Experience Award sponsors student attendance in scholarly happenings
By Greg Pimentel
A few weeks ago, fellow senior Alex Taylor and I were offered an incredible opportunity, which had us rushing off to catch a morning flight to Chicago instead of attending our usual Thursday morning lecture. We had simultaneously received UD Experience Awards to fund our attendance to an academic conference at the University of Notre Dame. Being true University of Dallas students, we jumped at the chance to spend the weekend intellectualizing instead of attending to our regular responsibilities in Irving.
The UD Experience Awards, coordinated by Julie Janik of the Office of Personal and Career Development, are a recent addition to our university, but they unquestionably deserve wider use and recognition. Using funds from the Experience Awards, students can travel to participate in prestigious competitions, auditions, exhibitions or conferences to augment their field of study. Much like scholarships to Rome, these Experience Awards give students the opportunity to “roam” — to explore educational outlets outside of our community and connect with new opportunities.
As we attest to through our Rome program, this roaming kind of travel — especially to new, unexplored locales — is good for the soul. Not only does travel enrich and broaden the mind of the traveler; it also facilitates an encounter between new people, ideas and cultures. The Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame prides itself on being the flagship facilitator of such encounters in the American Catholic sphere, regularly bringing numerous heavyweights together for their conferences, which this fall included the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, Cardinal Müller, the Nobel laureate in economics James Heckman and numerous other researchers and academics. More important than the buzz of fascinating ideas from philosophers, theologians and Nobel-prize winning economists was the new perspectives gained from new encounters with students from other universities.
Benedictine College was heavily represented at the conference, with over 40 undergraduate and graduate students in attendance, including the Dean of Students, Joseph Wurtz. Many of them had never heard of the University of Dallas, and if they had they expressed surprise that only two of our students were present. Their surprise brought to mind a poignant observation that one of my professors had made the previous year: Our university has an excellent reputation, but few people know we actually exist.
As students of UD, we should remember that the education we receive here is not for our benefit alone. At this university, we pursue an exceptional course of study, mixing the liberal arts with specialized degrees in the sciences and humanities. We are unique in that we are more academically rigorous, read a wider range of texts and travel more broadly than any other schools in the nation. The reason we do this is so that we can one day engage with the broader western intellectual tradition, and become part of a conversation that stretches across centuries and continents. The true purpose, in my opinion, of studying theology, history and literature lies in sharing it with the rest of the world.
Attending academic conferences, making connections with new people and discovering new places is the means by which we carry on and practice the liberal arts that we are being steeped in here at UD.
On the 50th anniversary of our university’s founding, Dr. Louise Cowan, said in an address to the faculty that “secretly, we know we are meant to be the flagship university for the Catholic Church in this new era … We can no longer remain in hiding. The world needs us.”
Grandiose as it may sound, I firmly agree. Today’s world is characterized by social, political and spiritual problems so complex that the empirical approaches of mainstream academics have been powerless to address them. The only adequate response can be the approach offered by the liberal arts, which synthesizes the empirical perspectives into holistic solutions.
No matter what your major is, if you study at the University of Dallas, the real study you pursue is the discovery of truth. We should not build a bubble around that truth, but instead let the world know we have something worth having. I strongly urge my fellow students, especially underclassmen, to do so by taking full advantage of opportunities like the UD Experience Awards. Traveling to conferences, competitions or other scholarly events allows you to meet new people and also to get involved in the academic conversations taking place in the world around us — a world that is in desperate need of more sensible voices.