Mesa, Arizona ~ Benedictine University at Mesa marked yet another significant milestone for the branch campus in May when it sent off its first four-year graduating class on Saturday, May 20.
BenU has held two previous Commencement ceremonies honoring students who had earned degrees after transferring from other schools. This year was the first time students who entered Benedictine as freshmen walked across the graduation stage.
Hope Vacca Velcoff, a senior Criminal Justice major from Mesa and a first-generation college student, is one of the first graduating seniors to attend all four years at Benedictine. She decided to attend the University after being awarded a scholarship as part of the Jo Wilson Leadership Program, which offers career skills training through creative, skill-building interactions.
Aside from being close to home, one of the biggest strengths of Benedictine was its small class size compared to other universities nearby, Velcoff said.
“This allows students to work closely with the staff and vice versa,” she said. “The faculty members are very kind and are able to help any time you need them. I feel I learned more because the classes were small. That helped me a lot.”
In addition to the Jo Wilson Leadership Program, Velcoff was an active member of the Criminal Justice Club and participated in the Junior Chamber of Commerce Program, which provides students with hands-on leadership opportunities, job shadowing and mentoring from Mesa’s business leaders.
“The leadership program helped me to believe in myself,” she said. “The Junior Chamber of Commerce taught me how to network with the community around me, and the Criminal Justice Club allowed me to use my leadership skills when I was acting as its vice president.”
In addition to her studies, Velcoff completed an internship with the Mesa Police Department’s Victim Services Unit.
“I learned that helping someone, even if it’s just a small amount, can make a huge impact on their life,” she said.
One of her favorite memories from Benedictine is when she and other students visited the Lisle campus as part of the Jo Wilson Leadership Program.
“It was a wonderful bonding experience that allowed us to connect on a closer level and realize that we are leaders in the making,” she said.
By far, the most important lesson Velcoff learned at Benedictine was that if you believe in yourself, you can find the strength to carry on despite all of life’s obstacles.
“You can accomplish amazing things if you put your mind to it,” she said.
After graduation, she plans to go into the workforce and study for the Graduate Record Examination for admission into a sign language interpretation program.
“I am very thankful that I was able to be part of a growing BenU,” she said. “I am proud of the decision that I made as a freshman to come to BenU.”
Mollie A. Malovoz, a senior Accounting major from Gilbert, came to Benedictine in fall 2015 after transferring from Chandler-Gilbert Community College. The University’s hallmarks, Catholic roots, friendly faculty and Admissions staff were among the top features that attracted her to the school.
It was in a Benedictine classroom that Malovoz says she learned how to think on her own and better articulate the knowledge she gained.
“I wanted a program that was small enough to allow me to ask questions and network easily,” Malovoz said. “I also wanted to be able to understand finances and help businesses create quality programs, standards and policies that helped them flourish in the community.”
She said she learned there is much more to accounting than theories and formulas.
“The Accounting program led me to an internship where I met some incredible certified public accountants,” she said. “That experience demonstrated just how important understanding the business culture is. Accounting is somewhat the language of business and through this discipline, I have a leg-up in determining how to assess and analyze businesses as a whole.”
Malovoz was vice president of the Student Senate during her junior and senior years. This past fall, she was a student-peer mentor for incoming freshmen.
She completed two internships, learning about financial activities at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Gilbert and at accounting firm Boudreau Consulting LLC, which serves a range of local and international nonprofit and for-profit clients.
“I absolutely loved my time as an intern because I was able to jump into a job that supported my career and academic goals,” Malovoz said. “It affirmed my belief that I really enjoyed finance. Aside from the tremendous support I have received – which is critical to anyone’s success –knowing that I picked the right career, where I could see myself growing over the next five to 25 years is exciting and extremely comforting because I have the peace of mind knowing I am doing something that I love.
“Boudreau Consulting extended an offer to me to come on board full time after I graduate, and we have been collaborating to make my dream of becoming a certified public accountant a reality,” she added. “I’m excited to be able to pursue a master’s degree and also work full time.”
Graduating from BenU will be bittersweet, but Malovoz says she is looking forward to her future.
“I’m going to miss seeing everyone on campus, and it will probably never be the same, but I’m ready,” she said.
The University also continues to invest in the Mesa campus and the Arizona community by expanding its workforce to serve students better.
In April, Benedictine University selected Paula Norby, Ed.D., to lead the University’s Mesa branch campus as dean.
She is responsible for all academic and operational areas, and charged with developing strategies to continue to grow the Mesa campus.
Benedictine also officially opened the doors to its first residence hall for the Mesa campus earlier this spring. The former Alhambra Hotel, located at 43 S. Macdonald St., can house 53 students.
The $3.3 million renovation project provides students with single- and double-room suites with such amenities as study areas, lounges, a café, kitchen, and laundry rooms, an outdoor commons area, patio space and parking.
Benedictine University has been part of the Mesa community since 2012 when it opened an enrollment center at 51 E. Main St. In 2013, the University officially dedicated its first academic building, Gillett Hall, the former Southside Hospital building at 225 E. Main St., which underwent a yearlong $10 million renovation.
Today, BenU is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the California Pacific Conference, offering a full range of athletics and other cocurricular activities while providing a values-based education rooted in the Catholic and Benedictine traditions to its nearly 500 students.
Benedictine University at Mesa is a branch campus of Benedictine University, an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine was named among “America’s Top Colleges” for the sixth consecutive year in 2016 by Forbes magazine. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (602) 888-5500, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu/mesa.