Austin Scholars Join Celebration of New University in Bogotá

Three students from Merrimack College's Austin Scholars living-learning community recently traveled to Bogotá, Colombia with the program's director, Sr. Jeanne Gribaudo, C.S.J., and professor Joseph Kelley to attend a conference with Augustinian scholars from the Americas, Europe and the Philippines as part of a celebration marking the opening of the Order of St. Augustine's newest university.

The new university, Uni Cervantes, is at nearly 9,000 feet in the Andes mountain range where Kelley, a renowned Augustinian scholar, presented on an 11,000-word paper on Augustinian pedagogy written for the conference.

“The key message is Austin Scholars as a living-learning community is very attractive to the current generation of students – so-called I-gen or Z-gen – because it meets their needs as students and people,” Kelley said. “The emphasis is on community service, on reflection, and on mutual respect. Really, a generation of students is hungry for those things.”

Sr. Jeanne presented her perspective as the director of the program. The students, Anthony Munzing ’20, a theological studies and secondary education major; Victoria Ponte ’21, an English major; and Hope Salts, ’22, a political science major appeared at a panel discussion where they shared their experiences as members of the living-learning community. Outside of the panel discussion they met with students and professors from Bogotá.

“We were received very, very well,” Sr. Jeanne said. “They said this is an incredible program. They see it as a very innovative way to get Augustinian pedagogy into higher education; they see it as creative; and they also see it as building a sense of community with the students, which is very Augustinian.”

The response from other conference attendees was affirming of the hard work Sr. Jeanne has put in developing the program over the last three years. The program is expanding to include more commuter students in the fall semester and has a its own executive board with decision-making powers.

“Our students were in many ways the highlight of the conference,” Kelley said.

“We became seen as a real player in the Augustinian pedagogy, that was clear,” Sr. Jeanne said. “Fr. Allan Fitzgerald from Villanova (University) emailed me and Dr. Kelley and said he was so impressed that anything he could do to help, he would. That was very humbling.”

It was both a privilege and humbling to be invited to speak, Munzing ’20, said after his return to campus.

“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to speak to my experiences within the Austin Scholars community, as well as how my service experiences have helped me to grow spiritually and guide me in my passions,” he said.

It was personally rewarding to contribute to learning and the discussion the state of education around the world, Kelley said.

“If I can contribute to the quality of teaching and learning in ways that benefit generations of rising students, that gives meaning and purpose to my work and life,” he said.

The trip was funded through a gift by retired political science professor Marguerite Kane through the Office of the Provost.


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