Chris Hallberg
Arts ’09

I still remember where I was standing when I received the call. My brother and I were out in the backyard, throwing a Frisbee around while tending to burgers on the grill. It was the end of spring during my senior year of high school and I had just interviewed for the Burke scholarship, a four-year full tuition award based on service, leadership and academics sponsored by the late Dick Burke, founder of Trek Bicycles. I had a few friends who were a couple grades levels ahead of me that had received the scholarship. They spoke highly of the Marquette experience and the Burke program. They highlighted the dedication faculty had to their students, the excellent academic and extracurricular opportunities and something else that surprised me: each Burke scholar completed 300 hours of community service each year. That number seemed daunting compared to the 20 hours of service that was required of me during high school. Even further, many scholars completed more than the required number of hours. They worked in soup kitchens, mentoring programs, homeless shelters and jails. I learned that these scholarship students spent their Saturday mornings in food pantries and their spring breaks on service trips to America’s poorest cities and some of the world’s most underdeveloped countries. Through those students I learned what people meant when they spoke of the “Marquette experience.” The other schools I had been considering simply did not compare. Marquette was a dream school, but financially out of reach for my family. That one phone call changed all of that. I had been awarded the Burke Scholarship.

I immediately accepted, started classes and began completing my service work at a free clinic on Milwaukee’s South Side. I worked as a medical assistant, helping health care providers care for Spanish speaking patients. I had the opportunity to learn about the unique challenges involved to providing care to patients in a free clinic. Through volunteering at that clinic I found my life’s calling in the practice of medical care for the poor. After my freshman year, I decided to take advantage of one of the many international opportunities Marquette has to offer. I studied abroad at a Jesuit university in El Salvador through a unique service-learning program. I took classes three days each week and spent the remaining two days working with a Salvadoran organization that provides support for people living with HIV and AIDS. We developed an HIV prevention program and held training sessions for health promoters in rural communities. We sponsored a support group for people living with the disease and provided economic support as well as psychological support, traveling to hospitals and rural areas to visit dying individuals in the final stages of AIDS.

My service experiences abroad and in Milwaukee led me to start a student group on campus that works to educate students about the realities of healthcare for the poor in our own city. When we held our introductory meeting, more than 100 students filled our meeting room! This enthusiasm demonstrates the dedication of the Marquette student body to using their education for the betterment of all members of society.

Scholarship aid allows students the freedom to take advantage of growth experiences after graduation. Marquette’s mission to educate men and women for others calls many students to dedicate their first year out of college to serving others. After graduating this past May, my next journey will involve returning to El Salvador on a Fulbright scholarship to explore the intersections of medicine and economic development programs. I plan to study the diversity of perspectives on issues of development, listening to everyone from university professors to high school-aged kids in rural communities. After the Fulbright I plan to return to the U.S. and enroll in medical school.

Looking back on my Marquette experience, even just a few short months after graduation, I have much to be thankful for. In addition to the well-rounded liberal arts education I received, I found my life’s passion and learned about the life experiences of a variety of different people through my service work. I’ve witnessed the pain of patients who lack access to adequate healthcare and the struggles of those who survive on less than $2 a day in rural El Salvador. Even more importantly, however, I’ve met countless people along the way who have dedicated their lives to working to alleviate the suffering of others.

Phone calls, like the one I received about the Burke scholarship, change lives. Without a doubt, many of the experiences and personal development I’ve described would not have occurred without my scholarship. Phone calls like those are made possible by individuals who believe in the power of Marquette, people who believe that the suffering and injustice that plagues our community and the world do not have to be “just the way it is.” People who support scholarship aid, people like Dick Burke and so many others, are visionaries in the fullest sense of the term. They recognize the transformative potential of a Marquette education: the power to transform not only the individual lives of students and those they serve but also the power to change the world, the power to be the difference.

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