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Students integrate class, current events

Joe Trombello | Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a series of three articles focusing on academic engagement at Notre Dame.

Sophomore Elizabeth Webster would like to spend more time reading a newspaper or a book, but she finds she just doesn’t have time; when she’s not in class or practicing for cross-country, she must do her homework.

“Some people seem to be able to do it all,” she said. “I feel like I’m limited.”

Like many Notre Dame students, Webster’s involvement in both her schoolwork and her extra-curricular activities leave little time for much else. Students often said that, although they would like to keep up more with current events, politics and the news through reading outside sources, the academic and extra-curricular rigors of Notre Dame can prevent them from having the time to do so.

“Nearly everyone is consumed with classes, clubs and jobs,” junior theology major Eric Wooldridge said.

As a result, students said they cannot really spend time focusing on material they know will not be necessary for a test, even if they are personally interested in the subject.

“If I sit down to study for a test [and] the professor gives us something to concentrate on, I’m going to concentrate on that. I don’t want to clutter my brain with information that is not going to be on the exam,” said Zach Goodrich, a biology major.

Satisfaction

Despite this time crunch, however, Notre Dame students generally said they remain well-informed about politics and current events through conversations with peers, rather than outside media or reading. They also said the level of intellectualization on campus satisfies them, in contrast to faculty concerns about the lack of undergraduate academic engagement outside of the classroom.

Some students said that conversation among their peers often focuses on subjects such as sports, alcohol and the opposite sex.

“Partying, alcohol, girls and sports are much more common topics of conversation than politics or philosophy. I’m more comfortable with that – I like it that way,” Wooldridge said.

Students, however, said they often connect material learned in class in conversations with peers to make their discussions more academic, which contradicts faculty perceptions that most students do not often discuss academic issues in their dorms or the dining halls.

“A lot of [my] conversations with friends are deeper than ‘what are you doing this weekend,’ ” said Robert Gibbs, a finance/psychology major. “My friends and I talk a lot about philosophy in general.”

Jessica Campbell, a senior biology major, said she likes how she and her friends from science classes can discuss the material outside of the classroom.

“With [my] pre-med friends, we are always analyzing what’s going on with our bodies – and it’s so cool to see that what we are learning in class has practical applications,” she said.

THE HONORS PERSPECTIVE

Like other Notre Dame students, undergraduates in the University’s Honors Program and those recommended for prestigious scholarships like the Rhodes said they tend to engage in intellectual discourse outside of the classroom and see little difference between themselves and the rest of Notre Dame undergraduates.

“It’s not a division between Honors Program students and non-Honors program students,” said senior Mary Mullen, an honors student and English/Political Science double major. “It’s a division between people for whom academics is their first priority [and those for whom it is not]. You can learn many things at college, and academics are part of that.”

Josh Stuchlik, an Honors Program student and a Rhodes Scholarship candidate, said he remembers students having many conversations about politics in Sorin College and fervently watching presidential debates and elections.

“Students are very engaged in matters about news and politics,” he said.

Like Stuchlik, Mullen said that the small classes and frequent required colloquia common to the Honors Program have allowed her a greater forum for the exchange of ideas outside of the classroom. However, she said her personal interest in academics has driven her to actively attend many lectures on campus.

“I just think that because I’m really interested in academics and in making the most of my four years here . . . I have gone to a lot of the lectures,” she said.

Mullen also said she has found the ability of Notre Dame students to integrate academic issues with their conversations to be an impressive quality.

“The percentage of people who talk [about academics] outside of class is pretty high at Notre Dame. The way that people think, I’m pretty impressed with all the time . . . how people in normal conversations can tie it [academics] in is really incredible,” she said.