Junior Parents and Families Weekend 2016
Students, their parents, and interested faculty and staff filled the University’s primary convocation hall, Buckley Center Auditorium, on Saturday morning, February 20th, 2016 for an Academic Showcase spotlighting the College of Arts and Sciences. The Office of Student Activities hosted the Showcase and featured thought-provoking “Ted Talks” styled presentations presented by expert faculty in the humanities, social, and natural sciences showcasing the wide variety of expertise in the College of Arts and Sciences. Through hearing from different disciplines, the speakers gave the audience a chance to sample the offerings a core education provides to students.
Dean Michael Andrews was acting MC for the showcase, and began the event reminding those present of the University’s mission, the education of the head, heart and hands, and what a benefit this mission is to our students. CAS pulls together a required 39 credits of core classes that are the life blood of the University. These core education classes are an important part of a Catholic education which prepares students to be successful throughout their lives. The average graduate today faces a future in which they will change careers a minimum of 5 times. To add to the challenge, changing technology means we don’t even know how that future will look. Our job in the College is to help envision that future. Today’s graduates will live their lives in a world of knowledge we can’t begin to imagine. A strong core education is the best preparation for the challenges our graduates will face.
Dean Andrews shared what a privilege it is for CAS students to associate with the best faculty and the best students. He said faculty members don’t even wait for office hours, they sit with door open, and they want to know “what are you thinking about.” CAS faculty help studentss with the question “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”
Dr. Elinor Sullivan, introduced by Dean Andrews, recently received a NIMH grant of almost $4 million, a Bill & Melinda Gates grant and a Murdock Life Science Grant. Dr. Sullivan’s presentation: “Physiology: The Study of How Our Body Functions” included a slide show giving a visual view of our cells and showing the effects of the obesity epidemic on our bodies and the long-term impact of maternal obesity on the mental health and physiology of the developing offspring. Obesity leads to inflammation and there is increasing evidence that this inflammation damages the body’s ability to function and, importantly, maternal obesity exposes the developing offspring to elevated levels of inflammatory factors that negatively impact the development of critical organs such as the brain. She emphasized that studying maternal obesity does not place any blame on mothers, but rather that we are trying to understand the process by which maternal obesity impacts the developing offspring so we can develop effective therapeutics and preventative interventions. The results of our studies can also be used to provide information to physicians so they can most effectively advise pregnant patients and to policy makers to allow them to create policies to improve our nation’s health.
The second speaker, Dr. Kevin Jones, who is the Social Work Practicum Director, presented on research concerning the relationship between Native American values and Social Work. Dr. Jones mentioned his interest in foster care and other challenges in our society, creating a demand for Social Workers. He proceeded by presenting for the audience “The Circle of Courage in College: Integrating Native American Cultural Principles into Social Work Education.” Dr. Jones introduced research into how Native American concepts can be beneficially applied to the field of Social Work. These Native American values create an environment where every member of the tribe belongs. For example, they don’t even have a word for cousin; those who are related to each other as cousins refer to each other as brother and sister. This belonging environment develops trust, inclusion, warmth, friendship, cooperation, and finally mastery, yielding a positive cascading chain of events that help to develop a whole person who is well-rounded, competent, generous, able to identify their feelings, offers complements, and works well with others. Dr. Jones reviewed each of these attributes and what they look like, such as how true generosity involves real sacrifice. What this means is learning to cope with adversity, deal with competing tasks and priorities, to learn and do better and to develop independence, not as self-sufficiency, but rather the ability to make decisions with the support from belonging.
The final speaker, Dr. Alex Santana spoke of how the core curriculum exposes and engages students in metaphysics. This emphasis on metaphysics is distinctive to the University of Portland and gives students an exposure they otherwise would not have an opportunity to experience. Metaphysics is the study of the nature of the constitution and structure of reality. The study of what “is” is called ontology and the question “is it real” is called cosmology. The question “Is there God?” is ontology and the question “What is space and time?” is cosmology.
Dr. Santana’s presentation was titled “Some Aztec Metaphysics.” The Aztec view of reality was that universal change is how the universe works, that stability is an illusion. The Aztec had a word “teotl” for the one and only primordial cosmic energy force or power that underlies all existence. This teotl is the underlying of all existence and is entirely non-personal in the same way that electricity is impersonal. Teotl neither likes, loves, nor hates, it just is and should be respected, channeled and nourished. Teotl is the power that makes the universe and all of us go.
The final presentation was followed by a Q&A session in which audience members raised several important points, including some tough questions to the panel.
The CAS Showcase was closed by a thank you to the audience from Dean Andrews. He reminded us again that the goal of UP’s humanities-based, liberal arts University Core Curriculum is to partner with students and parents, that we all want to help students become the kind of people they want to be, the kind of people their parents want them to be, and the kind of people God wants them to be.
Junior Parents and Families Weekend is an annual tradition hosted by the Office of Student Activities and includes presentations from the College of Arts and Sciences and each of the professional schools of the University of Portland. Again this year the presentations gave students and their parents an opportunity to experience first-hand the joy of the University of Portland’s Catholic and Holy Cross mission.