Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Newman Center helps college students share Catholic faith

See the full article at

College is a time of change and transformation. It is also a time when many students rediscover and deepen their faith. Pam Putnam came to the University of Pennsylvania from Crescent City, Nevada. She found herself stressed and at times overwhelmed by the pressures of college life.

“I had a pretty difficult semester. It felt like things were out of whack for me,” Putnam said.

Then, during the fall of her junior year, she made a retreat with the Penn Newman Center. That retreat marked a turning point for Putnam, “That retreat made a huge difference. It brought that spirituality back into my life that I’d been missing. It transformed my college experience.”

For students dealing with the trials of the university experience, the Newman Center can be a safe harbor. The Penn Newman Center, directed by Fr. James McGuinn and Jeff Klein, offers weekly events to bring a community together.

Putnam remembers, “We’d have weekly ‘Dollar Dinners’ and just come together with people in the same place. To be able to meet with other students who have that faith in common with you was a really valuable experience.”

During her senior year, Putnam sought out something that could act as an extension of her time at the Newman Center. Since high school she had wanted to take a year off to do service and Jeff Klein pointed her to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC).

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps is an organization of lay volunteers who live in small communities across the country and internationally. The Jesuit Volunteers, JVs as they’re called, work with the poor and marginalized in their community.

Putnam was accepted into the JVC and placed with the St. Joseph the Worker program in Phoenix, Arizona. There she works with the homeless to disadvantaged, helping them find work. “We provide access to computers with internet, mock interviews, transportation assistance, and clothing. A lot of our clients are homeless so they have no way to present themselves to employers.”

Her work has made her more aware of God’s presence in everyday life, Putnam says. “Our clients are very faith filled people. They turn to God everyday. They rely on God to get by.”

A hallmark of Jesuit teaching is seeing God in all things. Putnam relates how an experience at St. Joseph the Worker brought that idea into her life: “We have a sign in sheet at the front desk. One day I was working at the desk and I noticed a client had signed in simply as Jesús. And I’m looking at this and I realize, well really, Jesus is in all of these clients.”

“My job challenges me to treat everyone who walks through the door as Jesus. To try to see God in everyone.”

The JVC experience has been incredibly rewarding for Putnam and the political science major is considering coming back to Philadelphia to do social work. She encourages every college student to do service, “You should see what the world is like. I’ve met people who I never would have met if I hadn’t taken that leap of faith.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Packed Away

Thanks to Blogger’s auto-post function, even though I’m busy at New Student Orientation, this post is popping up here. Isn’t technology crazy?!

Imagine that your life is made
Of do-dads and thingies and baubles
That tells a story of you
You cannot add any footnotes
Nor insert extra meaning
Only objects that stand alone
Now take those things, pack them up
The big things on the bottom
Heavy, weighed down by memories,
They create a foundation
Tuck the small things where they fit
Close the boxes up, stack them by the door
A lifetime packed away in cardboard

Saturday, August 25, 2012

College Prep: Leaving Friends

This is the part of the summer I've really not been looking forward to: the leaving. I've known some of my friends for over a decade now. A few for longer than that. I have spent countless hours a day with these people, day in, day out. We have shared our lives forever it seems. And now it all changes.

We head off to different schools in different cities. And our daily sharing will turn into occasional meetings during break. It's going to be a transition. Possibly a painful one, but one that is unavoidable. But it comes with a warning.

For some people, the change to college is a welcome break from high school. They want to get away from the place and the people they've been stuck with the past four years. A few choice friends will remain, but they want to break to be as clean as possible.

On the other side of the spectrum are the people who can't bear to leave. They've built countless lasting friendships that have sustained them throughout the years. The thought of losing that and having to rebuild those friendships is overwhelming.

The truth of how it actually goes down (according to veterans) is somewhere in the middle. You come from school occasionally. You hang out with the people you want to see, you ignore the ones you don't. You spend more time at home then you think you will, and you see more of your friends than you think you will. That being said, you will make new friends at college who see more of you than you might want. It's all a balance of what you want to get out of it, as with everything.

