Loyola Magazine

Inside Messina: Transforming students one course at a time

Faculty share the impact Loyola's first-year experience is having on students

The faculty teaching Messina courses are seeing firsthand how Loyola’s living learning program is helping first-year students foster their academic, social, and spiritual growth, while helping them find their place in the community.

“If we can get students engaged in the life of the University from the day they walk on campus, then we will have a much more vibrant campus,” says Carolyn Barry, Ph.D., associate professor in psychology.

Barry, who has taught at Loyola for more than 12 years, is teaching an introductory psychology class for Messina, The Long and Winding Road: Psychology for Life.

Through Messina students are learning that they’re not just coming to college to show up for classes—and that learning isn’t something that only takes place inside the classroom, she says.

“Learning is something that is in the fiber of your being, and you can’t get enough of it,” Barry says. “The ideas that students are learning in the classrooms are things that they should be talking about in their dorms, with faculty outside of class, and with older students.”

As part of her class, Barry’s students write an essay about whether their age group, known as “emerging adults,” is floundering or flourishing.

The students aren’t allowed to do any research; they just write what they believe.

After she gives them feedback, Barry assigns an extreme position on why the group is either floundering or flourishing.

Students research and write a position paper, and then have a debate on the issue during one of the final classes of the semester.

Barry says that students ask themselves, “How did forcing myself to take that extreme position change my view? What do I really think about this time period now that I’ve thought about it in a more scholarly way?”

After the debate, students have told her, “It did make me think about these things as I hadn’t thought about them before.”

Mavis Biss, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy, is teaching a course called The Promises of Ancient Philosophy: Truth, Love, and Happiness.

“I’m looking at the ways in which several ancient thinkers allow us to rethink our conceptions of the pursuit of truth, the role and the meaning of love, and the nature of human happiness,” she says.

Biss is teaching two sessions of the class, and the course paired with each is an Intro to Theology course. Angela Christman, Ph.D., professor of theology, and Rev. John J. Conley, S.J., Henry J. Knott Chair of Theology, are collaborating with Biss to create an overlap in some of their course texts. This way, students read the same text in each class, but they approach it in different ways and ask different questions.

Biss has seen that in her course evaluations, students are emphasizing that they continued their philosophical conversations outside the classroom.

“If the goal of the program is to integrate students’ experience and to break down this barrier between social life and academic life, this seems to me to be evidence that something’s going right, which is really encouraging,” Biss says.

“Building community across spaces on campus isn’t just good for the students in terms of their comfort, their sense of belonging, and their adjustment to college. I think it’s actually really good for them intellectually.”