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Carrying the Mission Into the Future
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Carrying the Mission Into the Future

While Notre Dame College continues to grow, it maintains a mission-centric education rooted in the tradition of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Faculty and staff create this distinct Notre Dame experience that helps educate a diverse population for personal, professional and global responsibility. Meet five employees who have the College’s mission at heart in their everyday work.

Igniting a Fire of Service

“Given the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Notre Dame College sees itself as having a mission within the Church to extend Christ’s loving, saving activity in the world.” These words are printed in the College’s academic catalog each year. Sr. Carol Ziegler, SND, Ph.D., special assistant to the president for mission effectiveness, works to ensure they are more than just words on a page.

Sr. Carol ZieglerSr. Carol was hired in 2007 to help Notre Dame maintain its mission fidelity. Sr. Carol, who had previously spent a year at NDC as a second year novice, returned to the College from Cambridge, Mass., where she was program director for elementary education at Lesley University. Her decision to return was based on President Dr. Andrew Roth’s commitment to preserve a values-based institution. “You see the mission in the daily life and decisions of the people at Notre Dame,” she says.

The College created her position to guarantee this commitment doesn’t change. As the contact person for all mission-related concerns, Sr. Carol holds a wealth of responsibilities. It is her job to make sure the missions of the College and the Sisters of Notre Dame are in sync. “Understanding our Catholic identity is important as we move forward,” she says. “We want to constantly make people aware of the meaning of Gospel living today.”

Sr. Carol is a member of a committee developing a signature curriculum that hopes to integrate the mission and values of Notre Dame College through specific courses, assignments, readings and service projects. “Our test for the next five to eight years is to really carve out what that signature curriculum might look like, so that everybody who leaves the College has a sense of carrying out that mission to the world.”

Sr. Carol’s research and writing has focused on the role of adjunct faculty members in sustaining the quality of course delivery in higher education institutions. As an adjunct faculty mentor, she ensures that adjunct faculty members not only understand and appreciate the mission but are also committed to carrying the mission out in their professional work at the College. Often involved in search committees, Sr. Carol probes potential employees for their understanding of the College’s mission and how they identify with it. “Mission must be the driving force of the institution,” Sr. Carol says. “What I hope to do is ignite a fire and kindle that deeper commitment in people.”

That fire is meant to spark the faculty’s and students’ commitment to contribute to the common good through various service opportunities. “The Sisters of Notre Dame have always cultivated a spirit of service among the students and faculty. A look at some of the newspaper articles and early publications at the College confirm that legacy of service,” Sr. Carol says. “As we move into the future we hope to be even more intentional about that service.” She already has plans for expanded service opportunities in the U.S. and Central America, for example.

The College’s strength will always be its diversity, Sr. Carol says. “Young or old, believer or non-believer, special gifts or specific challenges, no matter what nationality or class, whoever people are – we want to find ways of enticing a more diverse student body to join us in our mission.”

A Product of Catholic Education

Notre Dame’s Vice President for Enrollment and Legal Counsel David A. Armstrong wanted to be a lawyer since he was six years old. After graduating from law school at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University and working as assistant to the prosecutor, however, Armstrong realized his passion laid somewhere else. One of seven children in a Catholic, football-loving family, Armstrong enjoyed a private Catholic education from first grade all the way through college, eventually taking him out of the courtroom into the halls of higher education.

David A. Armstrong“It is part of my fabric. I am a better person when I am around Catholic education,” says Armstrong, who attended St. Barnabas Grade School, St. Peter Chanel High and Mercyhurst College before eventually coming to Notre Dame College. “All these places are similar in the quality of the people, the devotion to mission and the work ethic. These are things I want to be part of.”

While volunteering as an assistant football coach at St. Peter Chanel, Armstrong “fell in love with the fact that I could have more of an impact on a young man on the football field than I could have as a prosecutor putting people in jail.” So, much to the shock of his mother, Armstrong gave up a lucrative legal career to work as an academic counselor for disadvantaged students at Mercyhurst, where he held several positions including director of annual fund and alumni over seven years.