Today I leave for college. So begins the next phase of my life; fours years that promise to be the most interesting and challenging of my life. It will be a period shared with new friends and old.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Back to School Supplement

Catholic Philly's Back to School Supplement came out today. The culmination of my summer's work, it actually looks professional and everything! Check it out here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

College Prep: Can I Have the Keys? (Dealing with Parents)

Teenagers don't often get along with their parents, so the media tells us. And often, it's true. Being a teenager is an awkward period. You are assuming greater responsibilities and gaining more independence, but at the same time are still utterly dependent on your parents for some things. And that dynamic leads to some friction between parent and child.

As you prepare for college, there needs to be some sort of conversation about new boundaries and the amount of parental control you're okay with. This is especially important if you're living at home for college. You are more of an adult now and there is a new set of expectations for you. College is something your parents can't really help you with and shouldn't be the ones pushing you. You should be pushing yourself. With that needs to come an understanding from the parents: We will treat you like more of an adult because we expect you to act like one.

It's a delicate balance to maintain. Your parents will probably be helping you pay for college. Or letting you live at home. Or just playing the "we gave you life" card. Anyway you play it, you can't be completely on your own and you have to recognize that. If you and your parents can come to a consensus about the changes in your relationship, life will be better.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wait...Philosophy Matters?

    The joke about philosophy majors (and sometimes English majors too) is that they spend four years getting some really expensive toilet paper. While I don't think a philosophy degree makes good toilet paper, way too rough for my tastes, I've occasionally been known to poke fun at them with everyone else. It's usually because I don't think they're actually going to do any good with their degree, but here is not the place to discuss that.
    Instead of quoting dead guys at you (as fun as that is) I wanted to bring up a question that Christopher Hayes' new book Twilight of the Elites has made consider: how do we know what we know? This is an age-old quandary, addressed by the branch of philosophy called epistemology that deals with exactly that question. He argues that there is no way that we can be adequately informed on all every issue we must consider as voters. So we outsource the job of knowing to experts, like analysts and pundits and professors, because we don't have the time. Much like we do when we go to the doctor, we trust these experts because we believe that their status and degree confers on them authority that should be trusted.
Institutions like News Corp. serve us with information, its
up to us to decide if we are going to utilize it.

    It makes you consider how much you actually know and how much you trust experts to know things. There is no way for a single person to have the experience to know everything, so we trust how doctors to know medicine and our chemists to know chemistry and our bankers to know finance. And for the most part we trust these people. But when our faith in the institution they belong to fails, how do we continue to deal with the knowledge they used to present us with? We can go to the Internet, but what makes someone with a blog any more qualified than the discredited pediatrician to tell me if a vaccine causes autism? Nothing. It's all a matter of who we trust.
    I trust my mom to be correct when she tells me something about science less because she has a PhD in chemistry and more because she is my mother. That makes very little sense, but it works pretty well for me. I don't bother to double check her because of our personal relationship. A small fact about diet soda doesn't have too great an effect on my decisions. But what if we apply this model to politics, for example. Instead of trusting the media to inform us about candidates, because honestly they haven't had the best track record the past few years, we trust the people we know, regardless of their actual qualifications, to keep us properly informed about the presidential election. We don't bother to check their sources or seek confirmation elsewhere because we trust them. And they turn out to be wrong and we vote for someone whose positions do not line up with our own. Oops. And imagine a few million people do this. And suddenly we have a president who the majority of the country don't support. Double oops.
    So perhaps it's best we take a moment to consider our epistemology. If we don't trust the institutions charged with educating us, where do we place our trust? Why? And if we can't come up with a good answer, what do we do about it? Do we abandon the institution all together? Or do we try to fix it?

