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Moreau fellows adjust to life on Notre Dame campus

Amanda Gray | Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sekou Remy said he feels like a freshman again on campus, even though he has a Ph.D.

Remy, one of the 11 inaugural fellows of the Moreau Academic Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, said he is still learning his way around campus since his, and the other fellow’s, arrival on Aug. 1.

“I like what I’ve seen,” he said. “There are really cool things around. It’s a really nice campus and nice people.”

Remy is from Trinidad and Tobago and works in the field of robotics. On campus, he is working with the computer science and engineering department and also collaborates with faculty in the aerospace and mechanical engineering department.

“I’m not teaching this semester, but next semester I’ll be teaching a class called ‘Assisted Robotics,'” he said. “I hope it will be a fun class. All the other professors said it sounds fun and that they want to take it.”

Susan Ohmer, assistant provost and co-director of the program, said she is thrilled with the fellows selected for the first year of the program, especially as the committee is now preparing for the second year’s candidates.

“When I think about them, I am bursting with pride,” she said. “They are fantastic in their fields and I’m really proud of them.”

The deadline for applicants for next year’s slots is Nov. 1, and Ohmer said she noticed a few changes from last year.

There are around 100 applications in so far, compared to the 300 applications they had last year, she said. However, she said she is not worried because the number could double in a week’s time.

She said there is also a possibility of selecting fewer than 11 applicants.

“The word is out there,” she said. “There’s quite a buzz about it and it’s popular. We have a number of international applicants.”

Ohmer said they won’t be making any major changes to the program because it has been successful as is.

The program was designed to help celebrate diversity in all venues of life, not just diversity of racial background or culture. In fields of study, seven of the fellows work in the College of Arts and Letters, while four work in science and engineering. With funding help from the President’s Office, several deans and the Lilly Foundation, the program was a success, she said.

“We work with the idea of diversity,” Ohmer said. “The way these fellows exemplify diversity is either from underrepresented groups or their research focuses on diversity. We have some women from fields with few women in them.”

Remy said he can apply diversity to his field of study — though not many attempt to do so.

“One of the things about engineering is that there are not many ways the traditional [societal] views of diversity fit in, like skin color and culture difference,” he said. “It works in different ways. It can manifest itself with how familiar you are with different ways to solve a problem.  I also embody diversity by having attended both Catholic and secular schools, attended engineering and non-engineering schools.  In my work I can see similar problems across various disciplines.”

Anne Garcia-Romero, another Moreau fellow and working in the Film, Television and Theatre Department, said her ideas on diversity stem from her cultural background.

Born from a Spanish father and an American mother, Garcia-Romero works as a playwright and a theatre professor.

“I write about diversity in my plays,” she said. “In my playwriting, I address how Latin and American cultures collide.”

Part of Garcia-Romero’s fellowship is to write a new play. She said she is focusing on Martin Ramirez, an artist, and her play will be structured around his life and work.

She is also working on a book about Latina playwrights.

“[The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center] is a phenomenal facility,” she said. “The whole thing is incredibly impressive.

The facility just blows everyone else out of the water.”

The fellowship has offered her a chance to practice her craft and teach, she said. The fellows are required to teach one course a semester while working in their fields of study.

“As a scholar-artist, I was keenly interested in working in an institution which championed research excellence, intellectual rigor and artistic achievement and Notre Dame clearly offered all of this and more,” Garcia-Romero said. “As a bi-cultural Latina, I was encouraged by Notre Dame’s commitment to cultural diversity. As a Catholic, I was also really interested in the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about issues connected to education in the Catholic tradition.”

Remy’s only complaint is he is hoping to discover more unique and interesting campus events.

“I get the sense there is so much more to experience,” he said. “Like the midnight drum circle — that’s not in the orientation. I look forward to experiencing things like that.”