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Campus sees rise in catalytic converter thefts

As reports of catalytic converter thefts increase on campus and across the nation, deputy chief of the Notre Dame Police Department (NDPD) Bill Thompson said these crimes are nothing new.

“There’s nothing particularly new about catalytic converter theft,” he said. “It’s something that’s been happening, frankly, since they started putting catalytic converters on cars decades ago.” 

Catalytic converters filter pollutants in exhaust emissions and turn them into harmless gasses. What makes these converters valuable is the presence of three metals: palladium, platinum and rhodium. Rhodium can be sold for up to $20,000 per ounce, according to USA Today

“The popularity of the crime goes up and down depending on the relative values of the metals inside the catalytic converters,” Thompson said. “[Notre Dame has] had more instances of it over the last few months than we have had in the last year or two.”

This spike in campus occurrences is reflected across the country. Catalytic converter theft claims increased by 326% in 2020 and by 353% in 2021, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).  As crews have acquired more sophisticated equipment, the time it takes to cut out the part from the exhaust has become increasingly fast.

 “For a crew that’s well equipped and knows what they are doing, they can be in and out in less than a couple of minutes from the time they start working on the car,” Thompson said. 

Thompson said drivers can instantly recognize if the converter is missing as soon as they start driving.

“You’ll know almost immediately because your car is going to sound really really loud like there’s no muffler on it at all,” Thompson said. “You can run it and certainly run it long enough to get repaired … but you wouldn’t want to sit and idle in that condition because the unfiltered exhaust fumes are going to be coming right up into the passenger compartment.” 

Before getting the vehicle repaired, Thompson encourages students to contact NDPD so that they can direct more resources to the issue. 

Perpetrators are not necessarily local. During the summer a crew from Chicago committed a series of thefts on campus and across the greater South Bend area, Thompson said. They initially left town and eluded authorities. However, a few weeks later, they wound up getting caught through a joint investigation by NDPD and the South Bend Police Department. The previous crimes were all linked to this particular crew.

Catalytic converter thefts are a “crime of opportunity,” Thompson said. This means it is difficult to take action to prevent it.

“It’s more of a community mindset about always being aware of your surroundings, taking in what looks like it fits in and what doesn’t,” Thompson said. “If a student sees a car cruising through a parking lot or cruising around campus slowly and it just doesn’t look right, give us a call.”

Contact Kate Naessens at knaessen@nd.edu.

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Students, faculty discuss experiences in Washington Program

For those looking to gain internship experience while studying off-campus, the Notre Dame Washington Program poses an exciting and unique opportunity. Open to sophomores and juniors, the program boasts alumni who have gone on to work with The Washington Post, CNN, Facebook and in Congress. 

Students spend at least three days a week at their internships and take elective classes in the evenings, ranging from art history to legislative politics.

Every Thursday, students gather with the director of the program, Professor Thomas Kellenberg, who leads the seminar on “Introduction to Public Policy” and “Public Policy Visits,” where topics of discussion include democracy, rights and cost-benefit analysis. 

Within this seminar and other classes, students have the opportunity to speak with a variety of experts and high-ranking government officials about their discussion topics.

Sophomore Fionn Barr found the talk by Paul Lewis, former department of defense special envoy for Guantanamo closure, particularly interesting.

“He was the head of closing down Guantanamo Bay,” Barr said. “He talked about immigration and the problems they faced in trying to find a viable and humanitarian solution to deal with the prisoners in the camp.” 

Highlighting the importance of students’ exposure to these speakers and their various careers, Claudia Francis, the program’s associate director, said, “Being able to connect the classroom to the real world afterward is helpful for them to figure out the next step in their path forward.” 

This sentiment holds true for Barr.

“I think one of the best things this program has done for me is help discern what my future career path will be,” he said. “The guest speakers have had a huge impact on that, especially when considering postgraduate degrees.” 

When considering the impacts of the internships, Francis added, “The networking component is really beneficial for our students to help them understand the policy landscape in D.C. and what types of positions appeal to them.” 

Sophomore architecture student Myldred Hernandez-Gonzalez has her sights set on working in housing in the future, and through interning with the Neighborhood Development Company, a for-profit, mission-driven real estate developer that creates affordable housing units in the D.C. area, she has been able to envision this plan becoming a reality. 

“I never thought I could work for a for-profit company,” she said. “So it’s been really interesting to work in that space and look at how companies can be mission-driven and still make a profit.” 