College Prep: Shopping for Stuff

Shopping for Stuff

There are some things you just need to get when you go off to college. Okay, it's not definitive or even a good idea necessarily to get everything on this list, but here is my take on a topic done to death:

College Shopping List

1) Laptop - While this isn't a necessity, it will definitely make life easier. The real question is if you'll get a Mac or a PC. I went with a MacBook Pro because I've been using Mac all my life and it's what I'm comfortable with. Others will get a Mac because it's the "thing to do" when you go to college. Don't be that guy.

2) Cool Posters - A need-to-have for any dorm room. Posters will let you express yourself and let others know where you stand on the Star Wars/Star Trek debate. Plus, it lets you cover up that awkward stain on the wall.

3) Footlocker - A good security measure that lets you lock up your valuables. Theft happens at school regardless of where you are going to, so don't let it happen to you.

4) Moose Head - Inflatable if you can't get your hands on a real one. That way, you're that guy with a moose head in his dorm. Yeah.

5) Sound-Canceling Headphones - For those nights when your neighbor can't stop crying or your roommate is playing that rap you don't like. Dorms are crowded and this way you can have quiet when you want it.

6) Flip-flops - Don't go to the bathroom without these. Seriously, don't!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Statue Commands

Sails snap
Winches grind and scream
Lines tighten, commands bellowed
Cut across the rolling sea
From afar the sailors appear
As specks of sand
Blown about by the whims of the
Statue of a man astern
Some know where to stand
Others continue to bounce aimlessly
He orders again, and the bow cuts
Across the gusting wind
The boom swings across the crowded hull
Heads duck for dear life
She slices through one wave, two
The statue smiles, knowing victory lies near.

Monday, August 13, 2012

College Prep: Shopping for Classes

The most challenging part of college preparation so far has been picking classes. It's really the first taste you get of just how different college is from high school. Before, where there were maybe 50 class choices between all the departments, there are now at least 50 choices per department. And there is no one telling you what classes you should take to get into a good college. You're in college.

The first step is to imagine where you want to go with your life. Yep, big picture stuff right off the bat. You need to do this because some of your freshman courses will be pre-requisites for your major classes later on. Once you've done that, look at the general education requirements you need to fill. Some of those can be covered by AP exams (check this carefully with your school), the rest you will need to fulfill sometime in the next four years.

After you have a general idea of what courses you want to take, it's time to look at the schedule. This is where things get confusing: you jump head-first into your college's computer system, with little or no prep. It'll take a while to navigate your way through the system, but no worries, you'll figure it out soon enough. Find some classes that look good. Note what requirements they fulfill and where they fit in the schedule.

Once you think you know what classes you want to take, map them out. How early on a Monday morning is your Intro Spanish class? (Never have a class before 8:30 if you can help it.) Make sure none of your classes overlap and all that good stuff. By the end of the process you should have a decent schedule (and quite a headache, too).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Parent's Problems

One of the greatest challenges of a teenager's life is dealing with their parents. We often think that our parents are just trying to torture us by involving themselves in our lives. But it might surprise you to learn that they too can have trouble figuring out how to act. Instead of asking "How can I irritate my daughter?" they are really wondering "Am I doing enough to help her?" This article in the New York Times seeks to bring perspective to parents. For those of you who took Psych, you know there are three general parenting styles:

Permissive: Allows their child to act out without repercussions. They value their child's happiness above all else and so will often permit behavior they don't approve of in hopes of maintaining that happiness. Children of permissive parents tend to be self-centered and anti-social.

Authoritative: These parents set boundaries, but take the time to ensure they are understood and are willing to renegotiate them based upon behavior. They are supportive, but allow their children to explore past their comfort zones on their own. Children of authoritative parents tend to be self-motivated and independent.

Authoritarian: These parents rest down rules and expect them to be followed. Punishment comes for infractions, usually without discussion. While they reward obedience, they tend to keep their children on a short leash without room for creative expression. Children of authoritarian parents tend to be submissive and lack social skills.

Research suggests that the middle course, authoritative parenting, produces the most successful children. But then, that depends entirely on what we think the definition of successful really is.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

College Prep: Pre-Orientation

A group of incoming freshman gather before beginning a
2-mile hike on their pre-orientation trip.

