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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Tri-Campus Thursday: Building bridges at Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame’s mission statement reads, “The intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students.” In recent years, many institutions have made claims to be dedicated to similar missions, seeking more diverse, inclusive student bodies, but what are colleges and universities doing to promote positive environments and experiences for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds?

“Not everyone’s coming from the same background,” Notre Dame student body president Allan Njomo said. “A lot of students face challenges because everything is new to them.” 

Father Hesburgh with members of the Building Bridges Mentorship Program, 2011
University President Emeritus Fr. Hesburgh stands with members of the Building Bridges Mentorship Program in 2011.

Njomo is a member of the Building Bridges Mentoring Program at Notre Dame, a group that serves to help lead students of color to academic success at the University.

The University notifies students of their eligibility to apply to Building Bridges during the summer before their freshman year and pairs accepted students with peer and faculty mentors in their major to guide them through academic processes and other elements of the college experience, such as career path discernment.

Once in the program, students forge relationships with mentors as they choose their major, extracurricular activities and other elements of the academic experience that fit their long-term goals. In line with its mission to foster success, Building Bridges also communicates career-related opportunities with its members and organizes networking events.

It is no challenge to find highly successful members of Building Bridges, a program recognized by the Presidential Team Irish Award in 2019. Take Meenu Selvan, a senior studying finance and economics with a minor in real estate. Selvan is an active member of the student body and has been engaged in several student organizations and held leadership positions throughout her time at Notre Dame.

As a first-year, Selvan joined the First Undergraduate Experience in Leadership (FUEL) organization, where she became the director of faith and service. Selvan later got involved with the Center for Social Concerns as a student leader. As a junior, she served as one of two assistant Student Union treasurers, a role she is still undertaking as a senior.

Arriving as a first-year, Selvan was accepted into Building Bridges and intended to study architecture. Realizing in her first semester that her passions lay elsewhere, the program connected Selvan with a faculty mentor in the economics department with whom she could discuss the goals of her academic experience, whether that was pursuing research, attending graduate school or seeking a job after graduation. 

“Having conversations with her helped me prepare to speak with people about what I wanted to do during my summers,” Selvan said of her relationship with her faculty mentor. “She also was one of the two people who made me realize that I love econ.” 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic limiting her ability to attend an in-person internship, Selvan connected with her first internship through networking in the Building Bridges program, providing an experience that she said helped her to prepare for interviewing for jobs during her junior year. Now in her final semester at Notre Dame, Selvan is preparing to begin her career at Credit Suisse as a sales analyst for their equity derivatives group.

Njomo said he also found the program helpful in his academic and vocational endeavors.

“I’m a first-generation student. No one in my family has been in my shoes before in an elite university, and [Building Bridges staff] were the people that walked me through all the different challenges I faced,” Njomo said.

Guided by his faculty mentor through the process of securing his first internship, Njomo turned that opportunity into the job he will enter upon graduation. 

Now experienced seniors in positions of leadership, Selvan and Njomo have returned to the program as peer mentors. In this role, they engage with first-year students to pass on what they have learned from their journeys, whether by sharing their wisdom or showing younger students around South Bend and the tri-campus community. Once mentees in their first and second years, both students have taken on the role to give back.

“I’m paying it forward because someone did that for me when I was a sophomore and freshman, so I’m going to do that for the freshmen and sophomores,” Selvan said. 

Njomo shared Selvan’s sentiment of gratitude.

“Building Bridges is a treasure to this University,” Njomo said. “Arnel Bulaoro, the director, is the reason that so many students come to this University and they’re able to exit successfully.”