Spotlight on Commencement: Service Mindset

Katie and Kristen Valosky

VILLANOVA, Pa. –  As a core Augustinian value, service comes as second nature to the Villanova University community; Villanova students learn it, and live it, throughout their college careers. For recent graduates, and twin sisters, Katie and Kristen Valosky of Media, Pa., service was a common thread woven throughout their careers at Villanova. Both were invested in the lives of the homeless through service trips, habitat experiences, research and volunteerism with organizations such as LIFT Philadelphia. Their passion for service and dedication to important issues of peace and justice, including advocacy for homelessness awareness has led both to their future pursuits.

“I had the absolute pleasure of teaching both Katie and Kristen, and it was evident that both possessed an unwavering passion for helping those experiencing homelessness,” said Jennifer Joyce Kissko, PhD, Assistant Professor, Villanova Center for Peace and Justice Education. “It is no surprise that Katie will be utilizing her compassion and sensitivity through direct service next year, while Kristen will begin developing a legal framework through which she hopes to enact social change for those in need.”

Katie Valosky, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with minors in Peace and Justice, and theology, began her journey with the RUIBAL Challenge—an all-freshman service program that allows a group of first-year Villanova students the opportunity to volunteer in inner-city Philadelphia schools and community centers—and credits her participation in Villanova’s Sophomore Service Learning Community as a pivotal turning point in her life.

“Villanova has everything to do with who I am today,” she said. “From RUIBAL and the Sophomore Service Learning Community to Urban Bridges at St. Gabriel’s and serving on the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness—all of these experiences have shaped me into the person I am today.”

Annually, a subset of Villanova seniors choose to devote a year of volunteer service after graduation through one of hundreds of agencies throughout the world—from Americorps to Water for Waslala. Katie is one of 25 of this year’s graduating seniors who plan to participate in such an opportunity.

As a case worker through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Katie will have a hands-on role with those who are experiencing homelessness. Her responsibilities could range from helping clients’ find affordable housing or arranging for mental health and substance abuse therapy referrals to organizing clothing donations and coordinating an art therapy program.

“This program will allow me to do work that I’m really passionate about—helping people, making a difference in their lives, building relationships, and fostering humanity,” Katie said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Following her year of service, Katie hopes to pursue a graduate degree in either clinical psychology or social work.

Similarly, Kristen Valosky participated in numerous service organizations and trips throughout her Villanova experience, and even conducted academic research on homelessness.

During the spring 2012 semester, Kristen presented her research, “The Criminalization of Homelessness in Chester PA,” at the annual conference of the Eastern Sociological Society in New York City and at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Ogden, Utah. NCUR promotes undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activity in all fields of study.

Kristen earned dual bachelor’s degrees in sociology and Honors. She will continue her advocacy for homelessness through public service law and plans to further her education at Georgetown University Law Center.

For Kristen, it was her summer fellowship with LIFT Philadelphia that helped to determine the direction in which she plans to dedicate her future.

“Having the chance to serve in an advocate role at LIFT confirmed for me my desire to do public interest law in the future,” said Kristen. “I’ll have the chance to work one-on-one with people and assist them in bettering their circumstances on an individual level, while also having the background and knowledge of what issues are impacting these populations—and to then advocate on a more structural level.”

Kristen also was named the 2012 recipient of the Thomas J. Mentzer Award, which honors a graduating Villanova University senior who has contributed significantly through service to expand opportunities for the poor and marginalized. Mentzer, a 1955 Villanova alumnus, was a faculty member in History. He was active in many of the social issues of the time, including work to oppose racial conflict and segregation. Mentzer died in an automobile accident in 1967.

“These sisters are a testament to Villanova's mission,” Kissko added. “I am thrilled to know they will be continuing their important work in service and advocacy to rally against the injustices of homelessness in our country.”

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others.  There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.