THE MULVANEY CENTER CELEBRATES THREE DECADES OF CONNECTION-BUILDING
Listening. Sharing. Supporting. Mentoring. Learning. Appreciating. Understanding. Each of these words can be defined through the prism of action. At the University of San Diego, these actions make an impact, and make a real difference.
Building community is at the core of what started as the Office of Volunteer Services, became the Center for Community Service-Learning, and is now the Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action.
“We’re a learning community, first and foremost, so building community is very important to us,” explains center director Chris Nayve ’98 (BA), ’06 (JD), ’07 (MBA). “Members of our team talk about the relationship side of this type of work and doing it over the long haul. That’s really the essence.”
Just Like Family
It was 1952, the same year that the first-ever classes took place on the San Diego College for Women campus. A young woman named Judith was living on a small family farm in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was there that she began the journey that would ultimately lead her to USD.
Her desire to help others began by volunteering with the Red Cross during the 1952 great flood of the Missouri River. Years later, the first-generation college graduate of the University of Iowa moved to San Diego with her husband, Dr. Thomas Rauner. They raised four children; dedication to family was equaled only by a desire to help others through community service.
Judith Rauner wrote a handbook for nonprofit organizations, Helping People Volunteer, in 1980. A few years later, she co-authored Gaining Momentum for Board Action, a book aimed at nonprofit boards of directors. She worked for the United Way and created the Young Volunteers in Action program for the San Diego Unified School District.
In 1983, Rauner’s path reached USD. The university had already established an Office of Volunteer Services, but in 1986, Rauner founded the Center for Community Service-Learning, directing
it until her 2002 retirement. The center changed the campus culture through its community service-learning programs, which encouraged students to volunteer for specific needs by matching their skills and interests with those of partner community organizations.
“Judy was an incredible mentor and an inspiration to students, faculty and all of us on staff,” recalls Elaine Elliott, who began working with Rauner in 1995, ultimately becoming her successor as director of the center from 2002 to 2010.
“I learned a lot from her about experiential learning strategies for teaching students leadership skills. I most admired her system of developing student leaders, having a one-unit class on leadership training to prepare them, and then providing ongoing personal coaching.”
Rauner died in 2009 at age 71; her legacy and the importance of interacting and working alongside community lives on through new center staff.
“The same way we treat our family, that’s the way we have to be in our community,” reflects Mulvaney Center assistant director Austin Galy ’17.
Pushing the Limits
Going outside one’s comfort zone is a frequent refrain in conversations about experiential learning. Through the Mulvaney Center and many other USD centers, institutes and programs, opportunities both local and far flung are plentiful.
“The center is definitely a place for students to have a community on campus,” Galy says. “We talk a lot about having that community here, but also about ways that we can connect to the community beyond USD. When students come to us, we try to connect them off campus, whether it’s in Linda Vista, Logan Heights or across the border.”
San Diego County offers many opportunities for students to gain true understanding with, for example, international and refugee populations. Linda Vista’s Bayside Community Center, the Southern Sudanese Community Center, Somali Family Services and many more partner with the center.
Students, staff, alumni and administrators have also visited New Orleans to learn from and to work within its communities. The Mulvaney Center is one of a few USD groups that conduct immersion visits to Tijuana. Other options include excursions to Nogales on the Arizona/Mexico border and trips with a community building component to Duncans, Jamaica, Makuleke, South Africa, China and Guatemala.
John Loggins ’95 (BA), ’12 (MEd), the Mulvaney Center’s director of community engaged learning, did a Peace Corps mission in Jamaica following graduation. Years later, he joined forces with a former USD professor, Rafik Mohamed, to create a Jamaica immersion trip/class.
“We make sure the students are not having a USD experience, but rather, an authentic interaction to get a sense of what it means to live like a Jamaican.”
The center’s tradition and mindset hasn’t wavered from Rauner to Elliott to Nayve, who’s been at the helm since 2010.
