Undergraduate Views “Service a Part of My Education”

Michelle Dougherty ’14 (right) has immersed herself in the campus and city communities, volunteering her time and talents to serve others.

During her freshman year, Michelle Dougherty ’14 approached Pat Vaccaro, director of the University’s Center for Service and Social Justice, with a simple request. Her inquiry, it turned out, overlapped neatly with the University’s mission of preparing its students to be “men and women for others.”

“I went to Pat and said, ‘I need a cause; I need something to do,’” Dougherty recalls.

Two years later, the biology and philosophy double major, and member of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program, has immersed herself in the campus and city communities, volunteering her time and talents to serve others. She has been involved with numerous initiatives, including the University’s SMART mentoring program, EFFORT or “Excess Food For Others Recovery Team,” Saint Francis of Assisi soup kitchen, and several spring break service trips.

The suburban Philadelphia native values these activities as much has her experiences in the classroom explaining, “I have tried to make service a part of my education.”

“I don’t think of myself as being just a University student. I think of myself as being a part of the Scranton community, and I want to know about the Scranton community,” Dougherty explains. “I enjoy opportunities to get to know people who are different than I am and to understand what types of issues they are facing.”

Mentoring students in Scranton-area high schools has had an enormous effect on the Scranton junior as she often helps teenagers overcome challenges she endured growing up. “It means the most to me because I feel I can make a direct impact in the life of someone else,” she says.

Dougherty’s personal development isn’t limited to just in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Through the University’s International Service Program, she’s visited El Salvador. In addition, she also traveled to Uganda as part of the “Christianity in Africa” intersession course and volunteered with undocumented workers as part of a spring break service trip.

Putting faces with issues has been a growing experience in itself. “When you actually meet the people who would get deported, and ripped away from their families, it transforms your thoughts,” she says. “When you put a face to an issue, you can imagine somebody else’s struggles as your own.” 

Dougherty credits the SJLA program, and the University’s faculty and staff as a whole, for creating an atmosphere for personal growth. “Being in the SJLA program is possibly the greatest part of my experience at the University,” she explains. “It has permeated all parts of my education.”

“I picked Scranton because I liked the idea of cura personalis – caring and educating the whole person,” she recalls. “I really wanted to be educated fully, to do more than work in a lab. I really wanted to be someone who is well spoken, can write well, and advocate for things that I care about.”