Students spend break in Europe

From The Observer

Before he was Pope, John Paul II was Fr. Karol Józef Wojtyła, a priest living and working in Poland under communist rule. Junior Christina Serena, a Notre Dame philosophy and theology major, wanted to know what impact this Church leader had on his native country.

Through a grant from the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Serena traveled to Poland over fall break and interviewed 23 people there. Some were priests; some were ordinary citizens; some knew the Pope personally and called him “uncle” at a time when it was dangerous to identify a Catholic priest as “father,” she said.

“One summer, [the Pope] invited them to the Vatican … and Pope John Paul was making up songs about their memories back in Poland,” she said. “They still called him uncle then — they said it was like he was still their uncle — like he was the Pope, but he wasn’t the Pope … he was still their friend, even as Pope.”

Dr. Anthony Monta, associate director of the Nanovic Institute, said the group granted $31,786 allowing 14 students to go to European countries conducting research in a variety of fields.

Monta said the Nanovic Institute has a long history of working with the College of Arts and Letters, but recently it has encouraged students interested in science and business topics to apply for grants as well. This year, he said “about half” of the students conducted research related to international economics or topics outside the College of Arts and Letters.

“The economic situation in Europe affects us all, so we’re interested in sending students who are interested in those types of problems,” Monta said, “and the scientific community is global.”

Alex Yaney, a senior majoring in Science Preprofessional Studies and Italian, said he spent his fall break in hospitals and on the streets of Rome, asking both health professionals and ordinary people about their opinions on Italy’s public healthcare system.

“It really gave me the chance to practice my Italian and [learn] about the medical system there,” Yaney said. “That was why I came, to incorporate my two majors together. … It was a good reminder of why I came to Notre Dame and why I’m studying what I’m studying.”

The Nanovic Institute, Monta said, encourages seniors in particular to travel to Europe to gather material for their theses.

“We always earmark funds for seniors, because we want very much to promote a culture of the senior thesis in concert with the College of Arts and Letters,” he said. “We had five seniors working on theses receive funding to do the kind of original, experiential research that take their theses to the next level … to find bits of research that really amplify the significance of their research.”

For his thesis, Matt Cook, a fifth-year architecture student, said he traveled to the Cinque Terre region of Italy for the second time, speaking with community leaders and studying wineries, a significant source of revenue in the area. His goal, he said, is to design a winery and town center for the town of Vernazza.

Cook said he hoped to contribute to the discussion about reviving the town, which in recent years has struggled with tourism, environmental degradation and a 2011 flood.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of money in Vernazza for a project like this, but it at least gives them some kind of idea about how they can respond to the needs of tourists, how they can accommodate a growing number of visitors, and how they can get people back out into the territories outside of town and respond to the environmental pressures so that people can live safely in Vernazza,” Cook said.

Monta said the Nanovic Institute also encourages students to work on philosophical and theological projects, such as Serena’s study of Pope John Paul II’s impact on Poland, which she intends to turn into a research paper and video compilation.

“As an institution we like to build connections to the Vatican,” Monta said. “We like to build connections to all the great Catholic universities in Europe, and we have very nice partnerships set up with these.”

In addition to gathering insights about John Paul II’s personality, Serena said she found the Polish public, while they didn’t know much about his theological teachings, “loved him in the way that you love your father” and considered him a national icon.

“Pope John Paul really became not a direct leader but definitely a spiritual leader for the solidarity movement, which is a movement in Poland of the common people to fight against the power of the Soviet Union in Poland,” Serena said. “… It’s like, ‘We have the strength as Poles to be able to finally become independent.’ They have a lot of respect for him.”

ND students resurrect progressive blog

With 247 posts by several regular writers, it was, as Stanton put it, a “liberal voice on campus.” In the next few years, however, the blog declined and became almost inactive, with a total of three posts in 2012, he said.

Now, Stanton said Lefty’s, as it is often called, is back with a new staff and an updated design. The site relaunched Sept. 29 with a series of posts about the issues surrounding the recent federal government shutdown.

With the reboot, Stanton said the staff hopes to expand the scope of the blog by creating an online forum and posting events and polls as well as regular opinion pieces from a liberal perspective.

“We want to make it a resource that progressives across campus can turn to to know what’s going on, to know what’s on people’s minds,” Stanton said.

 

After interning in Washington D.C., Henry Vasquez, a 2010 Notre Dame graduate, started Lefty’s. It was, Vasquez said, a reflection of the large amount of support for and discussions about progressive ideas at the time.

“During those years, there was a lot going on, not just on the blog,” Vasquez said. “There were people getting together; there were social parties, tailgates, people getting involved in other activities. The line kind of blurred between other organizations on campus and Lefty’s as a separate entity. It effectively pulled all those together.”

After the first editors graduated in 2010, other staff members took over. However, Stanton, who worked as an editor briefly in 2011, said in the next two years, Lefty’s could not generate enough content to be sustainable.

“The editors that year sort of kept it alive, but they just didn’t get enough new writers and not enough people who could write on a regular basis,” he said.

In September, Stanton and his co-editor decided to revive Lefty’s in order to bring back a voice for liberal students.

“Among the Democrats, there’s definitely the feeling of not being able to speak your views, and so I think in the College [Democrats], there were some discussions about trying to start something like the blog because it had been such a great avenue for people to speak their voice and make the progressive voice heard,” Stanton said.

After reworking the site’s design and pulling together a new staff, Stanton and his co-editor, along with writers Adam Newman and Tyler Bowen, began posting regularly for the first time in nearly two years.

During its first week, Lefty’s Last Cry posted new content daily. According to Stanton, the goal is to post at least once every other day as it regains momentum. Several students have already signed up to write for the blog, and according to Bowen, the staff hopes to reach out to more writers, at Notre Dame and beyond.

“It’s not just limited to the Notre Dame community,” Bowen said. “When [the site] gets going, we could reach out to other people in other colleges.”