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Scholars for and with Others by Christa Howarth '17

Scholars for and with Others by Christa Howarth '17
Class of 2017 researchers are pictured, from left: Kaitlyn Jones, Kathleen Reilly, Kyle Rodgers and Christa Howarth.

One recent Scranton graduate writes about how she and several other undergraduate Honors Program students have served their ‘neighbors.’

Note: Christa Howarth graduated in May with a degree in theology and philosophy. She served as a member of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program. Her original article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Connections, published by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.

Christ’s Call of Love

Jesus, in answer to a scholar of the law, gave these two greatest commandments: to love God with your whole heart, being and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These commandments of love, seen in Jesus’ example throughout the Gospels, inspire the call to live for and with others — a call for solidarity with those who are vulnerable — which is fostered at The University of Scranton.

Directly after giving these commandments (featured in Luke 10:25), Jesus suggests the kind of relationship we should have with our neighbor. He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, who upon encountering a stranger, allows himself to be moved with compassion by the man’s need. That experience of compassion predicates all solidarity and requires seeing who is vulnerable as a person with knowledge of her or his own needs.

Students participating in Scranton’s undergraduate Honors Program encounter different “neighbors” as they study, serve and live. The Honors Program, one of Scranton’s programs of excellence, challenges students of all majors with a rigorous education that stresses independent work and intense engagement with faculty, culminating with the student’s defense of a cumulative research or creative project.

Often, students’ scholarship reflects their solidarity with those they encounter; many design research projects in response to needs they have witnessed in their community. The following projects by four members of the Class of 2017 exemplify their response to the call to live for and with four different populations.

Immigrants

Criminal justice and Spanish major Victoria Spagnolo ’17 became sensitive to the challenges of the Hispanic community during her time volunteering at the Edward R. Leahy Jr. Center Clinic for the Uninsured. She said, “Often, the needs and opinions of non-English speaking immigrants in the United States go unheard because of language barriers.”

Spagnolo combined her criminal justice background with her Spanish language skills to address “a substantial gap in research on the criminal justice system and Hispanic immigrants.” She has conducted qualitative interviews in Spanish to record how Hispanic immigrants’ perceptions of the criminal justice system differ from those of native-born citizens, research that could inform the workings of the local justice department.

Language barriers are one, but by no means the only, reason why the needs of certain populations are not heard. Academic researchers stand in solidarity with any of these silenced populations by listening to their experiences and, as Spagnolo said about her own work, by “giving voice” to those experiences.

Disabled Veterans

Kaitlyn Jones ’17, an occupational therapy major, was motivated to pursue her research after meeting two veterans who had lost all four limbs in combat. Both veterans chose to receive cadaver arm transplants, which Jones has studied to determine how they affect the veterans’ functional ability, social participation and body image.

“They are both incredible people who inspire me every day,” said Jones, who hopes her research will “provide insight to those who may be considering a limb transplant (a groundbreaking surgery) in the amputee community, and shed light on the difficulties and perseverance of disabled veterans.”

Disabled persons are often left on the civil and social fringes of society. The more work that can be done to raise awareness about the quality of life of the disabled veteran community, the more their place in society will change. And, as they become more capable to perform basic tasks, participate socially and feel comfortable in their bodies, disabled persons will have more opportunities to inspire others.

Cancer Patients and Families

The suffering caused by cancer and the pain of invasive cancer treatments affects far too many people. The work of biochemistry and philosophy double major Kyle Rodgers ’17, who was also in Scranton’s pre-med program, contributed to the current research aimed at creating alternative, less-invasive cancer treatments. Rodgers’ project studied the “biomechanisms of natural dietary cancer therapies to allow further research to metabolically engineer effective and non-invasive cancer therapies.” These dietary cancer therapies “target and slow tumor growth with impressive specificity.”

Compassion for the suffering of the patient and the patient’s family lies at the heart of all cancer research, especially that of less invasive treatments. Rodgers said, “By creating a paradigm shift in cancer research toward a metabolically inclusive model, I hope that we can provide non-invasive treatments for our cancer victims, restoring their health and quality of life.”

University Women, Past, Present and Future

The opportunity to participate in research like that of these students has not always been available to a large population — women. Like most universities, Scranton was once allmale. The research of history and philosophy double-major Kathleen Reilly ’17 chronicles the effects of her institution’s transition to co-education.

While editing newspaper clippings for the Weinberg Memorial Library’s Digital Services Department, Reilly discovered “a slew of articles about the debate over whether or not to admit women to the all-male College of Arts and Sciences.”

This sparked her research interest. Reilly has since studied the rising enrollments, higher academic standards and increasing selectivity marked by co-education, as well as the creation of women’s athletic programs, the Jane Kopas Women’s Center and the women’s studies program, all of which continue to foster representation of women at the University. She explained that her work will “benefit the University community by [shedding] light [on] an important part of its history that has thus far not been given as much attention.”

To be Scholars for and with Others

The call to live for and with others has formed the education of Victoria, Kaitlyn, Kyle, Kathleen and their Scranton classmates. Beyond service, this call means choosing to orient all aspects of one’s life toward the “neighbor” one meets in need. For Scranton students, this translates to creating academic research that listens to, voices and answers these needs — being scholars for and with others. 

Reflections Transform Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program

To hear Rebecca Haggerty, assistant dean for assessment and programs for the University’s College of Arts and Sciences, tell it, assessment not only can be transformational for faculty but reveal transformations in individual students.

Haggerty said she and her husband, Daniel Haggerty, Ph.D., director of the University’s Special Jesuit Liberal Arts (SJLA) honors program for top-tier students, have long known that it was stellar.

“Generally speaking, everyone at Scranton talks about how amazing SJLA is,” she said. “We saw that firsthand, but we wanted to know why.”

Thus began the process of assessing one of the University’s signature honors programs not only from a hard-data standpoint — collecting statistical information, such as grade point averages and classes taken — but through a softer lens as well, the lens of personal reflection.

Eventually, a companion course was developed for SJLA students to take each fall after their summer mission-based trip. The course, “The Loyola Experience: An Ignatian Pilgrimage,” focuses heavily on reflections. Dr. Daniel Haggerty noted that students became increasingly aware of their personal journeys and how intricately connected they are to their Jesuit education.

A survey of SJLA alumni from every class since 1980 further illustrated their case.

“We had an astonishing 40% response, receiving 1,240 comments composed of 45,000 words,” said Daniel Haggerty. “When asked what beneficial career skills SJLA helped develop, 94% of respondents said writing; 94% said critical thinking; and 91% said public speaking. We learned that 70% graduated with double or triple majors with 81% going on to earn Ph.D.s, M.D.s, J.D.s, and M.B.A.s.

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