A True Sense of Family

Four USD students smile while on a University Ministry-sponsored event.

Father Greg Boyle speaks highly of “mutuality” in his 2017 book, Barking to the Choir. In brief, Boyle praises this virtue for its ability to create respect and love within a community and, in particular, between its members. Through mutuality, each member acknowledges both how they are loved and how they love others. He calls on all who participate within a community of service to engage by keeping this sense of mutuality in mind.

Over the past academic year, University Ministry (UM) began a new scholarship program for incoming Catholic students that embraces this concept at its core. Twenty admitted first-years were selected from a pool of applicants with financial need; each was awarded a $5,000 annual scholarship. The scholarship is based on applicants’ prior involvement in their local communities as well as their expressed commitment to continuing servant leadership at the University of San Diego.

As University Ministry scholars, students take on liturgical roles, participate in various social-justice-oriented UM programs and attend at least one UM retreat. For many in the program, the scholarship played both a key role in the students’ decisions to attend USD as well as the success of their first year.

“It’s the reason I chose USD over San Diego State,” says sophomore Marlene Putros. “Mostly because it helped pay for my tuition, but I also saw it as an opportunity to get back into my faith.” Putros isn’t alone; many of the 20 scholars shared a similar decision-
making path.

Assistant Vice President and Director of University Ministry Michael Lovette-Colyer echoes this reality. “We heard a lot of students say that while it’s not an overly large sum of money, it made a significant impact on their decision to come to USD,” he says. Over time, the scholars came to realize that the program not only gave them a financial boost, but also provided an overwhelming amount of community support.

The fruits of this scholarship program have already begun to bloom within the program. Putros says it’s opened the door for her to explore other leadership positions across campus.

“I’ve gained confidence to apply to something like Scholastic Assistants,” Putros says. She was delighted to be selected and will be working to foster a positive educational and developmental experience for first-year students during the next academic year.

Sophomore Vivian Mateos Zuniga concurs that the University Ministry scholarship program has helped broaden her horizons on campus. “I don’t think I would have been as willing to just go for things if I didn’t know that this scholarship was something I could count on to be there for me,” she says. This sort of self-assurance is an essential ingredient for student success, as it lays the groundwork for students to put themselves out there — whether in their academics, leadership opportunities, career or social life.

  “The people that I met through the program ended up being some of my closest friends throughout the year,” Zuniga says. She fondly speaks of random laser tag outings and the group’s familial sense, and attributes this strong sense of community to the group’s collective openness.

Putros concurs, adding, “I don’t think my first year would have gone as well without the UM scholars.”

As one of the creators of the program, Lovette-Colyer watched with delight as the  group’s sense of camaraderie came to life during their first year. The scholars surprised him when they requested to bump up the frequency of their monthly meetings — a rarity for busy college students. “There was a richness of the engagement and people were a thousand percent tuned in,” he notes.

Looking forward, the program will grow with each new class of scholars accepted. For Lovette-Colyer, the hope is that the older scholars will become leaders and mentors to the younger ones, thereby creating a strong universitywide community. “It helps the students who would be, in a sense, the best fit for this university to afford to come here,” he says. “It was one of the best parts of this past year.”

And for her part, Zuniga beams with excitement at imminent prospect of the next cohort of scholars. “When we were told that a new batch was coming in next year, all of us were super-pumped. We all feel the need to encourage these first years to take advantage of all these opportunities that UM scholars will give them.” And the recent completion of the new Ministry Center will provide ample space for the group, which will ultimately grow to 80 members. 

Beyond the USD campus, the program hopes to enrich Catholic communities wherever the scholars go, Lovette-Colyer says. “Ultimately, when the first cohort graduates, they will have excellent leadership formation that will prepare them very well to become leaders in their parishes, schools and other contexts.”

Zuniga couldn’t be more psyched about what’s to come. “I’m excited to see where the next three years take us, and I’m excited to graduate with these people by my side.”

The financial freedom the scholarship provides allows scholars the time to attend Mass regularly, go on weekend retreats, and serve those in need. While this mutual benefit may sound transactional, the experiences of the first batch of recipients prove that this is one USD community striving for the best the world can offer: love. — Luke Garrett ’20

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