  

All of these programs above can be used in conjunction with the Academic Internship Program and the Washington Semester program if you manage to secure a position in D.C., offered through the J.D. Power Center.  These programs allow students to intern while still earning credit toward their degree.  Not all schools offer this opportunity and as a Holy Cross student you should take advantage of the opportunity while you have it as the combination of real world experience and academic progression will put you in a distinct category of qualified applicants for possible conversion into full time positions when graduating college. 

General Advice: Lessons Learned

After reading all of the information above you may have thought to yourself that I was sitting first in line my first year of college and with all of my paperwork ready to apply for my first federal job.  This could not be any further from the truth.  My journey to federal service started with me struggling tremendously my freshman year, having not a single idea of what I wanted to do with my professional career.  No resume, no cover letter, no online application accounts, and not one clue of what I wanted to accomplish, needless to say I felt completely lost and struggled considerably my first several semesters on the Hill.  However, my Montserrat professor one day noticed my situation and told me only two things, improve your writing skills and take a shot at the D.C. semester program or apply to the Academic Internship Program to see what I would want to do. 

 Three years later I completed both programs back to back my junior year amounting to over 9 full months of combined internship experience with a full class load.  These programs completely changed the direction of my college career, allowed me to find direction in my work, and have the capacity to change your college experience as well.  I fully understand how difficult finding what you’re passionate about can be and every time I mentor a student, I remember back to the way I felt when I myself was a struggling student who thought that I would never amount to much in my college career.  My advice to students in the same situation is simple: Holy Cross is a small college where professors will know your name, will know your strengths and weaknesses, and more importantly be willing to help you.  That’s one of the advantages of this institution, you have immediate access to people that will help you being it is such a small and personal environment.  If you’re stuck, reach out to your advisors and use the career center, the J.D. Power Center, and other on campus resources to start exploring what is possible. 

Experiential learning is a very powerful opportunity as it allows you to experience the real world in a controlled environment and allows you to find out how to perform successfully.  The combination of meaningful experiences in both the classroom and practical real world work environment will allow you to out compete with the most elite students in the country and will without a doubt make you a better, more well rounded individual. Take the first step and be involved in your time here, you won’t be sorry that you did.  If you follow this guide and equip yourself with the tools necessary to compete for these opportunities I have listed above as an underclassmen, you will be leagues ahead of where I was when I was in your shoes and most importantly will likely be able to have the opportunity to represent Holy Cross within the United State’s most influential institutions.  Remember, be prepared, be professional, and most importantly never give up if you have a good reason to step up and get involved in federal service. 

Rudy Antoncic '22 - J.D. Power Center Ambassador
Rudy Antoncic ’22 – J.D. Power Center Ambassador

 

Living the Jesuit Mission through the J.D. Power Center

Every student knows the foundational principle of a Holy Cross education by heart; we are, and we become, men and women for and with others through the educational emphasis on learning for the greater benefit of the world. During my last four school years, each class that I have taken has given me a glimpse into how the information applies to the real world. Whether it’s discussing the politics of globalization or reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, my professors have always shown me the material’s relevance to the world, and what it can do for others, in whatever form that entails. 

My academic experience of the mission, and the way that it’s grown within my intellectual pursuits would not be complete, however, without my participation in the various programs that the J.D. Power Center provides. Through classes, we learn how to understand the world and how we can think and act for others, but through experience, we learn how to act with others. This combination of class and experiential learning, understanding how the skills learned in the classroom apply to the world and to real people, is truly where the Jesuit mission at Holy Cross becomes evident. 

My first experience with integrating my classes with the world was during the spring semester of 2021. I participated in the Academic Internship program and enrolled in the course Women and the Law while interning with an immigration law firm in Worcester. The course looked into the intricacies of the female experience under the law, and I was able to see many of the topics we discussed in real life during my work experience. I understood on a more complex level, how and why some of these clients were in the positions that they were in, and I was able to assist their cases much better because of the background knowledge I had from class. And the experience of my internship helped me better understand my class material as well because I had something to apply it to. 

