From President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.
Whenever I enter Marquette’s Engineering Hall, something surprising happens. My pulse quickens. In fact, I tend to have a similar response when I visit the College of Nursing’s new Wheaton Franciscan Center for Clinical Simulation, with its delivery room, emergency unit and ICU right out of a major medical facility. Admittedly, these aren’t reactions you’d necessarily expect from a member of the English faculty, whose scholarly interests favor metaphysical over mechanical or medical systems. Yet there’s something undeniably exciting occurring in these recent additions to our campus.
Let’s start with Engineering Hall. Beyond the glass walls of the building’s laboratories and learning spaces, faculty are rallying around the idea of addressing urgent global and local issues with their research and teaching. And students are more-than-active participants in this pursuit. From their early days on campus, they take newfound knowledge and begin applying it to issues from everyday life. Their involvement with hands-on experiential learning accelerates from there. Right now, one team of seniors is developing a scalp-cooling mechanism to help patients undergoing chemotherapy retain more of their hair. Others are helping teenagers who have motion-limiting orthopedic conditions with devices such as a dining tray that lifts food up to mouth level. If you get as moved as I do by students touching the lives of others in remarkable ways, read about some of these and other capstone engineering projects in this issue.
Fortunately for our students, this passion for active and engaged learning is spreading broadly at Marquette. In fact, the discussions convened as part of our current strategic planning effort revealed a university community committed to innovating how it delivers a transformational education. Frequently, that involves students and faculty members engaging real issues, often in ways that reach across traditional departmental lines. This kind of work is becoming a distinguishing feature of this university.
As a result, a stroll into any number of Marquette facilities can be a pulse-quickening experience. Undergraduates here are unique nationally in their participation in the College of Health Science’s gross anatomy laboratory, where they explore human physiology up-close and firsthand. I’ve already mentioned the College of Nursing’s new simulation center, where students wear scrubs and lead or assist in real-time care scenarios. Through it, students’ clinical experiences start earlier and are more thorough than what can be achieved through existing medical rounds alone. When they graduate, they feel better prepared for the challenges the world will throw at them.
Faculty colleagues in the arts, social sciences, business and other fields will justifiably clamor if I give the impression that our students need to be wearing lab coats to have engaging encounters with the real world. By their senior year, students in the Applied Investment Management Program in the College of Business Administration take the helm and actively manage three equity and fixed-income portfolios. Our law students advise those with legal needs through our volunteer legal clinic, and students in the Les Aspin Center for Government in Washington, D.C., contribute to democracy’s inner workings through efforts such as helping members of Congress prepare floor statements on vital issues. Despite work that is sometimes associated with dusty libraries, even my fellow humanities faculty involve students in interactive, discipline-crossing projects that can be as engaging as a good episode of PBS’ History Detectives.
Research shows involvement with these and other high-impact student experiences — participation in student-managed organizations, the conduct of research, service-oriented international study — is most closely associated with post-college success. In preparing our graduates for rich lives as change agents and problem-solvers, there is no substitute for engaging them with the world while they are here. For those in Jesuit higher education, this is not an altogether new discovery. Well before there was research on the topic, the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola, had something similar in mind when he sent Jesuit educators out to their schools with six words that were all about real-world engagement: “Go, set the world on fire.”
And on a related note, how remarkable has it been to witness the gentle and generous early days of the Papacy of Francis, the Catholic Church’s first Jesuit pontiff? From his firm, lifelong emphasis on the needs of the poor and marginalized to his forays to greet crowds and worship in the chapel where St. Ignatius first celebrated Mass, he has left me — and I hope many of you — welcoming the many practical and personal gifts he brings to the Catholic Church.