Jessica Melanson ‘21
Austin Scholars is a living-learning community on campus that most people have heard about, but are not really aware of what it is or what its members do. Most commonly people say, “Oh! I’ve heard of that. It’s a community service thing, right?” While there is a huge community service aspect to the program (it’s motto is “Building the City of God,” after all), that’s not the only thing that makes Austin Scholars special.
Austin Scholars is the oldest living-learning community on campus. The program was originally run by Father Ray Dlugos, but Sister Jeanne Gribaudo took over and revamped the program in 2015. Sister Jeanne was inspired to set up the program to allow reflection to play an integral role in community service work. She noticed that students who did community service for classes failed to look back on their work and realize the impact they had on the community.
In 2015, the program had 54 students, and was a program designed for freshmen living on campus. Today, and now with second faculty advisor, Dorie Mansen, the program has over 250 students, and is a 4-year program for both residents and commuters.
Austin Scholars have many events during the school year, including ice cream socials, guest speakers, and class dinners with Sister Jeanne and Mansen to discuss the program and community service work.
Danielle Hersey, a junior at Merrimack, joined the program because she did a lot of community service in high school and wanted to continue in college. “Austin Scholars has given me a family away from home as well as a place to reflect and serve in a comfortable environment,” said Hersey.
Freshmen and sophomores involved are required to take one class a semester for Austin Scholars. Reflection plays a critical part in these classes as students discuss the services they participated in and how it helps the community. While anybody can add a minor in RTS, Austin Scholars are more likely to minor in it because they take three of the five required courses for the minor.
Austin Scholars work closely with the Steven’s Service Learning Center on campus. The service sites vary with some of them in Lawrence or Lowell and others right on campus.
“I have done community service since I was in sixth grade, and it always feels good being able to help those in my community,” said Kelly Nolan, a junior at Merrimack. Nolan’s favorite aspects of Austin Scholars are community service through Hands to Help and the friends she’s made through the program.
Austin Scholars is more than just a “community service thing.” It’s a living-learning community that builds its own community and gets students to think deeply about the world around them. It’s a program that makes a place as large as college seem smaller. It’s a program that is truly building the city of God.