I have the same sentiment with my CBL component of one of my current courses. I’m working with the Accessibility Advisory Commission for the City of Worcester, and not only am I helping the city with an important project, but also, I’m applying what I learn in class to work for the and with the chairpersons of the commission all to benefit the residents of the city. The collaboration in the pursuit of service is made easier when I have the experience and the knowledge to do it. 

The experiential learning programs that I have participated in within the J.D. Power Center has significantly enriched my learning, but most importantly going forward towards life after Holy Cross, it has expanded my ability to live our mission, men and women for and with others, throughout my life.

Anne Comcowich '22 - J.D. Power Center Ambassador
Anne Comcowich ’22 – J.D. Power Center Ambassador

Experiential Learning: How It Has Impacted My Time at Holy Cross

I spent the Fall 2020 semester participating in the Washington, D.C. Semester Program. This program was an experience that I was interested in before I had even applied to Holy Cross, so I was excited to begin the journey after my acceptance. I ultimately landed on an internship with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in their Security Operations and International Operations offices. What I valued most about my internship experience was the balance of autonomy and trust my supervisors gave me while also always working tirelessly to engage with me and find projects that fit my interests. My classes and professors at Holy Cross prepared me well to tackle all of the projects that I worked on. One example of this is that my supervisors frequently asked for my feedback and review on documents before they were submitted, valuing the writing and revising skills I had developed at Holy Cross. Going into my internship I took this knowledge, but also an open mind knowing that there was so much to learn in the work environment from my colleagues and projects I was doing. Although I was working almost entirely on Zoom, I was exposed to lots of new experiences, learned so much about both the TSA’s mission and connected my academic studies to foster intellectual and personal growth. As the J.D. Power Center’s mission is centered around experiential learning, my holistic experience in D.C. embodied all of its most important traits.

Washington, D.C. has so much knowledge to offer that I knew I wanted to expose myself to and educate myself on as much as possible. Experiential learning is synonymous with hands-on and visual learning, taking education from something that happens solely in the classroom to something that we immerse ourselves in every day. Other students in the program and I visited as many of the Smithsonian’s as we could, such as the National Zoo, Museum of American History, Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Air and Space Museum (Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center) in Virginia. We also took a tour of the Sully Historic Site (formerly Sully Plantation) and were fortunate enough to do a tour of the White House. Additionally, I took advantage of the motorized scooters around the National Mall and took in the various structures and statues along the way. All of these experiences were opportunities to learn and to engage with pieces of history first hand. This learning challenged us intellectually but there was also a social – emotional aspect that made it even more powerful. The Washington Semester Program provided me with new opportunities to connect information I had learned in the classroom to real-world situations to find even deeper meanings. This learning also helped build a better sense of appreciation and built upon the liberal arts foundation that Holy Cross offers. 

For my thesis project I wanted to expand on my internship with the TSA and academic interests and explore a topic with real world ramifications. I was working closely with the International Affairs office and as an International Studies major I knew this was the perfect blend. Through my work at the TSA, I learned about their dedication to aviation security and that on an international scale its administration can get messy. I found in my initial research that aviation is a crucial part of our world, so I categorized it as a global public good or a good that is critical to the well-being of the citizens of the world. Throughout the writing process I developed my central thesis statement and ultimately focused on the international ramifications of private-public partnerships and increasing international bodies’ ability to regulate the supply of global public goods. I was fortunate enough to win the Vannicelli Award for the most outstanding thesis produced in my semester in the Washington Program. Last month, I presented my research and findings to the campus community and was honored to share a piece of the hard work I put into my thesis. I learned more about this topic than I ever could have imagined, but it was also an opportunity to strengthen my writing and research skills which will be valuable for any path in the future. My experience in the Washington Program inspired me to become a Center Ambassador for the J.D. Power Center during my senior year and to begin pursuing opportunities in International Affairs after graduation. Finally, the work that I did at the TSA, lessons from the classroom and experiences traveling around the city have fostered the tools I need to be successful both academically and professionally.  

