Braniff Graduate School to host first undergraduate conference

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History Professor Dr. Susan Hanssen will be the keynote speaker for "The Good Life" undergraduate conference on Friday. Photo by Marquel Plavan.

This past February, Megan Arago and five other doctoral students presented an ambitious plan to their fellow Braniff Graduate School Association (BGSA) members: to independently host the first-ever University of Dallas undergraduate conference.

Entitled “The Good Life,” the conference will be held Oct. 5-6 in the Catholic Foundations Board Room in Cardinal Farrell Hall. Students from UD and other liberal arts universities will present their work on a variety of topics.

Arago, a political philosophy student in the Institute for Philosophic Studies, hopes that this conference will help participants better understand the purpose of studying in the liberal arts tradition and how the liberal arts can contribute to a flourishing human life.

Arago and her fellow committee members planned this conference in order to complement both the Braniff Graduate School (BGS) and the Constantin College of the Liberal Arts.

All of my interactions with Constantin students have reinforced the idea that Braniff and Constantin students have a lot in common and can really help one another,” Arago wrote.

According to Arago, this weekend’s conference is different from BGSA’s annual graduate conference in that it will not focus on a specific theme.

Scaling back the intensity of the program better suits the needs of an undergraduate conference, Arago explained over a Cap Bar espresso. A broader theme also opens the door to a myriad of perspectives.

Funding for the event came from the Braniff Graduate School student fees and the BGSA’s gift fund.

The students largely managed marketing for the conference themselves, issuing requests for papers directly to professors last May.

“[Professors] are the ones who best identify talent and interest in their students,” Arago said.

According to Arago, the call for papers was not only sent to schools commonly associated with UD, such as Hillsdale College, but also to many unfamiliar schools.

Inviting students from other liberal arts universities, such as Kenyon College in Ohio and Concordia University in Quebec, fulfills a second goal for the conference, which is to increase awareness of UD’s graduate programs.

In total, 18 students from 10 universities, including UD, will present their views on what constitutes “The Good Life.”

Senior English major Genevieve Frank is one of three Constantin College students participating in the conference. Her paper discusses William Wordsworth’s poem “The Ruined Cottage” and its themes of grief and piety. Seniors Katie Tweedel and Clare Basil are also presenting their work during one of three panels.

“One of the goals for the conference is to encourage relationships between liberal arts schools,” Arago said. She added that sometimes that entails building bridges by means of what is unknown to us.

“[The] gift of liberal arts doesn’t end here,” Arago added.

For Arago, a graduate of Ave Maria University, the “gift of the liberal arts” doesn’t stop with an undergraduate diploma but also binds the undergraduate and graduate programs together. So, too, does her active student life, through spiritual interactions, assistant volleyball coaching and teaching undergraduates as an adjunct professor.

“I feel very integrated here at UD,” BGSA president Anna Dean wrote in an email, citing the diversity of students, faculty, and undergraduates as reasons why she prefers UD to her alma mater, Ohio State University.

However, Arago said that sometimes undergraduate students fail to recognize UD graduate programs.

“[They view] UD’s graduate students as the awkward cousins who come over for holidays,” Arago said.

Highlighting the connection between Braniff and Constantin schools, Associate Professor of History Dr. Susan Hanssen will serve as Saturday evening’s keynote speaker. Sitting in her office last Monday, Hanssen had the air of a student trying to discern which essay question to pick on an exam.

“I was thinking about two possible topics,” Hanssen said.

Hanssen eventually chose to delve into pietas, which is what she called the “heart” of the liberal arts, according to an email Dean sent to undergraduates.

Once the conference was approved by the BGSA, Hanssen was the obvious choice, Arago said.

“I can’t imagine a better representative for the graduate program … and for liberal arts,” Arago added.

All masters and doctoral graduate students are eligible to join the Braniff Graduate Student Association. Like Student Government, BGSA members are elected.

“[Its purpose is to] further the interests of the Braniff student body,” Dean said.

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