By Elizabeth Lowe
Ryan Blake, a freshman at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, credits a new program for first-year students with helping him improve his writing skills and with his self-discovery.
“I couldn’t really imagine not being a part of this experience,” he said.
Blake is one of 45 first-year honors program students in the university’s “Messina” program, which is being piloted during the 2012-13 school year, according to Michael Puma, student development co-director of the Living Learning Initiative.
Implementation of Messina for some non-honors students will begin in fall 2013. By the 2015-16 school year, all of Loyola’s first-year students will be in the program.
The Messina program is named after a city in Sicily, which was the site of the Jesuits’ first college, in 1548, to welcome lay students, according to Loyola’s website.
A part of Loyola’s five-year strategic plan, which culminates this year, Messina connects students, faculty, administrators and the community, and aims to give students “a sense of belonging to the campus,” Puma said.
“It’s a way to jump-start their learning for four years here,” said Puma, nothing that students are “getting a chance to understand what makes the Jesuit difference. We’re going to ask students to think about who they are.”
Puma continued, “It’s much more broad in how they can craft their sophomore year. The goal is to get them to know about all the opportunities so they can make better decisions their sophomore year.”
That “Jesuit difference” he referenced includes a high value on intellectual study; social justice and service; cultivating the whole person in mind, body and spirit; and discernment and reflection, according to Loyola’s website.
The most famous Jesuit on the planet, of course, is former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who on March 13 was elected the 266th pope. He chose the name Pope Francis.
As a Liberal Arts institution, Loyola emphasizes “the bigger process of learning,” Puma said. “This program, it’s going to increase the intellectual life on campus” as students “reflect and think about how they make decisions.”
In the Messina program, students take one course in the fall and another in the spring, Puma said. Each course is three credits and fits into the curriculum.
As part of the program, Blake, the freshman, has an enrichment hour weekly and a seminar class twice a week.
“In the classroom we discuss academic works. … I’ve been challenged to improve my writing immensely,” Blake said. “In the enrichment hour, I’m cultivating and discovering who I am.”
Students get out of Messina what they put in, said Blake, who believes most students would agree “it’s been a great experience.”
Doug Harris, faculty co-director of Messina and an associate professor of political science at Loyola, said “what I hope is going to happen, is that our students will take some of the things they’re talking about in class and that they will see them in operation when they’re doing a field trip with their faculty member.”
Harris continued, “What I want them to appreciate is that learning does not just have to be directed by the faculty member.”
Taylor Daily, a Loyola sophomore and a Messina peer leader, believes the program helps students “feel a little less scared about coming to college and the classes they are in at the college level.”
“The relationships that they’ve been able to develop with the administrators working with their class and faculty members, it’s so far beyond what I was able to get (as a freshman),” Daily said. “It’s something that, especially when it’s in full implementation, will become part of what Loyola is and what it means to be a Loyola student.
“This is a way Loyola is living out the core values, even more than it already does.”
Copyright (c) March 24, 2013 CatholicReview.org