Washington, D.C. Semester Program Information: https://www.holycross.edu/academics/holy-cross-approach/engaged-learning/semester-away-programs/washington-semester-program

Author:

Keegan Ernest ’22 – J.D. Power Center Ambassador

All in a New York Minute: A NY Semester Cut Short by COVID-19

Student standing in front of stairs on New York street

Editor’s Note: Applications for the Fall 2021 New York and Washington Semester Program are still available. Submit your application today at https://apps.holycross.edu/stuProgApp. Applications are due May 24th, 2021.

Written by Nicolette Frasco, Class of 2021

My experience during the New York Semester, although short lived due to the COVID-19 pandemic, enhanced my college experience in ways I did not know possible. Independence is the main staple of the program. Although that may sound daunting at first, this freedom forced us to mature in a plethora of ways.

 

I worked four days a week while simultaneously attending a weekly seminar and writing my thesis paper. On top of this, my classmates and I maintained an active social life with each other and the new connections we made through our jobs and the NY social scene. We lived in an ideal location, just one train stop into Brooklyn from downtown Manhattan. In fact, my commute every morning was only 20 minutes from my door to my job in the financial district. I worked at the center of the world’s financial markets while interning at the New York Stock Exchange through their largest market-maker Global Trading Systems. The opportunity to work at such an important institution made every day both fulfilling and exhilarating.

 

Many of my classmates and myself became close with our colleagues and attended functions related to our jobs, such as sponsored events and viewing parties. On top of this, we also networked with Holy Cross alumni on a weekly basis through events coordinated by our professor, which gave us exposure to different types of professions.

 

COVID-19 sent us home only 1 ½ months into our semester and, needless to say, my classmates and I were heartbroken. We all came into ourselves during our time there and learned a new sense of responsibility through our daily experiences. When you live in one place long enough you begin to accumulate your “places.” Like the diner on the corner where we loved to recap our weekends, or the restaurant with an impeccable view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Almost everybody in New York is a transplant and because of that it felt so easy to find our place there. To be one of many enjoying what the city has to offer and making your own way fills you with an electric energy that only New York can give you. 

Forge Your Own Path With the New York Semester Program

Student with mask on walking on New York City sidewalk

Editor’s Note: Applications for the Fall 2021 New York and Washington Semester Program are still available. Submit your application today at https://apps.holycross.edu/stuProgApp. Applications are due May 24th, 2021.

Written by Brandon, Class of 2021

Without exaggeration, I owe my everything to the New York Semester Program. In a narrative all too familiar, my life plans were shot down by a certain pandemic you may have heard of and I was suddenly unsure what I would do after my quickly-approaching graduation, or with my life in general. The NYSP gave me renewed purpose and I am beyond happy to say that as a result of the program I am fully employed and living in NYC.

This isn’t a new concept, but internships prepare you for real-world situations like no classroom can. It doesn’t hurt that the NYSP puts you square in the middle of the fastest and most lively city in America, so you can expect those real-world situations to come in shining, memorable heaps. The NYSP puts you in the beating heart of the commerce, publishing and artistic industries in a way no coursework or lecture can.

In the New York Semester Program, I worked as a writing intern at a small news website based in Midtown Manhattan. As an intern I published more than 700 articles on two websites and earned irreplaceable references and experience. Since then I was hired full time as a writer here in New York City; that happened solely because of my internship. I also fell so deeply, fully and stupefyingly in love with Brooklyn Heights, a place I am lucky enough to now call my home.

The New York Semester Program is an unparalleled opportunity to dip your toes into life, independence, and America’s most beautiful city. You will be intoxicated by a feeling of freedom and what time you don’t spend in a classroom will be spent hardening and developing your love of life. If you are anything like me, I guarantee you will do everything in your power to never leave this city again. I am very lucky to now call New York City, and specifically Brooklyn Heights, my home and I deeply and peerlessly thank the New York Semester Program for giving me a life and career to be proud of.

Schaaf ’22 and Suwal ’22 Reflect on Research Associates Experience with New England Classics Journal

L-R: Anne-Catherine Schaaf ’22 and Smarika Suwal ’22

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Anne-Catherine Schaaf ’22 and Smarika Suwal ’22, who worked with Prof. Aaron Seider (Classics) as Research Associates.

