Religious Studies, School of Liberal Arts, Academics, Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy

Kiley Pendergast '21 has never been to Jamaica. But from her home in the Capital Region, she's creating opportunities for at-risk students who just need a chance.

Seretse Hughes is originally from Trinidad and Tobago. He'd like to pursue a career in optometry. For many students from poor neighborhoods in the Caribbean, that goal would be fantastical. Access to a STEM education is limited, and the cost would be prohibitive. But Sereste will get his shot to become an eye doctor, and Pendergast is playing a critical role. 

Pendergast has always given her heart (and her hair) in the service of others. She grew out her hair to donate her locks. She volunteered at her youth ministry, participated in service with the Girls Scouts, Key Club... it's an exhaustive list.  

The religious studies major added a Franciscan service and advocacy minor to unlock new opportunities, and that's how she became the American contact for the Monsignor Gladstone Wilson College. The college is actually a high school in Jamaica, founded by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Montego Bay and specifically for young men who have the intellectual ability, but face hardships that threaten their academic pursuits. The new school - with a current enrollment of two - focuses on STEM education, but is starving for resources. Fr. Colin King, O.F.M., went looking for help, and that's when he found Pendergast.

Fr. King reached out to Br. Brian Belanger, O.F.M., director of the Center for International Programs, for support. Br. Brian engaged Judy Dougherty, director of the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy, and they identified Pendergast to be the point person for the College. As part of her minor, Pendergast has worked with Fr. King to develop curriculum and gather resources. She connected with the School of Science and is working to secure donated equipment. She's developing video demonstration opportunities that may connect Siena students with Fr. King's students. She's tapping into alumni and expanding the reach of the school into new territories for fundraising.    

At her Confirmation, Pendergast embraced a message from the Bishop.

"There's more you can do with your religion than you realize."

She decided to explore religious studies to find out. That led her to a minor that's given her the opportunity make a difference in the life of Seretse Hughes. After graduation, Pendergast hopes to work in higher education as an admissions counselor. She wants to support the academic dreams of students in multiple countries.  

"This internship is very meaningful to me. I am in a position that will allow me to make a positive impact on young students. The experience that these students will have through this school will be an experience they will carry with them; it may even lead them to their career choice. I am helping with the early stages of this project and I will be able to see it grow, even after I graduate. Even though we are living through a difficult time that puts limitations on what we can and cannot do, I am so thankful to have the opportunity to do this internship virtually."  

Kiley Pendergast '21

"This is a huge help to us here in Jamaica. It shows the strength of the Franciscan community that we can have people working on a high school in Jamaica, Montego Bay, West Indies, and have a student who is as competent and dedicated as Kiley all the way in Albany, New York to be able to help out and respond to the need of young men here.

There are an incredible number of reasons not to start a new school. It’s challenging and difficult. There are a lot of headaches and stressors and pressure, not to mention a global pandemic. To have the support of Kiley and Siena College is a huge booster of morale, and they're able to get things done that we simply don’t have the resources, human or financial, to do. Having this partnership to be able to do this speaks volumes of the caliber of students at Siena College and in particular Kiley. We're grateful that she was willing to take this leap of faith at this time."

Fr. Colin King, O.F.M.