Small campus, big opportunities

While classrooms and curriculum are important factors in a college education, there are also other opportunities to learn. “And Saint Mary’s encourages you to speak up, to take things on,” says Anna Boarini ’13. She knows a lot about taking on responsibility. She and Cara O’Conner-Combee ’13 are the co-chairs for the 2013 University of Notre Dame’s Student Peace Conference held April 5-6, and the first Saint Mary’s students to hold this position.

Big conference, big responsibilities

The conference, held nearly every year since 1993, is where about 200 undergraduate and graduate students and educators from the United States and other countries come together to discuss theory and hear paper presentations. This year’s theme, “Fusion: Where Theory and Practice Meet,” aims to “bridge the academic and practice of peace studies,” says Cara.

These two students were responsible for almost every detail of the conference, and they learned marketable skills, the kind best learned through experience. “I learned budget, conflict resolution, creating a menu complete with dietary needs, choosing a theme, reading academic papers, creating a schedule,” Cara says. They received about 80 paper submissions for this conference, and Cara and Anna read each one to determine which authors would present.

In addition to those hard skills of organizing such a large event, Anna feels that the soft skills she learned co-chairing this conference will pay off in her career. “I learned that to be a good leader, you really have to learn to delegate. You have to trust the people you’ve chosen. You can’t send 300 emails in a weekend,” she says.

Small campus, big plans

After graduation, Cara plans to pursue her social enterprise venture, which began as a group project for a peace studies course at Notre Dame. The team created a business plan for a social enterprise that empowers women in India by providing ownership in a business to lower caste women. This is a way for women in the lowest level of Indian society to possibly raise their social standing, plus it makes a large impact yet on a smaller, manageable scale. “Economics and peace studies have given me a unique perspective on my global community which has allowed me to find areas of greater impact. If I was not doing something to help others, what was the point?” Cara says.

The team is currently in the second round of The Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship at the Mendoza College of Business’s McCloskey Business Plan Competition, a competition sponsored by the University of Notre Dame for new or just launched business ventures.  The team has partners to help enact this social venture worldwide.

A history, political science, and peace studies triple major (and still graduating in four years), Anna has applied to work with the Peace Corps after graduation. “I love the organization. I love what it stands for. It’s a good way to take some time and figure out my next move while doing some good,” says Anna. Not naming a location preference, Anna only requested she not be sent to Nepal since she spent last summer there. “I figure, where they need me is where I should go.”

Small college, big encouragement

Saint Mary’s offers many opportunities for students to gain leadership experience in their preferred field of study. Anna points out that although women’s colleges make up just 2% of colleges in the US, graduates of women's colleges make up more than 20% of women in Congress and are 30% of a Business Week list of rising women stars in corporate America. Women’s college graduates are more confident and have more leadership experience, and Anna and Cara are prime examples. “Saint Mary’s helped me overcome challenges and I know my experiences helped me overcome any challenges with the conference. When you set your mind to something, you’re going to achieve it,” says Cara.