In a world of quarantines and closures, who is venturing to the basement of Dinand Library to read bound copies of a journal? The answer, of course, is no one! Accessibility and inclusion were already guiding principles for our work on the New England Classical Journal (NECJ) before the COVID-19 pandemic, and they proved to be even more important in this new context. A regional Classics journal published by the Classical Association of New England (CANE), NECJ previously existed in only bound copies or behind a paywall. During our work as Research Associates, we were already in the process of transitioning the journal to Open Access on CrossWorks, and once the pandemic began the number of downloads and locations of our readers skyrocketed. As we think about the future, we know that accessibility and inclusion must remain our core principles, and we hope to build on the slow and meticulous work that helped us make the journal an Open Access publication this year. 

Our daily work consisted of independent tasks like proofreading and uploading past articles, as well as more collaborative work such as making key decisions on the journal’s formatting and layout. As the semester progressed, we also began to focus on NECJ’s outreach. We discussed potentially creating social media accounts and obtaining DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers) to transition the journal to Open Access. Additionally, by creating new content like abstracts and keywords for older articles, we not only helped the journal reach new audiences but also improved our own writing and research skills, strengthening our ability to quickly absorb complex content and highlight the most important aspects people needed to find. Anne-Catherine created the journal’s first abstract and keywords list, establishing the outline for future abstracts and keyword lists. Smarika took on the major project of creating a spreadsheet to organize our archive of past NECJ issues.

All of these tasks tied into larger opportunities for learning, which we accomplished through regular readings and discussions about the historic exclusivity of Classics and the role classical journals, and NECJ in particular, have in dismantling existing structures of racism and other forms of bias within the field. Two particularly impactful pieces were this editorial from the American Journal of Philology and Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s talk on race, power, and inclusion in journals at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies. We also discussed the racist events that occurred at that same annual meeting as well as Prof. Padilla Peralta’s and others’ responses to the meeting and those events. This knowledge has informed our own work outside of NECJ, as we were part of the team that created the Diversity and Inclusion Committee to support inclusion efforts in our own Classics department. 

Our work concluded for the year with a presentation at the virtual CANE Annual Meeting on the work we had accomplished, what we had learned, and our plans for the future. A key goal of our presentation was to get feedback on our inclusivity efforts, and ideas for how to improve. The presentation was well received, and a robust discussion followed, with participants from all levels of classical pedagogy emphasizing the importance of representation in the field and offering many helpful suggestions to expand upon our aims for NECJ. The journal has transformed over the past year, but even more exciting changes await in its future, and as we look back, we are incredibly grateful for this learning opportunity, and eager to see how our work continues to make an impact.

CBL and Spanish: The Real Life Lesson – Katie Kelsh ’20

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally featured on the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning blog on May 18, 2020. You can find the original at https://communitybasedlearning.me.holycross.edu/2020/05/18/cbl-and-spanish-the-real-life-lesson-katie-kelsh-20/.

On Friday, May 15, 2020, 20 senior Spanish majors were inducted into the Spanish Honor Society, Sigma Delta Pi. All 20 students participated in at least one CBL course, with 90% of them first encountering CBL in Spanish 301: “Spanish Composition and Conversation.” Senior CBL Intern, Katie Kelsh was among the inductees. Katie takes to the blog to reflect on how CBL has been so important to her Spanish major experience. Congratulations Katie and to all the senior Spanish majors on this achievement! The Donelan Office thanks the Spanish Department for all that they do to encourage Spanish students to take part in community-based learning. View a video montage celebrating all of the senior inductees, created by Professor Bridget Franco of the Spanish Department.

