Venturing to all corners of the world with Kevin Celisca

Kevin Celisca soaks in the scenery on his first service trip, volunteering at the Navajo Nation and traveling to the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Jaclyn Chua) Working hard with Habitat for Humanity, he helps rebuild a house in West Virginia on his second alternative break trip through FDU. (Photo by Ashley Eevardi)

By Kenna Caprio

Sleeping in a tepee in Navajo Nation. Rebuilding a home in West Virginia. Playing with children in the Dominican Republic. Studying abroad at Wroxton College in England. Preparing for a semester in Bergamo, Italy, and nearly two months of teaching English in Beijing, China.

Kevin Celisca is a busy man.  

As a freshman at the College at Florham, the accounting major got involved on campus almost immediately with the Student Government Association and the Association of Black Collegians. He credits that involvement to landing him a coveted spot on an alternative spring break trip to the Navajo Nation — which spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico — in 2010.

Seeing the poverty and “economic struggles of everyday life” on the reservation made Celisca “appreciate what I have at home. They didn’t have much but they were happy.”

For a week, students volunteered on the reservation, providing care for Navajo children. “We played games with the kids, played basketball and did activities with them while their parents were at work. We were the YMCA for them,” he says. “We really built a relationship with these kids. We’re friends on Facebook now, and they want me to come to their high school graduation.”

The Navajo invited volunteers to participate in the sweat lodge tradition and ceremony. “We did the sweat lodge, to sweat sins away and be reborn,” says Celisca. They also experienced life in a tepee, shaking out their beds to remove unwanted spiders and orange dirt and dust. “There were spiders in my bed everyday and my socks just kept turning orange,” Celisca says. A trip to the Grand Canyon capped off the service trip.

“In order to grow, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable positions,” says Celisca. After his three service trips and semester abroad, Celisca says that he’s “much more politically and socially aware of my surroundings.”

While working with Habitat for Humanity and West Virginia Ministry of Advocacy and Workcamps, Celisca says he found new respect for those in the construction profession. Student volunteers on the FDU alternative spring break 2011 trip rose early on cold mornings to work with power tools and rebuild a house that had previously burned down. “Building a house is painful and difficult,” says Celisca. “I give so much credit to construction workers.”

During the weeklong mission, Celisca and other volunteers explored West Virginia by rappelling down mountains and discovering state culture.

Kevin Celisca plays with Dominican children on his third service trip. (Photo by Ashley Vieira) During his semester abroad at Wroxton College, he explores the city, pausing at the London Bridge tube stop.

Fast-forward to winter break 2012, and Celisca was off on another FDU-sponsored service adventure in the Dominican Republic. This time, he volunteered at the nonprofit Hogar Del Niño, teaching English to young students. Volunteers bonded with local children through basketball, soccer, baseball, music and arts and crafts.

“We had a lot of fun with the kids,” says Celisca. But, like the two service trips before this one, Celisca took to heart the need around him and a developed an “understanding that America is not the only place in the world. Other places need help, too.”

He and the other volunteers were disturbed to realize that “the books that these kids had were completely outdated. Teachers barely had any tools to work with. It’s an education crisis,” Celisca says.

These volunteer and study abroad experiences enhanced Celisca’s understanding of global issues around the world, especially poverty. “Education and awareness will end poverty,” he says. “It has to start with the youth.”

Deciding his education wouldn’t be complete without more time abroad, Celisca applied to spend the spring 2013 semester abroad at FDU’s Wroxton College.

“You think you know who you are until you’re living in another country,” he says. “Wroxton was the accelerated program that I needed.”

Thanks to support and services from the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF), Celisca developed the discipline necessary to tackle demanding courses at Wroxton.

“He really exemplifies what our program is about,” says Marjorie Hall, director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s EOF. “He had the motivation, but needed the support. With support our students really learn how to shine.”

While at Wroxton, “we went to London to critique art; Paris, France and Scotland on weekend trips; and Barcelona, Spain for travel break,” says Celisca.

Back on United States soil, Celisca spent his time attending classes, working at a local nursing home and as an administrative assistant for Silberman College of Business, while launching a student chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants.

Previously, he interned at J.F. Johnson & Co. as an accounting intern in 2012 and served as a resident assistant (RA) for the EOF summer program in 2011. More recently, he was named as a UN Pathways Volunteer and has been involved in student recruitment for the Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations 2014. When Celisca graduates in 2014, he’ll be among the first to officially document his global education through the new Global Engagement Program, earning a certificate plus special recognition at Commencement.

Still, something was missing. “I needed that feeling again, to just keep learning and be abroad,” he says. “The more I go abroad, the more I know myself.”

So, Celisca headed to Bergamo, Italy, this February to kick off his final semester at FDU. But even that’s not enough. When his semester in Italy draws to a close, he’ll fly directly to Beijing, China to teach English to Chinese children for seven weeks. “That will conclude my adventure with Fairleigh Dickinson University,” he says.

Upon his return from Italy and China, Celisca starts a fulltime job at Ernst & Young on September 1. “I have made a lifelong commitment to myself to apply my skills and contribute to the alleviation of poverty worldwide. Working professionally in a large global business such as Ernest & Young is a significant step closer to realizing my dream.” He’ll help the company recruit more FDU students as he works toward taking his Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. Eventually, Celisca wants to become an international tax lawyer and work at the United Nations or White House.  

“Study abroad will — more than likely — change your career. It’ll also land you a career. I’m proof,” he says.

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

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