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[Fresh] Day of Service, House Calls

This is a posting from Fresh@News, Villanova's e-mail newsletter for parents and friends of the class of 2012. Please feel free to open as many subscriptions as you please, by sending an email to Fresh@News.Villanova.Edu. The message should have just two words: subscribe fresh   To be removed from the list, just reply to this e-mail and tell us you want to be off.

This week Fresh@News is talking to Professor John Immerwahr, Department of Philosophy, and Ms. Christine Quisenberry, Assistant to the President for Events, about two interesting events from this past week.


Fresh@News: It has been a busy week for the class of 2012, so I thought the two of you could help tell us about House Calls and the St. Thomas of Villanova Celebration.  Let’s start with House Calls.  Professor Immerwahr, you participated in that event again this year, can you tell us a little about it?

John Immerwahr:  Each fall, the Dean of Students office picks an evening when teams of faculty members, coaches, campus ministers, and administrators visit EVERY freshman residence hall room.  We call it “House Calls” and this year it was on Wednesday, September 17th.  Teams also met with commuting students on Friday, September 19th.


F@N:  So what actually happens?

JI:  We went in teams of two (this year I was with Alana Milazzo, Assistant Coach for Women’s Rowing). We were assigned to a floor in one of the smaller residence halls on main campus. We knocked on the students’ door, and if they were in (they were all told we were coming), we sat down and talked to them for five or so, just to assess how they were doing after a few weeks of college.


F@N:  And what were the conversations like? 

JI: Most of what we heard was very positive. The students we met said they had made some good connections with other students in the hall, were getting into the rhythm of classes, and were exploring or already involved in some activities.  I was in one of the residence halls without air conditioning, so we got a few complaints about that, and some of the young women weren’t too crazy about the bathrooms.  But most of what my team heard was encouraging.  Sometimes a team will pick up on some more serious issues and those concerns are referred to the appropriate person or office for follow up, and, of course, it is important just to let the students know that we care about how they are doing.


F@N: It sounds like you enjoyed the evening.

JI: Actually, I think the faculty and staff enjoy House Calls as much as the students do.  In one of his books about teaching, St. Augustine reminds us that an effective teacher must understand who the students are, and what their backgrounds and interests are.  Visiting students in their rooms, seeing how they live, and hearing about their lives really helps us know them better.  Can I tell you the most fun part?


F@N: Of course!

JI:  I was talking to one of our freshman nursing students.  She was so excited about learning to take vital signs in her nursing class that I asked her if she wanted to take my blood pressure. She took out her brand new blood pressure cuff and stethoscope and gave me a reading.  It was exactly the same as what I got from the machine in the drug store just the other day, so, who knows, maybe she is already an expert.


F@N:  Thanks, and now let’s turn to Ms. Chrissy Quisenberry.  Can you tell us about the Day of Service that is part of the St. Thomas of Villanova Celebration?  It sounds like another important event for the class of 2012, as well as for the whole Villanova community.


Chissy Quisenberry: Actually, the Day of Service, which was Saturday, September 20, is part of a larger event, as you point out, the annual St. Thomas of Villanova Celebration, in honor of Villanova’s patron, St. Thomas of Villanova, a 16th century Augustinian bishop of Valencia, Spain.


F@N: What was included in the celebration?

CQ: The celebration began with an Academic Symposium, followed by a University-wide Day of Service, a Liturgy, and a community dinner.


F@N: Tell us a little bit about each of the events.

CQ: The celebration began Friday afternoon with an Academic Symposium titled, Giving Life: Water, Faith and Sustainability. Four scholars offered insightful perspectives on the theme: Dr. Robert Traver, Villanova University, spoke from an engineering perspective; Dr. Timothy Brunk, Villanova University, discussed the sacramental and spiritual nature of water; and Dr. Jerome Delli Priscoli, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Institute for Water Resources and Editor in Chief of Water Policy, addressed the science of water resource issues and water as a force in global politics and human life.  Dr. Nancy Kelley, Villanova University, moderated the Q&A session with the audience following the panel's presentation. Faculty, staff and students gathered following the Symposium to review a poster exhibit prepared by first-year students enrolled in the Environmental Learning Community and to continue the thoughtful discussion over some light appetizers.


F@N: That sounds great. And what did the Day of Service entail?

CQ: On Saturday, over 2, 500 members of our community participated in the Day of Service. Faculty, staff and students gathered in the Pavilion early on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day and there was a lot of excitement in the room even at 8:30 in the morning.  A few short talks set the tone for the day.  I particularly remembered the words of Joe Bob Gonzalez, a senior from the Brownsville, Texas area, who talked about one of his early service experiences.  He was helping two young kids with reading, and was working on simple one-syllable words like “bed.”  He said to the boys, “You know this one, it is where you sleep.”  When boys said, “Yes, but we don’t sleep on a bed, we sleep on the floor.” This experience really helped the student understand that service is not just about helping others, but about learning about the world we live in and the need for change.  Before everyone left for the day of service, the President, Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., gave a blessing, and we started the process of loading almost 100 buses and vans to get the day underway.


F@N.  So where did the students go for their service?

CQ:  The students went to various sites throughout Philadelphia serving the needs of the community through the help of local organizations. The entire day was a wonderful testament to the life of St. Thomas of Villanova, who spent his life serving the poor. The buses and vans slowly returned to campus in the late afternoon, just in time for all of us to enjoy a wonderful community Liturgy and dinner in the Pavilion. The students looked tired and dirty at the end of the day, after their experiences with painting, cleaning, and a variety of other activities, but many knew that they had both accomplished something and also had some real learning. Our Dining Services staff provided us with a delicious meal and we were all able to discuss our different experiences throughout the day.


F@N: What type of work were people doing on Saturday?

CQ: We had a wide variety of service opportunities for people around the city. We had teams at the Philadelphia Zoo, local parks, churches, homeless shelters and food pantries, elder centers, just to name a few. One of our largest contingencies was working with the Heart of Camden, a community based organization that is dedicated to revitalizing neighborhoods in Camden, NJ through providing affordable housing along with family and youth services and human development. We also had quite a few people working with Habitat for Humanity at our local affiliates.


F@N: How did students get involved?

CQ: In the weeks leading up to the weekend, students, faculty and staff were able to sign up online through our website and choose their service location. They were able either to sign up as an individual or as part of a group. Each site was led by student leaders and one faculty or staff leader. It was great to see so many of our student organizations represented and serving together. We had athletic teams, residence halls, student organizations, fraternities and sororities, and some of our Freshman Seminar classes that signed up to serve together as a group. It was also a great way to meet new people since you were able to simply sign up individually for a service site that was of interest to you.


F@N: It sounds like it was a busy day.

CQ: It was definitely an exciting day to be a part of the Villanova community.


F@N: It seems like this was a special weekend on campus. Is this something that happens every year?

CQ: Yes! This was our third annual Day of Service. We already have the dates set for next year! It is our hope that even more people will be able to participate next year. Next fall's St. Thomas of Villanova Celebration will be held September 18-19, 2009. Stay tuned for more details!


F@N: One more question and this one is for you, Professor Immerwahr.  Don’t you also write these interviews?  So does this mean that you are talking to yourself? 

JI:  Why, yes. But I’m in the Philosophy Department, so people are used to me talking to myself.