Lately, I have frequently found myself helping my brother with his Spanish homework. As I sit with him at the dining room table, repeating vocabulary words and attempting to explain to him the difference between the preterit and imperfect tenses, I keep thinking about my own journey with Spanish. During my first year at Holy Cross, after five years of Spanish classes, I signed up to work with the Worcester Public School Transition Program when they came to Holy Cross where I would spend time with them and also be able to practice my Spanish. However, during the first day that I spent with Worcester Transition Program, when they asked me what my favorite meal at Crossroads was, I became nervous and struggled to answer the question. Thinking about that moment, I have realized how important the CBL component of my Spanish major has been. It has given me the opportunity to gain confidence in actually using my Spanish to effectively communicate with others. The simple act of weekly conversation had helped me grow incredibly as a Spanish student. Spending time with my community partners, I was learning new vocabulary, the ways to distinguish between a Puerto Rican and an Argentine accent, and why they call the tasty Cuban dish ropa vieja. These moments were critical to my understanding of Hispanic language and cultures.

My time spent with my Worcester community partners prepared me for my semester spent abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While not technically a CBL experience, living in Buenos Aires for a semester was definitely the embodiment of experiential learning. Having experience conversing with others in a second language helped prepare me for this new adventure. I was experiencing a new culture, speaking a second language, and living in a foreign city. It was truly the quintessential CBL experience. The lessons that I learned from my community partners such as being open to having conversations with strangers, making mistakes, and learning from others helped me through a challenging but rewarding semester. Taking my language learning out of the classroom and into real life meant daily lessons such as the importance difference between llevarand traer when ordering take out and how after many years of Spanish classes I finally started to understand how and when to use the subjunctive. Whether it was through CBL or in Buenos Aires, it has been these moments, outside of the classroom, when ordering coffee or chatting with the doorman as I waited for the elevator, that I finally understood why I enjoyed learning Spanish. It wasn’t knowing exactly when to use the preterit or imperfect tense, rather it was how learning a new language allowed me to communicate, have conversations, and simply connect with many new people. These real-life experiences, many offered by CBL, take language learning to the next level in allowing students to carry their classroom learning into real life, enabling students to learn culture and connect with people in their global and local community.

Recently, I attended the Spanish Honors Society Induction where I listened to my fellow students describe what their time as a Spanish major had brought to their life. Listening to each student speak made it was obvious that the Spanish major was so much more than just a set of classes we had taken. Student after student spoke about not only learning a new language, but the endless opportunity and experiences that came along with that language, such as finding out they could learn and live in a completely different country or getting to know their host mother. This was what we all loved as Spanish majors, the gift of language that gives us the ability to converse and connect with people across the world, people we might have never met otherwise. However, it did take a while to get to that point. The experiences we had and people we met through CBL helped us gain the confidence and knowledge to begin using our gift and I could not be more grateful for that.

Reflections from the Senior CBL Interns

Collage of photos of CBL Intern seniors

Editor’s Note: This post was originally featured on the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning blog on May 4, 2020. You can read the original post at https://communitybasedlearning.me.holycross.edu/2020/05/04/reflections-from-our-senior-interns/.

Upon  the end of their time as Interns in the Donelan Office and their graduation from Holy Cross in May, our seven senior CBL Interns were asked to reflect on one or more of the following questions: (1) What is my greatest learning from being a CBL Intern? (2) How have I grown in my time as a CBL Intern? (3) What will I take with me from the CBL Intern experience into my next step? They each share thoughtful remarks about how their time as Interns has shaped and molded their Holy Cross experiences. 

Hannah Benson ’20: My greatest lesson from being a CBL Intern will always be the lesson of collaboration. I have learned that there is so much power in starting new ideas with others. As a group, we inspire each other, and because of this, the outcome can reach its full potential. Not only is this true for the CBL interns but for partnerships with community partners, other CBL Holy Cross students, professors, SPUD leaders, and more. Some of my best ideas come from conversations with others.

 It can be difficult to consider my own growth as an Intern, but I know it’s there because I surround myself with people who let me know. I started in the CBL office as a sophomore, went abroad in my junior year, and came back as a senior and it still feels like yesterday that I was given the opportunity to start working closely with the office. I think of examples like taking Professor Sterk Barrett my sophomore and senior years and facilitating discussions in Professor Lipsitz’s “Science of Happiness” Montserrat course for those years as well. These mentors and many more have seen my growth and given me the space to learn.

For me, the most incredible thing that CBL has given me is the fearless ability to take on any project. The world we live in is not perfect, but it is not permanently broken either. There is always room for improvement and what the world needs is people who have the ideas and the willingness to work hard and make it happen.

Jack Chaffee ’20: I would say that my greatest learning from being a CBL Intern is the importance of building relationships that are founded in mutuality and reciprocity when fostering community within Worcester and Holy Cross. CBL provided me with some of the most informative and transformative experiences of my four years here at Holy Cross, and I am incredibly grateful for the lessons I learned along the way, especially about how we engage with one another. During my time as a CBL intern I grew more confident in my abilities to be a leader and peer, while also gaining a much deeper understanding of systematic issues we face as a society. After being an intern for three years, I feel much more confident in advocating for ideas or concepts I believe in, many of which have been formed by experiential learning opportunities such as CBL. Being a member of the intern cohort, and receiving mentorship from the Directors of the Donelan Office, have strongly encouraged me to pursue what I am passionate about. The support I have felt from the CBL Office was important in my discernment of post graduate plans, and I will take this lesson of unwaveringly pursuing my passions with me as I prepare to leave Holy Cross and become an assistant in L’Arche Jacksonville.

Katie Kelsh ’20: The time I have been fortunate enough to spend within the Community-Based Learning community at Holy Cross has taught me many lessons. I have learned how to make delicious empanadas with the Worcester Public School Transition Program and the best strategies to painting French nails from Wanda at Training Resources of America. However, above all, this time has revealed to me the true value of asking a question. I have learned that it is from a simple question, such as “How was your weekend?” that meaningful and lasting relationships can begin. I could not be more grateful for these relationships I have been able to form on and off the Hill through CBL, as they have greatly enriched my Holy Cross experience. Ending my time with the CBL office is one of the hardest parts of leaving Holy Cross, but as I move to my next steps beyond HC, I will carry with me all those I have met through CBL and hope to continue building community, one question at a time. 

Will McAvoy ’20: From my time as a CBL Intern, I had the opportunity to learn from my peers and realize that we all have different interpretations of the world around us. I realized this during countless reflection sessions, at dialogue sessions, during the NPCC, during intern meetings, etc. From tutoring children to sitting with the elderly, students would have different experiences between sites. Students also interpreted their experiences differently at the same site. I quickly realized in my first year Montserrat with Professor Ginny Ryan that there was no “typical experience” with CBL. Throughout the years, hearing different students explain their experiences made me grasp the course material in a different way. It was a paradigm shift. To me, that is what makes CBL so powerful; it allows all of us to view our experience in and out of the classroom in a different way, thus allowing us to have a greater learning experience that leaves a meaningful impact on each of us.

I have also learned to embrace silence. This has happened in two places. The first is bedside at the St. Mary Center. I have learned from professors that sometimes the power of being present is simply enough for a resident. Maybe the resident is tired and would rather rest by watching a show with you instead of conversing. Similarly, in small group reflections, I have learned that silence can be a powerful moment for reflection that can allow not only you, but those around you, to reflect on their experiences. From this, I have learned that moments of silence do not need to be filled. Rather, they should be embraced.

Having the experience of CBL has shown me that everyone around me has their own personal experiences that they bring to the table. What I feel in a certain time is rarely the same as someone around me, and that is something that we all need to take into account. Sitting bedside at the St. Mary Center reminds me of my grandmother who passed at a hospice center several years ago. Another student at HC may not have had that experience and would benefit from hearing my story. Similarly, hearing perspectives from others that I personally have not experienced will allow me to learn. I also learned that everyone has their own internal and external struggles that are rarely visible. Having these different lived experiences allows us to be a stronger group. These different personal experiences need to be welcomed and cherished as they will allow us all to learn more from one another. 

