When Jade Catherine Petalcorin traveled to Mississippi through Fordham’s Global Outreach program last year to learn more about the foster care system there, she joined a long tradition at the University, one that has helped thousands of students engage with communities, take action on social issues, and forge their postgraduate career path.

“It’s a humbling experience—it makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger,” said Petalcorin, a Gabelli School of Business sophomore who is now a Global Outreach team leader. “Something we like to say is ‘exist outside of yourself.’”

Petalcorin and her fellow classmates spent a week in Aberdeen, Mississippi, trying to do just that. They immersed themselves with Camp Friendship, one of Fordham’s long-standing community engaged learning partners, and worked with the students as camp counselors, where they learned from foster care children and their service providers.

“When you learn the struggles of the community as well as their strengths, you get to understand how to empathize, not sympathize,” she said, “and [you]work in solidarity.”

History of ¡GO!

Today, Global Outreach—often known simply as ¡GO!—runs about 15 projects each year, all of them centered on social justice and community engagement in the U.S. and abroad. But the program can trace its roots to a single trip to Mexico in 1962.

That summer, a group of 27 students traveled to Mexico, where they worked on various community development projects, such as building homes, teaching classes, and volunteering in the local hospital, according to Vanessa Rotondo, FCRH ’17, GSE ’19, the associate director of campus engagement and senior advisor for Ignatian leadership at Fordham.

Rotondo said that the Mexico project continued for years and inspired a similar series of projects in Peru. By 1988, the program was known as Global Outreach, and it continued to grow, sending students to more than 30 countries and many domestic locations, including India, El Salvador, Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and San Jose.

In 2018, the program was brought under the auspices of the newly formed Center for Community Engaged Learning. It has continued to evolve while staying rooted to the same core values, according to Ben Medeiros, FCRH ’22, an immersion coordinator for the center.

“The Jesuit value of being men and women for and with others—to see that last … I think that’s really impressive,” he said.

Rotondo said she and her colleagues are very intentional about connecting local community partners with the student leaders early, usually via Zoom well in advance of the project, to help them gain an understanding of the community where they will be working and learning. And the groups meet multiple times throughout the semester before they leave, because Medeiros said that he’s “a huge advocate of community happening before they get there.”

The students are also tasked with developing “sustainable outcomes,” or ways they can continue the work beyond the one experience.

For Rotondo, this work is designed to help students “be transformed,” she said, using a phrase from Óscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who spoke out against the treatment of the poor before he was assassinated in 1980. The goal is for the experience to help students become global-minded leaders engaged with issues affecting their community.

An archival photo from the early days of Global Outreach. (Courtesy of CCEL)

A Transformational Experience

Petalcorin said she felt this transformation when she returned from her first ¡GO! project and recalled a message from Joseph M. McShane, S.J., then president of Fordham, who encouraged students to “be bothered by injustice.”

“After going with GO, I was bothered,” she said, adding that “in a perfect world,” the students she met in Mississippi wouldn’t be in foster care. “Some people think it’s a week and you don’t think about it—you’re there for a week, but you take so much after it.”

That certainly was the case with Joseph Woodring, D.O., FCRH ’98. As a Fordham undergraduate, he participated in a 1995 ¡GO! India project and learned to connect with suffering and honor the human dignity of sick and impoverished people. That experience came flashing back to him a several years later, he told Fordham Magazine in 2015, when he was comforting a patient who was dying in Kolkata. “If I don’t get upstream and learn what these guys have,” he thought, “I’m not fixing anything. I want to be able to actually treat people.”

Global Outreach brings students all over the world, including to Romania. (Courtesy of CCEL)

He became an epidemiologist, and his career has included deploying to Liberia with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 to help contain the Ebola outbreak there.

For Eric Stolar, FCRH ’19, participating in two ¡GO! Projects—in San Jose, California, and Nicaragua—helped reshape his worldview and connect his education to real-life situations.

“I came from a fairly privileged background … and GO and Urban Plunge challenged that immediately,” he said, referring to the preorientation program designed to connect first-year and transfer students with neighborhoods and community leaders in New York City. “The way I’ve learned to be able to talk about social injustices, to talk with people with different backgrounds—coming into Fordham I definitely didn’t have those skills. I genuinely cannot thank [those programs]enough for forcing me to grow.”

Both Global Outreach trips allowed him to see and understand the impact of U.S. policies in practice. In San Jose, for example, he was part of a team working with recent immigrants from Mexico. In Nicaragua, he and his team were on the ground when former President Donald Trump made disparaging remarks about Central American countries.

“We were quite literally approached by people of Nicaragua, asking, ‘How do you feel about this?’” he said. “We got to see the impact of how small of a thing like a tweet our president made had. That was something that I was something I was incredibly grateful for, that I got to have that education at Fordham—discussing current events and [their impact]personally, academically, civically.”

Now the assistant dean for student leadership and engagement at Allegheny College, Stolar said he tries to infuse into his work with students some lessons he learned from Global Outreach, such as helping undergraduates see social issues through “a lens that’s academically driven and grounded in core principles.”

Putting the Mission into Practice

Petalcorin recently led a ¡GO! trip over spring break to North Carolina as a part of the Ignite Scholars Program through the Gabelli School of Business. The students worked with the Industrial Commons, a group that supports “employee-owned social enterprises and industrial cooperatives, and supports frontline workers.”

She said that the project helped students think about the Gabelli School’s focus on “business with a higher purpose,” and learn about sustainable business practices designed not only to generate profits but also to “help others advance.”

Students eating at a table
During Global Outreach projects, meals are opportunities for participants to connect with each other and discuss their shared experiences. (Courtesy of CCEL)

Community Connections

Daniel Gibney, FCRH ’14, participated in ¡GO! as a student, and today he’s a community organizer with JOIN, the Justice Organizing Interfaith Network, in Alaska. He said Rotondo’s predecessor at the center had been reaching out to alumni for potential partnerships before COVID hit. He recently reconnected with Rotondo, and they worked together on a ¡GO! Alaska project.

As a part of the experience, the students went to a local Anchorage Assembly meeting. Gibney acknowledged that local government meetings aren’t always the most interesting, but the students were engaged—and many “had never experienced anything like” watching local government in action, he said, and seeing how elected officials make decisions that directly impact people’s day-to-day lives.

“And that evening I remember several students said, ‘I am going to go to the New York Assembly when I get home. I’m going to start going to local government meetings,’” Gibney said, adding that students during the Alaska project, students also met directly with government officials, community agencies, and residents, sharing a few meals with them to better connect.

“You go to a place, you learn about it,” he said, and “you build relationships with people who are there.”

Supporting Students Along the Way

In honor of the program’s 60th anniversary, Global Outreach is hosting a gala on Saturday, April 15, and has launched a fundraising campaign to “support student scholarships and create more opportunities” for students to participate in Global Outreach. The program offers scholarships to about one-third of participants, and students also fundraise to cover a portion of the costs, which can range from $600 to $1,600 per student per project.

To learn more about the campaign, as well as upcoming events, visit fordham.edu/go.