Dominican University of California Connecting the Students to the Community

Hands-on engagement with community partners – either through a service-learning placement or an internship – is a key feature of many students’ Dominican experience. Connecting classroom and community enriches a student’s education while providing practical insight into their field of interest.

The work is often transformative, leading to both rewarding experiences and meaningful careers. This was the case for Jasmine Martinez ’12 and Samuel Ridgley ’23, who today work for the San Rafael-based nonprofit Adopt A Family of Marin.

Jasmine, who double majored in Psychology and Women & Gender Studies, enrolled in a course with a service-learning component at the beginning of her sophomore year. It was exactly what she was looking for. Dominican’s Service-Learning program provides training, resources, and support for students, faculty, and community partners, with a focus on shared learning.

“When I came to Dominican, I knew that I eventually wanted a career in which I would be able to help people, so I was happy to get involved with service-learning,” she says.

Jasmine’s service-learning placement was at the Marin County Community School, where she worked with youth who have been referred by their juvenile probation officer or a school attendance review board. The students Jasmine tutored and mentored reminded her of the people that were struggling in her San Francisco neighborhood when she was attending City Arts and Tech High School. She was able to relate to the community school students, which helped break down barriers. Through the service-learning component, she also learned about the structural inequities that impact youth in the community.

“For me, service-learning was about doing something for other people and then being able to apply what I was learning to that work,” Jasmine says. “Service-learning taught me that I am not providing help to those “in need,” but instead I am being served by the community just as much as I am serving them.”

Jasmine stayed in the Service-Learning program through her senior year, working alongside faculty and leading orientation programs as a student leader. The experiences she gained – along with the ability to look beyond the surface of issues – shaped Jasmine’s work long after graduation.

“I learned compassion and the importance of meeting people where they are and not judging them, because there’s always a stigma or preconceived notion about how and why they got to where they are.”

One exercise had a lasting impact.

“We had to describe what we thought a homeless high school student looked like and were then shown pictures of students,” Jasmine recalls. “We had to identify the homeless student, but when the picture was flipped around, we could see that our conception of a homeless person was in fact stereotypical.”

The Service-Learning program led Jasmine to her first job after graduation, working for a Marin-based nonprofit. In 2015, she joined Adopt A Family, where she oversees all client services.

Adopt A Family’s mission is to prevent homelessness by supporting families in crisis and creating pathways for these families to regain economic security. Each year, the organization assists up to 400 families, including homeless families and those who recently navigated homelessness. Services include short-term rental assistance, as well as assistance with security deposits, utilities, household items, and car repairs. The organization also offers a program that helps families eliminate existing debt while working to repair credit.

“The most rewarding part of my job is being able to help people,” Jasmine says. “It’s hard work. It’s very hard when people are in a crisis and express their concerns to you and reveal personal information, but it is important work.”

Samuel, who majored in Communication and Media Studies, joined Adopt A Family his senior year as a communications intern before being hired full-time shortly after graduation as a case manager.

While Jasmine had always wanted a public interest career, Samuel came to Dominican to figure out his career path. He transferred to Dominican as a junior after attending a much larger university. He was drawn to Dominican’s size – as well as the ability to work closely with faculty mentors.

“My first school was too big, and I felt that at a smaller school there would be a lot more opportunity to get involved and try out different things,” he says. “When I found Dominican, I felt that it was a great fit for me.”

Samuel quickly found a mentor in his advisor, Dr. Brad Van Alstyne, Assistant Professor of Communications and Media Studies.

“Here, you really do develop relationships with your professors and get to work closely with them. They often pass along opportunities to you,” Samuel says. “It’s great to have someone on your side advocating for you and listening to you.”

Samuel fit a lot into his two years at Dominican.

It was Van Alstyne who suggested that Samuel get involved with Penguin Radio to expand his skills in broadcasting and writing. Samuel also interned with Dominican’s Recreational Sports program, developing social media campaigns, and helping to organize a busy recreational sports calendar.

“When I declared communications as a major, I was not exactly sure what I wanted to do after college, but what is cool about communications is it can be used for a variety of careers.”

When Van Alstyne put out the word that Adopt A Family was looking for a social media intern, Samuel was quick to jump at the opportunity to showcase both his writing and project management skills.

Today, Samuel not only develops compelling social media posts, but also works on the agency’s newsletter. He also assists with case management.

For both Jasmine and Samuel, their work is a constant reminder that while Marin is one of the country’s wealthiest communities, income inequality in the county is among the highest in the nation.

“What was most surprising to me was seeing the amount of need in Marin,” Jasmine says. “When I first came to Marin, it did not seem as if there would be many families needing support. But at Dominican I started to learn about marginalized communities in Marin. I grew up in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco where you can see the need. But, here in Marin, it’s often hidden.”

One of Adopt A Family’s newer interns from Dominican is Vianey Valenzuela, a sophomore studying Business Administration with a concentration in Global Business and minors in International Studies, Leadership, and Pre-Law.

Vianney learned about this internship through one of her peers at Dominican who previously held the internship position.

“I have always been drawn to the nonprofit world and was looking for an opportunity like this one. I feel very lucky to be working here.”

Vianey, who grew up in Mexico and went to high school in Southern California, said she knew Dominican was a good fit from the moment she set foot on campus while touring schools with her family.

“We all really liked the environment on campus and in the area, and my parents liked how safe it was.”

Vianey truly appreciated the support she received from on-campus mentors when it came to adjusting to life at Dominican and in Marin County.

“Coming to Dominican and to Marin was a drastic change,” she recalls. “At home I was part of a large Latin community, and I felt insecure in the beginning as I got used to another culture. But everyone made me feel so welcome.”

Dr. Denise Lucy, Executive Director of the Institute of Leadership Studies and Professor of Business and Organizational Studies, was one of Vianey’s first faculty mentors and today remains both supportive and encouraging.

“Dr. Lucy – she made me feel at home. She has always had my back and has helped me with so many different things,” Vianey says.

This includes presenting Vianey with the opportunity to represent Dominican at the American Association of University Women’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) in Washington DC.

Vianey has two more years until she graduates. Her plans include earning her MBA at Dominican so she can help her parents with the family business. However, she also plans to remain in the nonprofit sector.

“I enjoy the teamwork that it takes to help others,” she says. “Right now, I’m only an intern. But when I do even small things that help people out – that can become a big change for a family. It’s important work and it’s rewarding work. I am doing work I love to do.”