Rising to the challenge
Villanova University has participated in Collegiate Challenge every year since the program’s founding, sending teams of students every fall and spring break — even sending more volunteers than any other university in the U.S. in 2004.
When Collegiate Challenge began in 1989 and encouraged college students from across the country to dedicate their spring break to building safe, affordable homes, this small university just outside Philadelphia was one of first 41 universities to accept the challenge.
Collegiate Challenge has become a tradition at Villanova University, since the program closely aligns with the university’s mission statement, which welcomes those who “seek to nurture a concern of the common good and who share an enthusiasm for the challenge of responsible and productive citizenship in order to build a just and peaceful world.”
Villanova University and Habitat for Humanity’s overlapping principles have led to a strong partnership spanning 30 years. Kate Vicente, a Villanova advisor, says, “You really can’t be a member of Villanova’s community — whether faculty, staff or student — and not hear about Habitat for Humanity. Villanova University is largely built on its commitment to service, and it is one of the things that drew me to work here.”
Each year as new students cycle in, they learn new skills and experience life from a different perspective through the Collegiate Challenge program. Kate Giancatarino, director of Villanova’s Center for Service and Social Justice, walks through this journey with students as they plan and prepare for their trips, helping them organize the logistics of working on budgets, preparing activities and reflections, and learning how to shoulder responsibility for a team.
Collegiate Challenge helps prepare students in their future careers and personal lives by giving them an opportunity to practice leadership skills and learn how to become active citizens in their community. “Having a week in a community that they’re not particularly a part of opens their world view to not be as frightened about getting involved, reaching out to people and hearing their stories,” Kate says.
“I watch as quiet kids unfold and as outspoken ones just blossom. Our students engage with the residents so enthusiastically, so naturally.”— Kate Vicente, Villanova University advisor
Alissa Schweitzer and Kate Vicente are advisors at Villanova who accompany students on their Collegiate Challenge trips. Alissa says, “Collegiate Challenge brought me out of my comfort zone in ways that I never dreamed it could. The opportunity to live and work in a new community is an experience that you cannot put a price tag on.”
Kate Vicente appreciates how Collegiate Challenge gives her the opportunity to interact with student outside her normal office hours. “I got to see students in a new light — full of energy, positivity, compassion and love. They treated their surroundings, their hosts, the eventual homeowners and the Habitat crew with the utmost respect and dignity.”
She also touches on how students are encouraged to reach out and engage with the community and Habitat staff throughout the week on and off the build site. “I watch as quiet kids unfold and as outspoken ones just blossom. Our students engage with the residents so enthusiastically, so naturally, and I could not have been more proud if those students had been my very own children.”
While Kate Giancatarino doesn’t always get to go along on these trips with the students, she always looks forward to hearing the stories of who they met and interacted with in the community. She says students are in awe of how many people in the community are involved. They realize Habitat for Humanity is something they can be involved in long after college.