Another unique aspect of the program is its inclusion of human rights clinics such as its Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act Clinic and United Nations Special Procedures/Periodic Review Clinics, where students get to take part in hands-on, human rights advocacy work.

“I know of only one other university in the country that offers undergraduates the opportunity to do human rights work,” Kellenberg said. 

The deadline to apply for next year’s program is Nov. 27. 

“We are looking for students who are going to represent the University well and work well with each other,” Francis said. “Students who are going to have a really impactful time in D.C. and that participating in the Washington Program is going to propel them further in their career and their personal career discernment.” 

Barr said the experience has been eye-opening and rewarding.

“I think that anyone can benefit no matter what major you are,” he said.

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‘The Art of Faith’ exhibit now open at Holy Cross

In an effort to showcase the diversity of religious art in the area and celebrate the intersection of artwork and the Catholic faith, Angelo Ray Martinez, a Holy Cross professor and the director of the St. Joseph Gallery organized and curated ‘The Art of Faith.’ Open to visitors on the Holy Cross campus until Dec. 16, this exhibition features 10 artists from a variety of artistic and Catholic backgrounds, all with the united vision of sharing what faith looks like to them. 

The pieces on show include both artwork commissioned specifically for the exhibit and pieces like that of Melonie Mulkey, an adjunct professor of visual arts. Her work, ‘The Five Wounds,’ was featured in a two-person exhibition called ‘Innermost’ at the University of Notre Dame earlier this year.

Mulkey’s work ‘The Five Wounds’ is on display in the St. Joesph Gallery until Dec. 16. / Courtesy of Angelo Ray Martínez

Mulkey, an experienced artist, said this exhibit is different than some of the others she has been in.

“This is, in a really long list of exhibitions, the first one I’ve been in that specifically addresses and talks about faith,” Mulkey said.

Mulkey’s excitement at the unique nature of the exhibition and its artwork is also reflected in local artist and high school art teacher Anastassia (Tess) Cassady, who made last year’s Paschal candle for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

“Fusing Catholicism and interesting, heartfelt and original art is something that hasn’t been seen in a long time,” she said. “When I do something that’s artistic and religious, fellow artists will respect the artistry of it but can say ‘I don’t want anything to do with Christianity, why would you mix the two’ so I was really impressed with the fact [Martinez] found such a wide variety of art.”

Bringing together the local community of Catholic artists was a major component of Martinez’ vision, he said.

“There aren’t a lot of art venues that dedicate themselves to exhibiting contemporary faith-based artworks, so it can be difficult to find the conversations and discourse that is necessary to progressing your work,” Martinez said.

This type of collaboration is something Cassady said she is all for and thinks it could serve a greater purpose in reaching the wider Catholic community.

“I think it’s a great idea, especially for parishes to have someplace to both bring artists together, but also educate the congregation with original artwork that they have never seen before, rather than the same printouts that are faded [churches] that they don’t really notice anymore — not because it’s not striking, but that it’s nothing new,” she explained.

Martinez expressed that he hopes both Catholics and non-Catholics can gain something from the exhibit.

“I hope that visitors are able to reflect on their own Catholic faith in a deeper way if they are of the faith, and if they are not, that they are able to better appreciate some of the beauty and mysteries of Catholicism,” Martinez said.

As for the effects of this exhibition, Mulkey said she is confident it will make a positive impact on the Catholic communities’ response to more modern, faith-based art.

Contact Kate Naessens at knaessen@nd.edu

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SOTERIA Flooring startup wants to make falling safer

A Notre Dame graduate entrepreneurship program alumna is working towards longer, safer lives for people with a fall risk — not with grasp bars or fall buttons, but with a patented flooring system designed to “restore the right to fall.”

Julie Moylan, CEO of SOTERIA Flooring and ESTEEM program graduate, arriving on campus summer 2021 with an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Galway. Moylan made it her business to dive straight into the entrepreneurial scene, having never pursued anything like it before.

She was paired with a flooring startup previously founded by Tim Ovaert, a professor in Notre Dame’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department. Moylan helped reshape the “nearly completely stopped and dissolved” company. Today, SOTERIA is still in the pre-seed round of funding, raising $80,000 dollars so far.

The twice-patented flooring product was commissioned by the CDC for research purposes but was soon turned into a purchasable product that reduces the occurrence of injury from falling.

“It can be installed under your carpet or linoleum, anything that has a bit of give, in nursing homes or care facilities, assisted and independent living,” Moylan said.

Moylan said 25% of those who fall [that are] over the age of 65 are dead within six months of the injury, and the problem only gets worse with age.

