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UD pre-medicine graduate spends gap year volunteering at local homeless shelter

By Lucy Waskiewicz ’24

For University of Dayton alumna Sophia Bair ’23, graduating didn’t mean the end of her education, nor the Marianist charism on which it was founded. Instead, she found a way to continue both in the Dayton community.

Bair, a pre-medicine graduate from Indianapolis, is spending a “gap year” before medical school gaining clinical experience by volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Gateway Shelter for Women and Families.

“It is now expected that applicants have quite a few of these extra-curricular experiences before they apply, specifically clinical, research, shadowing and volunteer experiences,” said UD Associate Director of Premedical Programs Laurel Monnig. “A gap year (between getting their undergraduate degree and grad school) is the perfect opportunity for students to not only expand their experiences but also to build their professional competencies to become a strong applicant to health care professional school.”

Bair's gap year is made possible through Marianist Partners in Urban Leadership, Service and Education, or PULSE, a Marianist-sponsored post-graduate service initiative that matches volunteers with local nonprofit organizations. Participants commit to a one-year or two-year full-time experience, during which they live with fellow volunteers in a lower-income neighborhood and share meals, prayer and weekly spiritual formation.

Despite opportunities to gain clinical experience at hospitals in her hometown of Indianapolis, Bair felt called to spend her gap year in service after several impactful volunteer experiences at the University.

“I wanted to do clinical work through a different lens,” Bair said. “I was really moved by all the service that I did through college and wanted to continue that. UD is really wonderful about providing all these opportunities.”

Nick Cardilino, director of the UD Center for Social Concern, helps students explore volunteer opportunities available after graduation. He said service-oriented gap years can provide students with real-world work experience, help them hone valuable skills and enhance their resumes or applications to medical school, law school or graduate school.

“Post-grad volunteering positions are always focused on doing something for others and making a positive difference in the world,” Cardilino said. “In most programs, you get the opportunity to live in community with a group of other young people. When considering these benefits, many students ask themselves, ‘When else in my life will I get to do something like this?’”

Bair, 2024

Bair connected with PULSE after volunteers visited her junior-year religion class and spoke about service opportunities. Although she interviewed to join multiple nonprofit organizations, she knew St. Vincent de Paul was where she would stay from the moment she walked through the door.

“I came to my interview with St. Vincent de Paul and I saw this little girl sitting in her chair, swinging her legs and just staring at the wall,” Bair said. “I was so moved. She didn’t have anyone to play with her, she didn’t have anyone to read with her. She was just sitting here by herself. I decided that day that this was where I was going to be for the year.”

Bair and St. Vincent de Paul developed a plan to give her clinical experience by delivering health care to Daytonians at risk of or experiencing homelessness. She provides counseling and mental health services, takes children to a free local clinic each week for wellness checks and works with medical students from the Boonshoft School of Medicine to complete health assessments for guests in the shelter.

Although volunteering at the shelter can be unpredictable and fast-paced, Bair said it is arming her with an essential clinical skill — to expect, and effectively handle, the unexpected.

“As much as I would love to solve homelessness in a day, it's not going to happen,” Bair said. “But even though I can’t do that, it’s still really fulfilling work because I know I can still provide love and support to the person right in front of me.”

Bair always has been drawn to pediatrics but was unsure of her future after graduation. Now, as she prepares to attend medical school in the fall, her volunteer experience has inspired a distinct career path.

“I’ve decided that I’m going to be a pediatrician for homeless children,” Bair said. “Unless you sit with a population and you know the people, you know their highs and lows and everything in between, you can't serve them or love them fully. I wouldn’t have known that unless I came here.”

PULSE is one of about 150 international volunteer programs students can join after graduation. It is one of two such programs sponsored by the Marianists.

“It's about finding the best match between the student's interests, needs and skills with the programs' service placements, locations and support,” Cardilino said.

For Bair, a year of service strengthened her connection to herself and her community.

“I can never fully know someone's struggle because I've never been there and I don't understand,” Bair said. “But I can't just sit back and do nothing — that's not okay. I can still be loving and supportive toward them. That's what I'm called to do, and that's what we're taught at UD.”

For more information, visit the Premedical Programs and post-graduate volunteering websites.

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