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SLU Freshman Earns National Fellowship Through Passion for Service


Freshman Liam John lives to serve, and now, through a national fellowship, he will channel his passion for changing the world for the better into transformational change at Saint Louis University and beyond.

Liam John
Freshman Liam John. Photo by Michelle Peltier

John is part of the 2020-2021 Newman Fellowship cohort, a group of college students selected from around the nation to come together to nurture their talents and abilities to propel positive social change.

The Newman Civic Fellowship honors students who are committed to helping their communities solve problems and who seek to grow as changemakers.

Member institutions with Campus Compact can nominate students for the fellowship on the basis of their potential for public leadership. University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., nominated John for his outstanding commitment to serving others.

“Liam is a bright young man, but most importantly, he is committed to developing his intellect as a way to serve the common good,” Pestello wrote in his nomination letter.

John, a freshman studying health management and public health, has been drawn to work addressing food insecurity due to its relationship to “the domino effect of poverty and health disparities in our world.”

“I thought that it was education – a good education gives room for societal growth and success,” he said.

But a trip to Yoro, Honduras, during his senior year at Saint Louis University High School, gave him a new perspective on the way that the ability to eat nourishes a person – body, mind and spirit.

“This was my first exposure to food insecurity and how much it can impact the whole life of a person,” he recalled. “If you do not have proper nutrition at birth, you may not be able to learn in school. Then, you may have difficulty finding a job, trouble making money, and so the domino effect happens. Ever since then, I have worked to find ways to combat early life food insecurity.”

John grew up in a family driven to volunteer, making meals at the Ronald McDonald House and serving at St. Louis’s St. Patrick Center.

Before coming to SLU in the fall of 2019, John volunteered and tutored at local schools and participated in the Kino Border Initiative, learning about issues related to immigration, in addition to his immersion trip to Honduras.

During his first year as a Billiken, John has tutored at Loyola Academy of St. Louis and volunteered with Food Outreach to learn more about their methods for combating food insecurity in marginalized communities.

He’s explored issues related to homelessness more recently, through getting to know clients served by the St. Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry with the Homeless and its winter shelter, based as SLU’s Manresa Center, and through an immersion trip to Chicago in mid-March 2020.

“Talking with people helps me see what issues really need to be addressed,” John said.

Learn more about Liam’s Passion for Service

Tell us how you plan to work toward becoming a transformational problem solver, on-campus and beyond?

This summer, I hope to examine more organizations addressing food insecurity. Before I graduate, I want to either expand a program or create one that gives properly nutritious food and proper vitamins to pregnant women and newborns living in food deserts.

My thought process: If habits are created early in life and the first few years of life are crucial for the development of a human, why not get the mother into those habits and have two people have good eating habits.

Another project I have recently gotten into researching is finding a way to have storage lockers in St. Louis for people experiencing homelessness to allow for them to feel more secure and have the ability to go to interviews or jobs without all their stuff.

What drew you to study at SLU?

Going to Saint Louis University High School, I wanted to continue my Jesuit education because I think the Jesuit mission is very geared towards making good, all-around people. Most of my role models at some point were associated with SLU.

Then, the 200 Years of Service in One Challenge really made me happy because it showed that service was just a normal thing at SLU (and so far it has been).

I also learned about public health as a major my junior year of high school and thought it was just the coolest sounding thing ever, and SLU has a college dedicated to public health.

How do you see your service and SLU education helping you become the person that you want to be?

I think service impacts me because it makes me more caring and interested. If I did not have testimonies from people I met or if others didn’t have testimonies in my classes, no one would truly be learning. We learn best from the experiences of each other. I think those testimonies give us a push to do something about it.

Professionally, I do not yet know which path I will take for my career. I do not think I will be able to separate my personal and professional life (just the type of person I am), so I want to do something where I will feel satisfied personally and professionally.

How does your service relate to your studies?

In the College for Public Health and Social Justice, some of our classes have a service-learning component to them. I love it because it allows me to be more reflective about what I am doing.

I love learning about the theoreticals in my classes, but then meeting people affected by the policies and initiatives I learn about in class. It helps examine if they are actually working or if they are just theoretical. I want to do more in terms of listening to people in the coming years.

How do SLU's Jesuit mission and identity inform your service?

I live my life by the motto: ‘Man for and with others,’ attributed to Pedro Arrupe. I want to work with people and accompany people to see what they want and create initiatives based on their preferences.

I find that God can be most present for me in other people that have lived different lives from me: hearing stories, hearing courage, and hearing their strength. It gives me strength to continue in my life.

What’s it's like to be mentored by the staff at the Center for Service and Community Engagement?

I have known Bryan Sokol for, I think, three years now. He has been a good role model for a Jesuit leader and how to live a life of service to others. He will be my mentor for the fellowship, and I am so excited because he is so kind and knows/cares about a wide range of topics which helps me get encouraged to learn more and do more advocacy for different topics.

I am excited to get to know him more and get to know the others in the office and what they are passionate about.
How do you see your experience as a Newman fellow fitting in with your future plans?

Being a Newman fellow, I will have a lot of resources and a great deal of different opinions, stories and voices to listen to. I am excited to hear how the other fellows address issues in their communities.

I think the few of us in Missouri might get together and plan things locally together. That is not very developed yet, but it’s my hope.

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of now more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications.