Morgan Widhalm Munsen knows that effective communication is key for scientific research to have real life implications. So, in addition to conducting significant research of her own as a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology, Munsen also pursues community-based projects that make science more accessible and understandable to the general public. “It’s not like you can do research and then suddenly expect it to be meaningful to people,” Munsen said. “Which is why I think it’s so important for scientists and researchers to tell stories about their research and help to make it as relevant as possible to people.”
Throughout the College of Arts & Letters — and across Notre Dame’s campus — faculty and staff are launching podcasts to share engaging conversations with audiences everywhere. From the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s Ethics and Culture Cast to the Department of Theology’s Minding Scripture show to the Notre Dame International Security Center’s speaker series podcast, many programs have found the form to be an effective way of inviting the world into Notre Dame’s vibrant intellectual community. “I feel really committed to delivering content to a broad audience, especially to people who wouldn’t get it otherwise,” said Gabriel Said Reynolds, the Jerome J. Crowley and Rosaleen G. Crowley Professor of Theology. “It’s a gift to teach Notre Dame students, so I’m really grateful for the opportunity and I don’t take that for granted, but there are many people who will never have access to institutions like Notre Dame.”
As an Arts & Letters undergraduate, Sara Ferraro is contemplating big ideas like the pursuit of social justice and human dignity — and developing concrete, sustainable solutions for communities in need. And the Program of Liberal Studies and data science minor have enabled them to implement tangible strategies for organizations and communities from Appalachia to Guatemala. “I believe in the common good, and I want to figure out my place in contributing to it,” Ferraro said. “Health is the overarching term that I can apply to all my experiences so far, whether that is environmental health, physical health, emotional health, or resilience.”
Nicholas Roberts completed his Ph.D. in history at Notre Dame in May, focusing on modern Islamic history. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in music performance and history from Syracuse University in 2009 and his Master of Arts in global, international, and comparative history from Georgetown University in 2014. This fall, he is joining Norwich University as assistant professor of Middle Eastern history. In this interview, he discusses why he chose Notre Dame, his research on the history of the Omani Empire in the Indian Ocean, and why places like the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian Ocean should be more of a focal point in historical narratives.
Matthew Bisner believes knowledge is best used when applied to the real world — and that’s why he’s spent much of his time at Notre Dame using what he has learned in the classroom to strengthen the community. A senior political science and peace studies major with a gender studies minor, Bisner looks to his coursework for tools and inspiration to improve the world around him — from aiding students in the midst of a pandemic to campaigning for a more inclusive campus.
Matthew Canonico ’20 has won the Dante Society of America’s Dante Prize for best undergraduate essay — the third time since 2014 that a Notre Dame student has received the award.
A mathematics and Italian major, Canonico combined his two academic interests to explore deeper truths in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
“There are a lot of hidden treasures in Dante,” he said. “Sometimes when reading Dante, something would click, and I’d get tingles down my spine. It’s an inexhaustible piece of art that, 700 years later, is still inspiring scholarship.”
After growing up in a neighborhood where many of his friends didn’t make it to college, senior Diego Reynoso knows firsthand the challenges facing students in low-income communities. Now, as the second person in his family to graduate from college, Reynoso hopes to use his Notre Dame education to empower Latino communities and marginalized individuals. His time in the College of Arts & Letters and the Institute for Latino Studies, he said, have given him the skills, resources, and support to do so. “I do this for my family because they never had the opportunities that I have right now,” he said. “Just doing the most I can to help those who come from similar situations means the world to my family.”
When Brianna Drummond walked into her first Russian class at Notre Dame, she didn’t know much about the language — including that it had its own alphabet. Now, nearly four years later, Drummond is reading poetry and prose in Russian, discussing how they connect to important historical events, and preparing for a full-time IT job at Ford Motor Co. that could draw on her knowledge of Russian. “I was motivated by the challenge (of advanced classes), combined with the fact that I had a team with me, and the professors were always checking in because it’s a small department, so everyone knows you,” she said. “I have so many friends now from the Russian major — it’s a great way to have a little community within the larger Notre Dame community.”
With majors in design and computer science through the Reilly Center Dual Degree Program, Hind Zahour knew very little about DNA — but she didn’t let that stop her from joining a COVID-19 research team last summer. When Zahour’s consulting internship was shortened due to the pandemic, she sought out an opportunity related to the global crisis and was invited to work with with an engineering professor, running code code to determine what genes are affected by COVID-19. The tangibility and creativity of Zahour's design major and concentration in industrial design have become the perfect balance to the technical coding work she does in computer science — and the combination has given her a more holistic way of thinking.
When Veronica Mansour landed her first role in musical theater as Marcie in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown at age 8, she never imagined she would one day write a musical of her own. She still has trouble believing it now. A senior English and music major with a minor in musical theatre, Mansour spent last semester workshopping her original musical, An Old Family Recipe, which will be filmed over the course of a few weeks and released to the public in a live-streamed opening night this spring.
