The Catholic University of America

Cardinal Success Stories

STEPHANIE SNOPEK, Bachelor of Architecture, May 2011

Following in the tradition of many CUA alumni, Stephanie decided upon a one-year service opportunity directly after graduation. She is volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest and is based in Billings, Montana.  Keep reading to learn more about her work with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program of Yellowstone County.


Hometown:   Any family at CUA?    
Scranton, Pennsylvania.  
My cousin, Andrea Strony, currently attends CUA as a senior.

Why did you choose CUA for your undergraduate career?  Why was it the right fit for you?   
I chose CUA because of its School of Architecture and Planning program and location in Washington, DC. At first, I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to live in a major city, but now that I have graduated, I realized it was the perfect school for me. The school’s location allowed me to be in the city without having to be right in the middle of it all.  Also, I was very interested in CUA’s School of Architecture program because it provided a different atmosphere than some of the other schools I had visited. For example, I received my own studio/desk space. At most universities, first years don’t receive their own space. The groups were also a relatively small size, and I never had to walk too far to get to any of my classes.

Major and Graduation Year
Bachelor of Architecture May 2011

Would you go into more detail about your volunteer experience with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps?  What is it about?   
After graduation, I decided to dedicate a year of service to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest.  It is a full time volunteer opportunity, and is based on the Jesuit Catholic beliefs.  It focuses on education, faith, and service. Jesuit Volunteers (JVs for short) live by four core values: Spirituality, Simple Living, Social Justice, and Community.

The motto for this year of service is “Solidarity of Spirit”. Living in solidarity is important to many of the volunteers in JVC Northwest, mostly because we are in solidarity, not only with the people we are serving, but also with the other communities within our program, and with the people with whom we live. The four values help us live in solidarity.

We are encouraged to develop our own sense of spiritually, whether it be through walking, mediating, attending a liturgy, listening to one another, or any other creative means.

We also choose to live simply. This means we live on a monthly stipend of $100. The stipend covers one’s finances such as medical co-pays, cell phone bills, etc. We also receive money to use as a community to buy food, pay rent, and utilities.

Social justice is also another core value for the JVs.  Most -- if not all -- placements in JVC Northwest include helping people who are struggling with addictions, homelessness, poverty, and children who are affected by all of these.  

Finally, the last value is community.  Northwest JVs live in communities of 4-8 people, in Washington State, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana.

Why did you choose to apply to JVC?  Were there other opportunities you considered?  
I applied to JVC Northwest because of its core values, its location in the Northwest, and its unique variety of placements. I also applied to two other volunteer services. One was Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, which is like Jesuit Volunteer Corps in many aspects.  However, it is only located in Colorado.  Another was Maggie’s Place in Phoenix, Arizona, which provides new mothers who have a history of abuse, a safe place to live and helps them find jobs and support their new families.

Why is JVC the right thing for you at this time in your life?  
Right now, it is the perfect time for me to be a volunteer. I didn’t have much time to volunteer while in school. It has given me a new perspective on my life and the career options I can pursue. It is a great experience to take a break from something I was doing for four years, and try something completely different.  I needed some time away from my studies to discover what it is I really want to do.

Current Job Title & Organization
School Program Specialist, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County in Billings, Montana.

Duties/Responsibilities
I help run the school-based program. I get the chance to work with over 200 students who are in grades K through 8th grade  (known as “Littles”) and 100 high school students (aka “Bigs”) .The high school students take this as a for-credit class. Each Big has two Littles, and they spend approximately 30-45 minutes each day with a Little.  One they see on Monday and Wednesday, and the second one they see on Tuesday and Thursday.  On Friday, the Bigs come to our office and have class with me.  We cover topics on how to be a mentor to children who are in unfortunate situations. Most of the Littles we serve come from homes of poverty, homelessness, and/or violence.  We track youth outcomes, and more often than not, the children enrolled in the program show a better attendance rate at school, better grades, and an improved self esteem.

