Ozanam Scholars Rise To The Challenge, Even Through A Pandemic

PHOTO COURTESY/ YouTube Ozanam Scholars

PHOTO COURTESY/ YouTube Ozanam Scholars

When Frederic Ozanam was alive, he was called to take action and committed to assisting the poor. Today, the Ozanam Scholars continue to follow in his footsteps, even through a pandemic.

According to the St. John’s website, the Ozanam Scholars Program provides a platform for students to “investigate and address real-world social justice issues, inspiring change throughout their college careers and beyond.” Every year, 25 incoming freshmen are accepted into the program and awarded an annual scholarship of $10,000. Throughout their time in the program, they participate in service events, complete a social justice minor, complete a capstone research project and study abroad. However, the pandemic has altered certain aspects of the program. 

Senior Sociology major Mikesha Withanachchi has been able to experience the Ozanam scholars before and after these changes. She loves being a part of this program and has learned much about social justice throughout her time. At the end of her freshman year, she  had the opportunity of attending the international service trip to Puerto Rico. After this, the program made one of its most significant changes, canceling the international trips in the middle of the pandemic.

“My junior year trip to Ecuador had to be changed to an online format in the spring of 2021, where we communicated via zoom and google classroom with indigenous Shuar communities in Ecuador for a few months to implement projects that would appease each community’s greatest needs,” she told The Torch. “Many of us in Ozanam were quite disappointed with the pandemic preventing us from attending these trips and serving these communities in a way that’s safe for everyone involved.” 

Another change to this program was that the majority of their service events became virtual. First-year pharmacy student Jennifer Obiesie, passionate about social justice, says that meetings are online because “they are trying to keep everyone safe and healthy, which is much appreciated.” This change can be challenging as it can be difficult to meet new people. 

Obiesie continues, “My favorite memories are the ones made in Donovan Hall on the third floor [where the Ozanam Scholars reside]. We spend a lot of time together having a good time and bonding.”

Alex Caldwell, a freshman TV & Film major, agrees that his best moments are the in-person trips that the scholars can have, such as their visit to Philadelphia – his favorite memory so far. 

“We were able to spend more time together as a group in person,” he shared about their visit. “We met some nice people who shared with us how they got involved in the organizations they currently work for. I feel as though we could be doing more hands-on service despite our restrictions due to Covid. So far, much of our service and meetings have been virtual due to Covid, which can be helpful but also challenging to me.” 

The Ozanam Scholars do have hope for more in-person trips for the future. Freshman biology major Antonia Cuellar says she is excited for the future trips, “I’m looking forward to the Puerto Rico trip and studying abroad in Rome.” 

Despite these changes, the Ozanam Scholars have risen to the challenge and continue to serve their community. These scholars are inspired to make a positive change to their community and nothing can stop them.