Ask soon-to-be Tulane University graduate Juan Carlos Monterrey-Gomez about his plans after commencement on Saturday (May 17), and he’ll talk about returning to his native Panama and the job offers he has in finance. But if you ask him about his dream job, his eyes light up as he talks about making a positive impact in the lives of other people.
Juan Carlos Monterrey-Gomez was honored with a Jim Runsdorf Excellence in Public Service Student Award this year in recognition of significant contributions to the New Orleans community. (Photo by Ryan Rivet)
When he arrived at Tulane, Monterrey-Gomez identified ways to improve the service-learning system to better serve both students and community partners. He took his ideas to the Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship
program and became a Center for Public Service fellow and later a service-learning assistant.
The model he helped design, labeled “service learning 2.0” by Rick Aubry, assistant provost for civic engagement and social entrepreneurship, matches small cohorts of students with local social entrepreneurs to give the students more hands-on experience, and community partners a more engaged group that works to understand the organizations’ issues.
“The best way to learn about service is to go out and work side-by-side with the people who are trying to solve problems in the community,” Monterrey-Gomez says. “We know that we can’t solve these problems in 20 hours, but students can get an overview of what’s happening, and maybe get inspired to continue working in that field down the road.”
Monterrey-Gomez, who will graduate with a degree in economics and international development, served as associate director of Fund 17
, a nonprofit microfinance program that provides small loans for New Orleanians with ideas for businesses who may not qualify for funding from traditional banks.
“I love microfinance because it empowers people; it helps people help themselves,” says Monterrey-Gomez. “You give them the tools — in this case a loan — and people take those tools and build something for themselves.”
Monterrey-Gomez is receiving a Jim Runsdorf Excellence in Public Service Student Award
this year in recognition of significant contributions to the New Orleans community.