Sophomore Mariko Jurcsak remembers the moment she became hooked on ancient history. She was in her high school Latin class, reading a poem by the Roman poet Catallus about the death of his brother, when her teacher shared that he had connected with the poem after his own brother had passed away. Connecting with history on the basis of shared humanity gave Jurcsak a new perspective on the subject — and inspired her to major in Greek and Roman civilization in the Department of Classics.
What do Stephen Colbert and an ancient Greek political satirist have in common? After taking the advice of a professor to pursue any topic that interested her, junior Ella Wisniewski decided to answer that question in a research project on political comedy. That simple suggestion from Collin Meissner, an assistant dean for undergraduate studies, during a Glynn Family Honors Program seminar set her on a path that included a trip to New York, adding a second major, and embracing learning for the sake of learning.
A single sociology class in her first year changed the course of Kiersten Hogan’s undergraduate career — and opened her eyes to the connections between social structures and health. The coronavirus pandemic confirmed for her the importance of providing mental health support and services, particularly for minority communities, and she added minors in Africana studies and gender studies as a senior in order to better understand the populations she'd like to serve.
What’s senior Liam Karr’s secret to juggling three majors, writing a thesis, and still finding time to practice and perform with the Notre Dame Glee Club? A little time management and a lot of love for what he does.“I just totally do the whole ‘study what you love’ thing, and don’t really care if my schedule looks a little busy,” he said. A self-described “history nerd” with an interest in politics, Karr quickly discovered how much natural overlap there is between his first two majors. Deciding to pursue a third major — Arabic — was more of an unexpected development.
Patrícia Rodrigues is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology and a fellow in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies focusing her research on the historical and anthropological bases for indigenous claims to territory and legal protection of archaeological sites and ecological resources in Brazil. In this interview, she discusses her research on the Wauja people in Brazil, why she chose Notre Dame, and how the anthropology program's emphasis on transdisciplinarity makes it distinctive.
Whether he’s studying in Uganda or France, South Africa or South Bend — or speaking English, Luganda, French, or Swahili — Trevor Lwere has one topic at the forefront of his mind. No matter where he is, the economics and global affairs major is driven to investigate what different cultures and perspectives can teach each other about forming the best society. “Every time I move to a different place, I get curious about how different societies imagine how they should be organized and how they approach life,” he said.
Senior Meg Burns says that the tagline to her experience at Notre Dame could be, “It’s OK to change your mind.” After three semesters majoring in biochemistry, Burns decided to follow her passion and major in art history. Then, during her junior year, she dramatically shifted the focus of her senior thesis after having completed research in Dublin. Looking back, Burns said these moments became valuable learning experiences themselves.
Senior Sam Cannova’s affinity for problem solving has driven him to pursue a diverse range of experiences at Notre Dame. It has inspired him to dive deep into classic texts, volunteer for a nonprofit in the South Bend community, and travel to South Africa to conduct research on hip-hop culture. He entered Notre Dame intending to major in business but was inspired to try out some Program of Liberal Studies classes after hearing about the experiences of other students in the program.
The Program of Liberal Studies’ motto — Learn what it means to be human — is a phrase that Notre Dame senior McKenna Cassidy has taken to heart. She grappled with big ideas in her Arts and Letters courses, traveled to Italy to research Renaissance mealtime rituals, and followed her passions to a career in the wine industry. “That motto is a wonderful goal for each individual,” Cassidy said. “It is important to understand who I am and why I’m here, and I’m grateful for the space that the College of Arts and Letters has created for me to discern that question.”
Seniors Kendrick Peterson and Andrew Jarocki are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they brought their perspectives together for research they hope will make an impact on the South Bend community. The pair chose to team up for their Hesburgh Program in Public Service capstone project — searching for a solution to reducing recidivism that Democrats and Republicans can agree on.
Morgan Peck didn’t know what she wanted to major in when she was applying to colleges. But an enthusiasm for learning and an openness to new experiences has helped her discover three disciplines she loves — sociology, Spanish, and constitutional studies. And all three — plus her desire to serve others — intersect in an issue she hopes to devote her career to. “In immigration law, I see a combination of my passion for learning about the Spanish and Latino cultures and my desire to help people,” she said. “That's something that's been instilled in me since I was very young — build a career by doing good.”
Parker Revers has a full-time job in Morgan Stanley's healthcare group after graduation, but dropped his finance major this year so he could spend more time studying history and complete a senior thesis. "I want to take classes that expose you to a new way of thinking or a new perspective, and history was always what was doing that for me," he said.
Georgia Twersky loves diving deep into data when she’s studying economics. But her experiences at Notre Dame have helped her see the value of understanding the people behind the numbers, as well. An international economics major with a Spanish concentration and a minor in peace studies, the senior has found numerous ways that her academic disciplines support one another, preventing her from missing perspectives that might be lost by focusing on just one area.
When neuroscience and behavior major Revell Cozzi decided to add a minor in philosophy, religion, and literature (PRL), she was driven by more than just an academic interest. Cozzi felt the minor provided her with a piece of herself she’d been missing in college life. “One of Notre Dame’s application essays asked us what Father Basil Moreau’s quote, ‘Education is the art of helping young people to completeness,’ meant to us,” the senior said. “I feel like having that interdisciplinary aspect is the best way to bring people to completeness."