“People are actually dying because of it and nothing has been done,” she said.  

During the 35-month period before installing their flooring in a facility in Ohio, 21 fractures were recorded. Once SOTERIA flooring was installed, Moylan said there was a 100% reduction in fractures, 100% reduction in overnight stays and a near complete reduction in ER visits.

“People with dementia and Alzheimer’s forget they can’t walk anymore and are incredibly prone to falling. The only alternative to them getting up or falling down was to strap them to the bed, which is completely inhumane, so giving them back the right to fall is a huge part of our mission.”

SOTERIA currently has two major installations in Ohio and has no plan to slow down. The company is currently talking with a care facility in Kentucky and the Logan Center in South Bend. 

Moylan is utilizing the traction the company is gaining to expand into the construction industry,.

“It’s tough to be a new player in that market, so I need a global flooring or commercial flooring provider to sell directly to the customer,” Moylan said.

A partnership like this has the potential to ramp up adoption of the flooring.

“They will have the resources to offset some costs and include us as part of their portfolio, so for me it’s about being selective about a partner that will accelerate our route to scaling in the market,” Moylan said. “We are in discussions with all those people, especially their research, design and innovation arms, so they let us know what they need to see from us, and now it’s just up to us to get there.” 

Moylan’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is to trust their gut instincts.

“You will have people to advise and guide you, but when you’re in it and something doesn’t feel good, don’t go against your internal instincts,” she said. “I can’t even describe how much you will be pulled in all sorts of directions, so just listen to yourself, trust yourself and trust your product.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of the story mistakenly said SOTERIA Flooring had raised $20,000 instead of $80,000.

Contact Kate at knaessen@nd.edu

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Architecture students help revitalize South Bend, Kalamazoo

An architectural drawing of a proposed design for downtown Kalamazoo. / Credit: Kate Naessens – The Observer

Marianne Cusato is leading a new initiative to revitalize underutilized areas of South Bend and Kalamazoo, Mich., while also providing a professional environment and learning opportunities for students.

“It’s a combination of looking at human community development patterns and how we can use that to build a better home,” said Cusato, professor of the practice and director of housing and community regeneration initiatives within the School of Architecture.

During a four-day period, a team of students and faculty from the School of Architecture met with public officials, city planners and various industry professionals in a practice known as a “charette” to discuss and map out plans to make better use of Kalamazoo’s layout. The goal of the project is to make the city more accessible and enjoyable for the public.

“There is no hierarchy in charette” is a phrase senior Angelica Ketcham heard repeatedly throughout her experience that describes the teamwork involved.

“Small, midwest towns are an interesting urban design puzzle because a lot of them experienced urban renewal in the ’80s and ’90s,” Ketcham said. “The goal of the charette is less ‘this is what’s wrong with your city, and this is how we are going to fix it’ but ‘this is what is great about your city, how can we do more of it? How can we emphasize it? How can we revitalize what’s around it?’”

Dylan Rumsey, a third-year graduate student, explained that after the “core downtown area” of Kalamazoo was identified, the next step was to create a zoning plan to support the commercial areas.

Then, the architects had to decide what buildings were worth preserving or replacing, how to better direct traffic to make these areas more commercially friendly and how to utilize the surrounding alley networks to make the street itself more accessible on foot.

“We were really just thinking how we could take the space in between the buildings and best utilize it for traffic and pedestrians,” Rumsey said.

While reflecting on his time in Kalamazoo, Rumsey said he hopes urban planning can be more centered around the consumer experience in the future.

“Designing public spaces should be the number one approach to any kind of urban planning, and I think that is something we’ve really missed the mark on here, especially in middle America, because cities just aren’t nice places to walk around,” he explained.

An architectural drawing created by Notre Dame architecture students participating in the charette project. / Credit: Kate Naessens – The Observer

Now, with the plan itself finished, Ketcham and Rumsey said they are going through the process of compiling the results of the charette to present in a public report in the coming months.

The next charette will be with Habitat for Humanity in Mishawaka during fall break, Cusato said.

“We’ll do three charettes a year, plus a charette lab course, which does the prep work and follow-up for each of the charettes,” she said.

Cusato said students can expect to experience real-world problem-solving from being involved in this initiative.

“For so long, we have been on autopilot, just accepting that the world around us is just the world around us, but with these charrettes, there’s a real energy around them from feeling like you can actually be a part of a solution,” she said.

Contact Kate at knaessen@nd.edu.