“At its core, community engagement is about relationships. If Judy Rauner or (former USD Provost) Sister Sally Furay or the university’s founders — all of whom helped create the work we’re doing today — were still here, they would see their work in action,” Nayve says.
“Anything we do connects to our anchor, to our mission and the result is that we have long-term, equitable partnerships.”
And when Tom Mulvaney, a USD law alumnus, and his wife, Karen, announced their generous gift to the center, it wasn’t as much about money as it was about their belief that Nayve, Loggins and the center’s team and students are doing it the right way.
“It’s about taking the concept of community and helping students, faculty and alumni understand that this is a worldwide community,” said Tom Mulvaney ’77 (JD), now a member of USD’s Board of Trustees.
“If we can create the concept of working with one another, collaborating with one another, understanding one another, it just makes the world a better place.”
Coming Full Circle
Making the world a better place is why Tom and Karen created the Mulvaney Immersion Communities for Action and Humility (MICAH) Summer Fellowship, a partnership that’s connected USD and Saint Mary’s College students for an eight-week program since 2015. Participants from USD have the option to create positive social change in Northern California or Tijuana.
Madison Ryan ‘18 and Sam Eller ’17 were finishing their sophomore year at USD when they became part of the inaugural summer cohort.
“It’s important to do something meaningful. When I heard John Loggins was sponsoring it, I knew it had to be great,” Eller recalls.
It was a fantastic experience for Eller, who was among a group of students who worked at the Alameda Pointe Collaborative’s onsite farm, alongside homeless people. “It was very special, being there in an intentional learning community.”
Loggins describes it as “eight weeks of living with 11 people, working 40 hours a week, doing readings, having case consultations, doing reflections and having them smiling at all of the love they created.”
Ryan knew she was venturing outside of her comfort zone to do the fellowship, but she was still surprised by the end result.
“I thought I was going to go up there, live with some people and work at a nonprofit. I didn’t realize it was going to change my outlook on life. I didn’t realize how intense it was going to be as a personal journey.”
Ryan worked at Oakland’s Prescott Joseph Community Engagement Center, helping to develop a family resource center and participating in an art therapy program/healing arts center.
“The MICAH fellowship was emotional, reflective and introspective. I learned who I was and I learned to love that.”
Plumbing the Depths
It’s clear that the Mulvaney Center is a vital and vibrant presence on campus, given that it connects to the majority of the university’s student population. Every year, community engagement is a component of more than 150 USD classes, connecting with more than 130 community partners.
“Over 85 percent of the campus community is now involved, in some shape or form, in community service,” Nayve says. “Issues include education, poverty, homelessness, economic development, housing and food security. The scope has expanded and our partnerships have deepened over the years.”
One person who’s plumbed that depth firsthand is Judith Liu, PhD, a USD sociology professor since 1982 and Mulvaney Center faculty liaison in 2001-2002 and again since 2005.
“Education is a really the quest for meaning. Students who come into classes that have community engagement projects really come to see the importance of meaning and action,” she says.
Liu has been a community champion and advocate, mentor, coach and facilitator to students and faculty. One example of a strong community friendship and relationship is the one she shares with Montgomery Middle STEAM Magnet School resource teacher Emalyn Leppard ‘98.
“We began working together in 1996, when Emalyn was one of the coordinators for the after-school program called Linda Vista Leaders,” Liu recalls. “We worked together to transform what was then SOC 10: Social Problems to incorporate community service-learning opportunities for both Montgomery and USD students to work together.”
“When I think about community partnerships, I think about Montgomery and USD,” Loggins says.
“There are real human connections there and relationships that have evolved over the years. We’re framing our work and growing our pedagogy by how we’re engaging with one another. That’s why we can co-create programs. We’re not saying, ‘This is a need we have and we want to see how our students can learn,’ or ‘We need students for this one project and can you send us some students?’
“Instead, it’s us sitting down together, and thinking about the work we want to do to create social good in our neighborhood and to make Linda Vista the best place we can make it
by coming up with wonderful new ways to work.” — Ryan T. Blystone