While some colleges have orientation spaced out during the summer, Georgetown (always looking to be different) holds New Student Orientation in the days right before classes begin. So where some kids go to class already having friends from orientation back in July, that is not the case at Georgetown…unless…

You do a pre-orientation program. I would highly suggest it. At Georgetown there are dozens of them: Outdoor Education, Leadership, Service, etc. I went on a trip with 15 other freshmen to the British Virgin Islands for a week of sailing. We learned how to read the sails, execute a tack, lay an anchor, and get sunburned. And we made some really good friendships. Living on a 43 foot boat will do that to you.

It was a great experience. And not just because of the beautiful surroundings. (Although that didn't hurt.) It was such a diverse group of kids: we had a varsity swimmer, a nursing student, a student doing vet work. In between snorkeling and sailing, we sat on the beach and discussed NATO and NAFTA. It gave me confidence that the speech they give you about "deep conversations happen casually in college" is actually true.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Prince by Machiavelli

The Prince by Machiavelli is a classic of political science. It is probably the first piece of political theory written from a political perspective that we could fully comprehend. Machiavelli sets up his book in a question-and-answer format. He presents a certain issue, whether it be the use of mercenaries or the appearance of virtue, and then gives you an answer backed by history. He almost always uses an example from antiquity and one from contemporary Italian affairs to support his point.

The most famous point from the book is the often quoted "It is better to be feared than loved." However, the actual quote is closer to "It is best to be equally feared and loved, but since it is difficult to combine those in one person, it is safer to be feared than loved." This gives an interesting insight into Machiavelli's political philosophy. He is ever practical: his suggestions have nothing to do what is right or good and everything to do with what works.

Machiavelli can be credited (or blamed, depending on how you look at it) for the development of modern materialism. Not materialism of our commercial understanding, a desire for stuff, but a materialism of only dealing with what is real. Machiavelli didn't concern himself with political ideals. All that mattered was luck and skill and power. He wasn't immoral, he was amoral. Morality wasn't the aim of his politics, as it had been (at least ostentatiously) since Aristotle. He was concerned with how one attained and maintained power. Our modern understanding of politics stems from his materialism, whether you like it or not.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

College Prep: Roommate Dating

As college approaches, rather too quickly for my taste, various aspects of college preparation fall at my feet. For high schoolers, the words "college prep" elicit images of SAT scores, application essays, and AP tests. But once graduation has passed, those words take on a new meaning. Comforters need ordering, classes need to be selected, and roommates need to be selected. For the next 21 days, until I pack my life into the trunk of the car and head off to Georgetown, I'll be presenting a series on getting ready for college.

Popping the Question: Finding a Roommate

One of the hallmarks of the college experience is dorm life. For many people it's their first time living away from home. For some it's their first time sharing a room and for most their first time sharing that room with a complete stranger. It can be a jarring experience if one is not prepared, but pretty much everyone agrees it is one of the best parts of college.

While living arrangements vary from school to school, the part that usually stays constant is the whole living with a complete stranger thing. (Some rare people know, and might even be friends with, their roommate before they arrive.) At some schools, you are assigned a random roommate. Others have you fill out a questionnaire and then match you with a good fit. At Georgetown, however, you get to pick your roommate through a process called C.H.A.R.M.S.

C.H.A.R.M.S. is effectively online dating for roommates. You fill out a questionnaire and can then search for people who match your answers. Then you have to initiate contact and see if they are interested in you. Messages are exchanged. Facebook stalking ensues. Is this guy a good match for me? Does he like Star Wars or Wrath of the Titans? He is country, rap, or jazz? When does he go to bed? How warm does he like the room?

If the answers you find don't send you running for the hills, it's time to send them a "Roommate Request" message. This part is as close as most 18-year olds will (hopefully) ever get to proposing. It's nerve wracking: for better or worse this person will be the one living with you for the next year. Are you really ready to make that commitment? You close your eyes and breathe and press "send."