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By Madi Daube '22


John Carroll’s immersion program has been an integral part of the university's campus ministry department since the arrival of the director, John Scarano, in 2003. The program allows students to broaden their understanding of the world through experiential learning. 


Immersion trips to Appalachia, El Salvador, Ecuador, and the U.S. Mexico border provide students a glimpse of life outside their comfort zone. And it’s expanding this May; students will travel to Los Angeles to witness the societal impact of gang violence and homelessness. 


These trips are truly immersive, exposing students to the harsh reality some communities face daily. They understand these realities by listening, learning, and asking questions about the culture. Students get insight into social injustices plaguing the area and determine actions to effect positive change. The stories and situations transform students; they return home with a new sense of gratitude, determined to make conscious choices. Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, Jurell Sison, says, "It breaks students' hearts and shapes them to make decisions that would honor the stories that they have heard." 


JCU Students on an Immersion Trip

JCU Students on an Immersion Trip

Immersion trips are one of the many high-impact experiences John Carroll students participate in during their time as a student and a well-known item on many of their bucket lists. In the weeks leading up to the trip, students and faculty leaders meet to get to know each other and better understand the culture they will soon interact with. The groups participate in movie nights, dinners, and play nights to build rapport ahead of the trip. 


JCU immersion trips help students grow as an individual and as part of a group. Andrew Cera, a Jesuit Regent, teaches Ignatian Spirituality in the Theology and Religious Studies Department at JCU and leads student retreats for Campus Ministry. Andrew was one of the two faculty members planning the El Salvador Immersion in January of this year. Unfortunately, this immersion was canceled due to the COVID 19 Pandemic. 


Despite the cancellation, Andrew had a transformative experience getting to know the students. One of the bonding activities was a weekend trip to Bellwether Farms in Wakeman, Ohio. The group enjoyed farm-to-table meals, interacting with animals, and exploring the grounds.



In the El Salvador immersion group, I found students who not only held space for the wider issues of social justice, but who also created space for each other - with their listening, concern, and genuine interest in each other. In short, I saw a community from all corners of campus come together in what St. Ignatius would call a 'union of minds and hearts'.

High-impact experiences such as immersion trips inspire many JCU students to contribute to the greater good after graduating. Last May, Sophie Rodgers '21 began a year of post-graduate volunteer service with the Denver-based non-profit Colorado Vincentian Volunteers (CVV). CVV emphasizes service, advocacy, and spiritual formation leading to both personal and societal transformation, reflection, and discussion. The group actively works to dismantle systems of oppression and use one’s power and privilege for the greater good. 


Sophie currently provides early intervention for young children who are blind or visually impaired at the Anchor Center for Blind Children. During her time at JCU, Sophie took part in two immersion trips. She traveled to Ecuador her first year and the U.S./Mexico Border after her sophomore year. She says the trips were a life-changing experience, providing empathy, growth, and a call to service. “The immersion program at John Carroll allowed me to grow a deeper understanding of what it means to live a faith that does justice by deeply listening to people’s stories, standing in solidarity with those living on the margins, humbly recognizing my privilege, and engaging in lifelong learning and advocacy for peace and justice.”

These life-changing trips epitomize the Jesuit value of cura personalis, a Latin phrase meaning “Care for the whole person.” They enable students to see the world from a different lens and begin to ask questions that push their own boundaries. Immersion trips take students out of their comfort zones, but there is value in doing so. As Jesuit Priest, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, said "When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change."