Fatima Oseida ’20: Being a CBL intern was one of my favorite roles on campus. When I first came to Holy Cross, I did not know much about social justice or what it actually meant. While I was still finding myself, the opportunity of becoming an intern came across, so I applied and gratefully got the position. Ever since then, every day has been a learning experience. Not only did I learn more about social justice, but I also learned about its importance in our community, not only at Holy Cross, but in Worcester. More importantly, being a CBL intern gave me a new perspective on the Jesuit principle “men and women for and with others”, because being an intern is not just volunteering at a local organization and getting some work done. To me, it means to immerse myself in the community and to learn from my own experiences. Now that I am graduating, I came to realize that, through the program, I learned what my true passions are, and that is something that I will be forever grateful for.

Christian Realbuto ’20: The person I am now is completely different from who I was when I first entered Holy Cross – and a significant part of that is because of my experience with CBL and the Donelan Office. CBL introduced me to the strong, vibrant communities that make up the city of Worcester, and allowed me to meet incredible public servants who are committed to their nonprofit agencies that add to the city’s strength and history. CBL has also given me stories of love, along with tremendous sadness. Pain, along with tremendous growth. At the core of this learning has been the incredible power of presence. That’s what we do every week at CBL. We show up. We show up to our sites and share in that vulnerable space, that, by the end of the semester, is no longer just your “CBL site,” but the place where your new friends are, and the place that’s taken a piece of your heart. This learning would be incomplete without cultivating my sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the CBL students who came before me, and paved the way for me to participate in the power of presence. Gratitude for the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program for welcoming me into their community for the past 4 years. And also, gratitude for Isabelle and Michelle – whose commitment to the Donelan Office strengthens our relationship and partnership with Worcester each year.

Being a CBL intern has expanded my understanding of empathy to include different perspectives and contexts. As I learned through CBL, communities — and the people that make them up — do not have “a single story.” In this fashion, service demands that we look beyond “a single story,” and develop intentional relationships that expand upon a person’s whole self.

As I look to make my next steps after Holy Cross, I keep coming back to David Brooks’ opinion piece, “A Nation of Weavers.” “Weavers,” according to Mr. Brooks, “share an ethos that puts relationship over self” and exhibit “radical mutuality” in their relationships to one another. I believe this sentiment encompasses CBL and our community partners. CBL cultivates Weavers – people who recognize the importance of reciprocity and mutually in relationships with one another. CBL teaches that there is no “us” and “them” – there is only us.

Thank you, to the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning any my fellow CBL interns for all the wonderful memories and experiences I was lucky enough to share in.

Delaney Wells ’20: As I reflect back on my various involvements and endeavors throughout my four years at Holy Cross, I can say wholeheartedly that Community-Based Learning has had the greatest influence on the journey of finding who I am at my core, deeply shaping my mind and heart. The relationships I have built at the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program, among other community partners, within the intern community, and in reflection sessions have prompted me to develop a more critical consciousness about our world, our structures, and the way that I exist within them. I am leaving Holy Cross with a personal responsibility to those forgotten and disadvantaged by normative economic and political structures on local and global levels. Through involvement in the Donelan Office I have come to recognize the importance of the touch of the heart in relationships formed through CBL. This significant touch allows us to form meaningful and deep connections with one another which illuminate truths about ourselves and the world around us. I now value the touch of the heart in all relationships and actions I partake in, motivating me to work for justice and equality. I am leaving Holy Cross with the lessons, conversations, and moments through my involvement with community-based learning at the center of who I am, fueling my drive to continue to seek justice.

Sindurakar ’20 Recounts Winter Break Trip to Nepal

Four people standing in front of religious monument in Nepal
L to R: Professor Naresh Bajracharya, Trishala Manandhar, Princy Sindurakar, and Maire White

By Princy Sindurakar ’20

Editor’s Note: Princy Sindurakar ’20 is a senior Biology major with minors in Asian Studies and Neuroscience. With funding from the Ignite Fund, Princy had the chance to travel to Nepal over winter break to study the complex use of sacred art in various rituals related to one’s well-being and spread of peace in Newar Buddhism. She took some time to write about her trip.

