But we already have a Jumbotron . . .

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

Guys like big TVs. It’s a simple fact of life. So Keenan Hall bought a Sharp Aquos 90” and installed it on the wall of its basement lounge.

“We call it the theology Jumbotron,” rector Noel Terranova ’05MTS says.

Just before 1 o’clock every Friday afternoon this spring, 13 Keenan men have opened their front door to 13 Walsh women, all of them students in the Foundations of Theology class co-taught by Terranova, Walsh rector Annie Selak and Professor Todd Walatka ’06MTS, ’11Ph.D., the instructor of record.

Selak says the team structured the course, which meets in a DeBartolo Hall classroom at the same time on Mondays and Wednesdays and fulfills the students’ introductory theology requirement, around the concepts of creation, covenant, Christ and church. Terranova curates art on his laptop for the Friday discussions and plugs it into the massive flatscreen to add a visual dimension to the small-group reflections.

The course is one of several pilots the Office of Student Affairs and campus partners are testing to probe the integration of academic and residential life at Notre Dame. If education is “the art of helping young people to completeness,” as Holy Cross founder Blessed Basil Moreau believed, then administrators feel the time is ripe to blend the two institutional strengths of undergraduate teaching and the panoramic personal growth they hope takes place in the dorms.

Last fall, students living in Keenan and Pasquerilla West were exclusively assigned to a University seminar on international education taught by Africana Studies Professor Maria McKenna ’97. Students shared meals with McKenna and attended campus events together.

Meanwhile, accounting Professor Ed Hums ’75 and his wife, Shirley Hums ’97MSA, had moved into a renovated apartment in the Lyons Hall annex, another exploratory step toward cultivating more fruitful, less formal relationships between students and the faculty.

This fall, First Year of Studies will train upperclassmen through its established Peer Advisors mentoring program and, for the first time, assign a group of them to freshmen living in the same hall.

Both Terranova and Selak say a leading benefit of integration is the opportunity their students have to build meaningful relationships, learn in community and begin conversations that continue outside the classroom. Reflecting on Genesis 1, for instance, a Walsh freshman asked whether, given the goodness of it, creation gets better with time — or worse because of original sin. Scholars build their life’s work around such questions, Selak says, and now her residents are talking about them with peers on their way to and from class.

The project has also opened up a side of her residents she hadn’t seen before — how they think and participate in the classroom. Such knowledge is handy when the time to talk about choosing a major or write a study-abroad recommendation inevitably comes.

Much is expected of them, Selak says, but the students are responding well. “I mean, I’m doing the homework, too, and it’s been hard for me to squeeze it in. . . . I was up late last night reading Pope Benedict.”

John Nagy is an associate editor of this magazine.