Name: Tom Kelly
Organization: Salesian Lay Missioners / New Rochelle, NY & Juba, South Sudan
Bio: I graduated from Marquette majoring in Accounting and Finance. During my senior year, while most of my peers were looking into jobs for their future, I was interested in volunteer programs. I realized that my college experience has been shaped as much by service as it has by the education I received. Although I was a little nervous at first talking to faculty, mentors, and business professionals about volunteering, I was graciously surprised by the support and encouragement. The more I thought about it, the more comfortable I felt about it being the next step in my life. I began searching for programs through the Catholic Volunteer Network (a great resource), and among other programs found the Salesian Lay Missioners (SLM) program. Upon doing some research on SLM and learning more about the ministry, I really loved the mission and program. The process began with an application and then a phone interview. After the interview, I was invited to a discernment weekend to mutually discern if I was the right fit for the program, and if the program was the right fit for me. I was then accepted into the program, and from there received my placement to Juba, South Sudan, which was a new site for the program. I attended orientation in New York from July-August, and left for South Sudan the beginning of September. Since arriving in South Sudan, I have been a teacher, summer camp leader, football player/coach/referee, and parish assistant. The biggest challenge has been being away from family, friends, and all the comforts of my life in America. It takes time to adapt to a new culture and mesh with the community that becomes your new family. Each day has its challenges, but with those challenges come opportunities. My biggest career success was being asked to be the Head of the Computer Department of the new Vocational Training Center (similar to a Technical College in the US) on our compound. Though I didn’t have any direct experience that qualified me for the position, my superiors determined it was the right place for me, and it has been a great experience so far.
Q: What were the jobs or opportunities that you had that led to this one?
A: I was actively involved in several volunteer programs at Marquette, such as MARDI GRAS, MAP, and Midnight Run. Through these programs, I realized that service was an important and formative part of my life. My internships at a Hedge Fund and Accounting Firm also made me realize that although I really enjoyed the work I was doing, I could always have the opportunity to work in the business world, and volunteering internationally was a once in a lifetime experience. Really any jobs or opportunities can lead to volunteering in one way or another.
Q: What specific content they were looking for in student’s applications and questions?
A: The great thing about volunteer programs is that there isn’t really any specific content that they look for in a student’s application. As long as an applicant demonstrates how their experiences relate to the question, wherever they come from, it is good content. Don’t exaggerate your experiences or stretch the truth because you think it makes you sound better. Be yourself in your application and it will show.
Q: What career advice would you give to students entering your field?
A: If you are worried about what life might be like back at home or getting a job when returning, don’t be. It will hold you back. Dwelling on things that are out of your control will take you away from your work and experience. Also, know that there will be difficulties and challenges, but overcoming them makes your experience that much more rewarding. Keep an open mind and loving heart, and it will be the best time of your life.
Q: What would make a student’s application more competitive than other applicants?
A: A student’s application would be more competitive than others if they demonstrate experience in volunteering, missionary work, or different cultures. The thoughts and experiences from these activities help the program see if you are a good fit. Volunteer programs want people who will represent their organization well and persevere through the challenges that they will likely face. Leadership experience is always helpful. Knowing the language in the area that you might serve in is a plus, and even sometimes a requirement (though not for my program).
Q: What are the main things you look for in format of the initial phone/ Skype interview?
A: The initial interview is for getting to know the candidate, why you are interested in volunteering, and why are you interested in that specific program. You should be able to explain and articulate in detail what is on your resume/application. Some questions will be situational. You should be able to nail the initial interview because you have all the resources in front of you. Also, make sure you are prepared with questions of your own.