After working as head football coach and athletic director at Thiel College, and director of athletics at Holy Name High School, Armstrong came to Notre Dame in 2003. “I thank Dr. Roth everyday for asking me to come here. I love my job and love what I do,” says Armstrong, who also teaches pre-law courses at NDC. “Making a difference is what the Sisters of Notre Dame are about. I feel I fit in here well because I want to make a positive difference in the students’ lives.”

Armstrong says he tells the counselors in the Admissions Office two things: “1. The Sisters of Notre Dame have created a beautiful small college that not only deserves to be in existence, but should thrive. 2. Everything we do is about making Dr. Roth’s vision to create one of the finest, small Catholic baccalaureate colleges in the Great Lakes region come true.”

Working closely with Sr. Carol Ziegler, Armstrong explains to incoming students that everything the College does is driven by its mission. “When we recruit students, the first thing I tell them is that our faculty and staff make it their personal mission for the students to be successful,” Armstrong says. “The next thing I tell them is that they can be part of something special. The students coming here now will give back to us tenfold because they are going to have such a positive impact on the institution as we grow.”

To Armstrong, the College and its students have already given back more than any courtroom in the U.S. ever could.

Cultivating Relationships, Investing in Cleveland

Assistant Professor of Psychology Erica White, Ph.D., has never stayed in one place for too long. The daughter of an Air Force officer, Dr. White was born in Germany, moved to California, Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska and back to California, before going to college in Georgia and graduate school in Michigan. After living in Tennessee for a while she eventually married and moved to Cleveland. Attracted by the College’s mission, Dr. White has been at Notre Dame for four years.

Erica White, Ph.D.“What brought me here was that the mission was in line with who I am,” Dr. White says. “The relationships I have with my students and colleagues are so meaningful. It is exciting to be in a place that values these relationships.”

To Dr. White living the mission means cultivating the interactions between the faculty and the students. When a decorated scholar-athlete in one of her classes told Dr. White she didn’t think the College president even knew who she was, Dr. White talked to Dr. Andrew Roth. As a result, Dr. Roth approached Dr. White’s student in the cafeteria leaving a lasting impression on her.

In the classroom, Dr. White sees her mission as teaching the real life applications of complex psychological concepts. “I realize that not all my students are going to be psychologists. But I want them to be good citizens of the world in terms of their relationships with family, friends and the community.” Just recently a 2008 graduate and U.S. Army officer about to be deployed to Afghanistan emailed Dr. White explaining he draws on material from her classes in his daily interactions with members of his platoon.

As the outgoing chair of the Faculty Advancement and Development Committee, Dr. White worked to keep the mission at the heart of faculty decisions. “We really focus on teaching, service and scholarship,” Dr. White says. “We want to live the mission for our students and among us colleagues.” She is also the advisor to the Psychology Club, encouraging her students to be active in the community by participating in events such as the Alzheimer’s Walk at Tower City.

After moving across the country for most of her life, the community has become important to Dr. White, who owns a small private practice in Shaker Heights. She and her husband bought a house in a developing Cleveland neighborhood because “we decided we wanted to invest in Cleveland. Our philosophy is that we can be part of the solution to bring Cleveland back.” With the College striving to be a growth engine for the region, it is clear why Dr. White thinks Notre Dame is a good fit for her.

Developing Intellectual Courage

When Associate Professor Ken Palko recently read a UNESCO report claiming that philosophy was an important subject to study, “I almost fell off my chair because in the American educational system we don’t typically teach philosophy.” The report affirmed what Palko had believed in all along and validated his decision to come to Notre Dame more than 15 years ago.

Ken PalkoWhen Palko joined the College as an adjunct professor in 1994, students were required to take four philosophy classes. While the requirement has been reduced, Palko’s recent promotion from assistant to associate professor of philosophy illustrates NDC’s continuing commitment to the discipline.

