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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Kroc Institute honors peace studies students

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies recently announced seniors Alex Coccia and Ilse Zenteno as recipients of the 2014 Yarrow Award for their accomplishments in academics and in the field of peace studies.

Ernesto Verdeja, Chair of the Yarrow Award Committee and director of undergraduate studies at the Kroc Institute, said winners are selected by the committee, which is comprised of faculty members who have worked closely with the senior peace studies majors.

“We consistently get some of the most exceptional students of the University in the peace studies program,” he said. “So it is often very difficult to select a [recipient] because of the quality of the accomplishments they have.”

Recipients of the award are selected based on their academic accomplishments and ability to combine and apply their scholarly knowledge with an awareness of how the world works outside of the classroom.

“One thing that is important is to highlight the significant successes that the students have who have done work in the community or have accomplished work outside of the community and around the world,” Verdeja said. “These two students, in particular, are remarkable examples of what we strive for in the Kroc Institute, excellence in terms of scholarship and a commitment to trying to change the world.”

Coccia has worked on and continues to develop a number of projects, including sexual assault prevention efforts, recommendations for services for students with high financial need and mental health resources.

Coccia is also the founder of the “4 to 5 Movement,” a student initiative aimed at recruiting allies of the LGBTQ community to speak up in support of the community. He also helped the gay-straight alliance student organization PrismND gain recognition for their work. Off campus, Coccia worked with the Read to a Child program from his freshman to junior year.

After graduation, Coccia will work in Washington in either a government agency or a non-profit organization through funding from the Truman Scholarship.

During her time at Notre Dame, Zenteno interned with the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) through their International Summer Service Learning Program as a short-term missionary in Bolivia. During the summer following her sophomore year, she participated in the CSC’s Summer Service Learning Program and lived with women on probation and parole while serving as a mentor during their transition back into society.

Zenteno is also very involved with the local community. She volunteers regularly at the South Bend Catholic Worker, has interned with the Public Defender’s Office at the Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend and accepted an AmeriCorps position as Outreach and Social Media Coordinator at St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty.

“I sometimes get discouraged or overwhelmed with all of the social problems we continuously face, but receiving this award was a great honor,” she said. “It made me realize that we can never give up and must always fight for the greater good of our society.”

After graduation, Zenteno plans to work at St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty until mid-July, when she will return to her hometown of St. Louis. She hopes to pursue an academic career in peace studies and international development.

“You don’t have to travel to a developing country in Africa, Latin America or Asia to begin doing service,” she said. “It begins here at home in our own cities, in our own backyards.”