Cor ad Cor: This Week at Newman

Annie Engler
/ Categories: Cor ad Cor

How was your first year of the BA?

Lent is a time to look back and look forward. For students, these last weeks of class mark a frantic time of activity when they nevertheless begin to dream in two directions. What will I do next year? What did I learn this year anyway? Was all that reading and writing worth the effort? Should I turn next to the trades, to a ministry, to a marriage, to more study?

Recently I asked Jackie Cowley, one of our first-year BA students and winner of the Newman’s prestigious Faith and Reason Scholarship, to tell us some of her dreams and impressions. I asked her how she has found life and study thus far at Newman. Here is the substance of what she said.

NTC: What is your overall opinion about the BA program?

Cowley: In my unbiased opinion, the BA program at Newman is incredible. In a culture where countless distractions compete for our attention, having a solid understanding of philosophy, a firm foundation in faith and a good grasp of theology is vital for young people as they go out into this confusing world. The three main things that are amazing about the BA program are the academics, the tight-knit community, and the spiritual life.

NTC: Tell me more about the academics. Is it more difficult than you expected? What kind of things are you reading that will be memorable?

Cowley: Firstly, the BA program is academically rigorous. We read directly from primary sources, allowing us to interact with the authors themselves, Plato or Martin Luther. For example, Dr. Fast decided that his first-year philosophy students should study Bacon.

NTC: Hang on. That’s a little odd? Bacon, in Lent...

Cowley: No, not the food – it wasn’t a cooking class – but the philosopher Francis Bacon. Rather than reading secondary sources, we tackled Bacon’s New Organon directly, and tensions in the classroom indeed ran high as Bacon systematically dismantled the Classical philosophical tradition. But it was valuable to learn from Bacon directly – through a primary source – instead of reading what somebody else said about Bacon. A few students brought actual bacon to class in celebration when we were done. In the BA program, students are held to high standards.

NTC: Can you give me an example of that?

Cowley: Let me tell you about Dr. Topping’s rhetoric bell. To purify students’ speech, there is a bell that rings in the classroom every time a student says “um” or “like.” This can get, um, frustrating, especially when I’m trying to make an intelligent comment about, like, something we’ve read in class. But it certainly has helped us to tidy up our talking, to the point where students will instinctually apologize if they use these filler words. Where, apart from Newman, will young people apologize for liking the word “like?” Thank you, Dr. Topping...

NTC: Oddly, that sounds fun. But let’s move on. What about student life? What kinds of things are going on in between classes?

Cowley: The community of students in the BA program is very tight-knit. Many times the
classroom will erupt in laughter over somebody’s antics, and there are often running jokes that carry on for weeks. Because the class sizes are small, we can develop a strong sense of community that makes the learning process enjoyable, and the seminar-style classes allow us to learn from each other as well as from the professor. Every Friday is official “Plaid Day,” so both lay students and seminarians will show up for class wearing plaid shirts or skirts. And if anyone doesn’t wear plaid, let them be anathema! Most importantly, however, there is a strong emphasis placed on the spiritual lives of students at Newman. Every day, students can attend Mass in the Newman Chapel. We have weekly rosaries, the celebration of feast days (involving lots of donuts and cookies), and a student-led Office of Readings after class. By praying together, we create community and help each other towards holiness as we are stimulated by our academic studies.

NTC: Is there anything you want to say to students considering the BA program at NTC?

Cowley: Just this. Whether students are dissecting the nature of reality with Dr. Fast or perfecting their speech in Dr. Topping’s rhetoric class or sculpting syllogisms in logic class, the BA program is fantastic experience. Students here will become firmly grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition so that they can pursue whatever path in life God calls them to.

NTC: Thank you very much – and God bless you during your exams.

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