During our trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, I visited prominent and local historical sites, mainly built during the Golden age of the Kathmandu Valley, specifically due to the growth of culture, art, and architecture. Most of the visits were alongside two other students from Holy Cross and from part of the seminar, Buddhism in the Nepal Himalayas with Professor Todd Lewis and Professor Naresh Bajracharya. These sites were primarily Buddhist temples, stupas, and worship sites, all part of Newar Buddhism, a school in Buddhism.

From beautiful cities, such as Bhaktapur and Patan, to archives and tours within the city, I was able to experience the extensive beauty of the valley and perform field study, connecting with both scholars and locals around the area. For instance, I had the opportunity to observe the bathing ritual of a prominent figure in Vajrayana Buddhism, part of the Mahayana Buddhism, known as Seto Machindranath, in order to prepare for the upcoming festival. This rare sighting would occur every year thus it was fascinating to observe this complex bathing ritual of the figure at one of the local Buddhist sites, known as bahas. Most of these sites, including monuments, had been built by Newars, the historical inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley, and they played a significant role in practicing Buddhism through detailed rituals and discipline, passed down through generations.

Street in city with temples along street

I was able to further my studies in Newar Buddhism and apply my academic knowledge from my previous courses and seminars within the Asian Studies department. We had the chance to analyze the use of different art pieces, such as wood carvings, metal repousse figures, paintings, scrolls, clay moldings, and more, in the context of ritualism and worship. After our first week of visits and field studies at all these sites, I was able to focus on my project’s goals, particularly to understand the traditional practices and the role of diverse artwork on the practice of Newar Buddhism. In addition to my field study in observing the practice of rituals at different historical sites and meeting with scholars, including Theravada Buddhist monks, I studied the use of traditional medicine and its roots to Buddhism, specifically developed within the Newar community, also passed down through generations throughout decades.

I had the opportunity to visit an Ayurvedic factory which involved the making of many forms of medicine through a series of procedures to produce pure traditional medicine with the use of herbs, plants, and minerals found all over Nepal and the world. As a Newari American, this trip was truly a dream, and especially being able to perform field study during my final year, I gained an immeasurable experience beyond courses and seminars through closely connecting with the locals and observing the daily ritualistic practices at the historical vihars and bahas.

“Continuing with CBL Remotely” – Will McAvoy ’20

Raised garden planters with white fence and American bunting behind on sunny day

Editor’s Note: The below post was originally featured on the Dolenan Office of Community-Based Learning Blog on April 16, 2020. You can find the original post at https://communitybasedlearning.me.holycross.edu/2020/04/16/continuing-with-cbl-remotely-will-mcavoy-20/.

I have been offered the opportunity to stay in touch with my resident at St. Mary, Vicky, over the past few weeks.  The Activities Coordinator at St. Mary, Sandy Geller, has graciously offered her phone as a means to conduct Facebook videocalls.  Every week at our scheduled time to visit, Vicky and I have had either a video call or a phone call.  It has been great to stay in touch, and I am thankful for Sandy in making this happen!

One thing that I definitely am missing is the garden at St. Mary.  Last spring, another Holy Cross student (Megan Treanor ’20) and I applied for a Marshall Grant to establish a garden at St. Mary.  We were awarded nearly a thousand dollars to implement a wheelchair-accessible garden where all residents would be able to grow their own fruits and veggies as well as get their hands dirty if they wanted.  Vicky was one of the residents who led the charge on this activity, offering her guidance from decades of managing her own garden at her home.

Last year was our first year, so there definitely were some challenges to overcome.  However, the garden was a huge success with many residents, Holy Cross students, and families of residents, participating in cultivating the garden.  Several residents told Sandy that they now had a purpose in life.  Megan and I were proud to have made such a big impact and are thankful for all that helped make the garden such a success.

I was excited for this spring to really grow a fantastic garden.  With the current situation, it doesn’t look as if that is going to occur.  But one thing is certain: I know for a fact though that once this time of social distancing comes to an end, Sandy, Vicky, and many of the other residents will be outside at the garden.  In the meantime, I look forward to staying in touch with Vicky via phone.

To the current CBL students reading this, I would recommend that you reach out to your community partner.  Maybe a phone call is something that could be facilitated for your site.  You never know until you ask!