“Notre Dame is special in the sense that we require philosophy. The Sisters of Notre Dame in their wisdom recognized how important this endeavor is,” Palko says. “I have taught at other colleges and didn’t get the same impression. I feel very fortunate to be part of this community.”

Ever since Palko became a full-time professor five years ago, the College’s philosophy minor has grown in popularity. To Palko, who also heads the core curriculum committee, this is a positive trend because philosophy is tied closely to the College’s mission of educating responsible citizens. “In philosophy we explore truth, beauty and the good. This is important in any area of study and important in living a life,” Palko says. 

Not teaching facts, Palko is interested in developing the students’ intellectual courage. “One of the defining characteristics of a philosopher, and I think we should all strive to be philosophers, is the idea of relentless asking of questions and seeking understanding,” he says.

Philosophy provides the tools to gain a better understanding of the world by exercising critical, rational and logical thought, Palko says. “The world is filled with conflict. In the past it has been resolved with violence and war,” he says. “The philosopher proposes we use reason because it is the one thing all humans share. We don’t all share the same religion, the same politics, but we have the capacity to think and reason.”

Philosophy trains your mind to be open, reflective and thoughtful, making you less susceptible to propaganda and intolerance, Palko says. He tells students they should approach their major philosophically if they want to achieve something lasting in life. In his required ethics class, Palko hopes to teach them that their actions affect other human beings, animals and the environment.

For Palko, education is a passion that doesn’t feel like work. While he could keep himself busy over the summer with his many hobbies, including sailing, biking, sculpting and collecting antiquarian books, he prefers to teach because “I don’t like to be away from the classroom for three months.”

Palko wants to be a role model for his students to the best of his ability. “Part of being a professor is the idea of modeling a good life, pursuing knowledge and trying to understand the world.”

These concepts are essential to the discipline of philosophy and the mission of Notre Dame College.

Mentoring Students and Future Teachers

When Jeanne Christian interviewed for a part-time tutoring position at Notre Dame in 2001, there already existed a strong connection between her and the College. Christian had been an adult student at NDC’s Weekend College in the mid 1980s and had enjoyed every minute of being here. At the same time, she had left a lasting impression on her teachers, one of whom was now the vice president for academic affairs asking her to become the director of the Dwyer Learning Center.

Jeanne ChristianChristian accepted and for over eight years she has headed the Center which offers comprehensive tutoring services to the College’s students. With the help of adjunct English faculty, graduate assistants, peer tutors and study groups, Christian has created an environment that “exists to support students to become independent learners as they pursue their professional and career goals,” as the Center’s mission statement reads.

“For me as a 30-something-year old coming back to school, this was a wonderful environment. I just had a great experience here,” Christian says about her two years at WECO. As an adult student, she experienced that Notre Dame’s faculty took time to personally connect with the students and provide support especially to those struggling in their classes. As the director of the Dwyer Learning Center, a math tutor and teacher, she works to do the same.

Christian wants her students to embrace the liberal arts experience and take them on a journey to reach their full potential as they approach the world of work. “Our mission means moving students to take ownership of their college experience,” Christian says. “It is helping them see themselves differently than they did in high school, helping them become leaders and helping them take on a career path they might not have thought about before. The students are at a crossroads and they can be anybody they want to be. I think that’s the joy of teaching at the post-secondary level.”

Christian says the excitement of her job is that she also mentors those students who excel. “The joy of my position is that I see both sides of the spectrum,” she says. “I see the students we help to fill in the gaps and I see the very outstanding students that are recommended as peer tutors by the faculty. We provide the support on both ends.”

Many of these peer tutors are education majors who are trained in teaching techniques and are familiar with the coursework. “The Sisters of Notre Dame have always been oriented towards education and teaching future teachers. We show the tutors how to be leaders and how to be good at what they do,” Christian says. “So, our mission is closely tied to that of the College and the Sisters of Notre Dame.”

Christian is living this mission the same way her teachers did more than 20 years ago; and that is how it is carried into the future of the College.

Christian Taske ’07 is the editor and writer at Notre Dame College.