Another large part of my job is checking in with both the Bigs and the Littles. For the Littles, I travel to each of their schools and check in with each one individually. This happens once a month. The same goes for the high school students (the Bigs), only they come to the office for their check-in.  

I’m also in charge of the matching program – matching a Little with a Big.  At the beginning of the year, I spend time placing them in schools based on availability, and the Little’s schedule.

Most intriguing/fun/enjoyable aspects of job so far?
So far, some of the most enjoyable aspects of my job are getting the chance to meet so many different people. I love getting to know the high school students who serve as mentors in the program, and watching them change by the experience. I also love getting to know all the “Littles” we serve.  By doing check-ins with each of them, it gives me the opportunity to see the positive changes, and how connecting with a high school student helps them.

An experience at your job that really stands out
There have been some really memorable moments here.   First, would be orientation for the high school students.  When I asked them what they were most nervous about, almost all of them said they were worried about their “Little” not liking them. It was amazing to me that juniors and seniors were so worried about a kid who is ten years younger than them, won’t like them.

Another experience that stands out is one of the Big/Little relationships. A high school student took the class for a second year so she could continue mentoring a Little from her junior year. Before she started, she did not know that her Little (in third grade) was planning on having heart surgery in the next few months. When she found out, she was nearly devastated. A month and a half into the school year, there was a carnival event for the Little to raise money for the surgery. The “Big” attended the event, and met the Little’s mother for the first time. Upon meeting the Big, the mother gave her a big hug, and said, “You must be my child’s Big!  I can’t thank you enough for everything you have done!”  The Little struggled both academically and socially. The mother explained that there were days that he did not even want to get out of bed to go to school. When the mother asked if the Big would be there, the child would jump out of bed, and get ready.  For the Little, the Big was one of the only reasons he even wanted to go to school. Before the Little left for the hospital, the Big gave the Little a handmade blanket as a present. They still are in contact with one another, and remain good friends.

Was there a faculty/staff member who influenced you during your time here at CUA?  
There are three faculty members who influenced me while at CUA:  Marcia Tollefson and Bethan Llewellyn Yen, both from the School of Architecture, and Kate Kretz from the Art Department.

Marcia taught my Studio second semester sophomore year, and she has a crazy amount of energy and positivity. She encourages every one of her students to do the best that they can.  

Bethan was my senior year first-semester studio critic. She is incredibly intelligent and talented. It was Bethan who really encouraged me to apply to graduate school and consider continuing architecture as a career.

And finally, Kate Kretz was my art teacher for a class I took my last semester of senior year. She taught me how to turn almost anything into art, and how to see the meaning in every piece of art work. This helped me look at my own designs in architecture as pieces of art.

How did your CUA education prepare you for the “real world”?  (academic major, internships,
extracurricular activities, or in general)

One thing that I didn’t expect to prepare me, was working in studio groups/ group projects.  Now that I am living in intentional community as a volunteer, I soon realized that having previously worked in group settings helped me with problem solving and people skills, whether it be in the work place or living with other volunteers I just met.  Another thing CUA taught me was time management skills and how to handle last minute changes; all of these lessons are applicable in any field you choose.

Experiences (Internships, Extracurricular, Campus Jobs, etc.) while at CUA
While at CUA, I had a work-study job all four years in the School of Architecture’s office.  For two summers, I interned at local firms near Scranton, PA: One was at Highland Associates, and the other was Joseph Rominski Architecture.  I was also an Orientation Advisor my junior year at CUA, and it was an awesome experience.  

Your future aspirations
After I finish my year of service in August 2012, I hope to attend graduate school and earn my Master’s degree in Architecture.  I also plan to volunteer and work towards social justice wherever I go.

Advice you’d give to CUA students
Enjoy it while you’re there!  It really does go by fast. Also, don’t be afraid to try new things.  For example, take a year off to volunteer; it’s a great experience for anyone. Enjoy as much of DC as you possibly can, because it is a wonderful place to be!  

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Story published in January 2012

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