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Computer Science alumna makes a conscious impact

During Loyola University Maryland’s 2020 Commencement, the Natural and Applied Sciences academic division awarded for the first time the Choudhury Sarkar-Dey medal to an outstanding graduating senior who has shown remarkable commitment to diversity and community service during their time at Loyola.  We are proud to share with you the reflections submitted by the finalists, nominated by their faculty and departments, in this series of posts.

“A Conscious Greyhound” – A reflection by Loyola computer science major Chiara Maalouf, ’20

Chiara Maalouf, '20How has my Loyola experience impacted my intellectual growth? In a word: Consciousness. My Loyola experience has taught me to be conscious of who I am and how I impact a community. To be conscious of what is going on not just to things that only relate to me but also to those different from me. Loyola has taught me to be conscious of my own privilege and to be conscious of intention vs impact. This wonderful lesson is due a culmination of experiences, and like most other Loyola students my journey starts in Messina.

A big reason I decided to attend Loyola was because of my acceptance into the CPaMS scholars’ program; a cohort for academically talented students who demonstrate financial need to study computer science, physics, and mathematics statistics. Because of this my Messina was comprised of all CPaMS students. The interdisciplinary nature of the program stimulated me intellectually and by discussing topics such as the Digital Divide and Net Neutrality I was introduced to the great disparities and injustice of access to technology. It was also in my CPaMS Messina that I first felt at home at Loyola and this prompted me to become an Evergreen so that I too could make others feel at home at Loyola through Messina.

I wanted to be an Evergreen so I could give back, and in my 3 years of being an Evergreen I gave my whole heart and soul to each of my First-Year students. What I didn’t realize was how much the Evergreen Program was going to give to me in return. It was in the Racial Justice and Bias training sessions that I first became aware of my own privilege. From this I went into sophomore year eager to learn more about myself, others, and the world around me.

For Spring break sophomore year, I participated in an immersion program though the CCSJ to learn more about the injustice permeating the world around me. I got to spend a week in DC learning about the homelessness crisis and how gentrification was hurting city communities. This experience was great for me because I learned to break down my own stereotypes of people experiencing homelessness. It opened my mind further to understand everyone has their own perspective and I could learn a lot from others by engaging an open mind in every situation.

The other “stand out” event from sophomore year in my Loyola recipe for consciousness was participating in the "RoadTrip" retreat with the Office of Student Engagement. One of my intentions for sophomore year was to learn more about myself and the role I play in my community. Roadtrip gave me the tools to look within myself to find my strengths, weaknesses, passions, and joys. On the retreat I delved deeper into Ignatian spirituality with the examine and the art of discernment.

In discerning how to combine my love for mentoring others and intellectual curiosity I applied to the Hauber Summer Research Program the summer before my junior year. I got to conduct research with Dr. Megan Olsen where she challenged me to think outside the box, and come up with my own ideas. At that point she also believed in me much more than I believed in myself. She showed me it’s okay to get things wrong and not beat myself up for making mistakes. We then conducted a coding camp for middle school girls that summer. The goal was to introduce girls to technology and open their minds to the possibility of college. We reinforced to always try things and not to give up if you make a mistake. It was in encouraging those girls I realized how much I had grown from Dr. Olsen’s encouragement.

I went into Junior year with even more confidence to “squeeze the sponge” more than I had done previously, but fortunately I was able to take a class in that exact time that showed me squeezing the sponge constantly can have its draw backs. This class was Philosophy of Eastern Thought. A class where we learned about different philosophies of Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. We had a choice in the class to either write a final report or we could attend weekly meditation sessions with the Heart of Zen club and write brief reflections each week. It was in these weekly sessions I learned how unhappily busy I was. I was always in “go” mode and at that point overextended in my class and extracurricular activities. By taking the time to sit and just breathe I realized how important it is to stop. This practice also helped me understand the material from class since the reflection prompts asked us to connect our experience meditating to the current text we were studying. A year later I can say this class changed my life. I meditate for 15 minutes every day and I am grateful I learned the joyful lesson of just “being” instead of constantly doing.

I took this course the semester before I studied abroad in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In a way it enhanced my study abroad experience because I was always aware to be present in every moment. I went abroad with the intention to explore my spirituality and between the skills I gained from my Eastern Philosophy class and being immersed in Islamic culture I can’t think of better time or place in my life for me to start that journey. With this practice of being in the moment I learned so much from the people around me, Arab culture and Islam.

From all these experiences I learned that being conscious of every action I take I can make more meaningful decisions and not jump to conclusions. I am conscious that the way I see the world and how others view it can be very different and because I am conscious of it, I can be open to trying to understand things from another perspective. I discern and reflect now and I’m a much more balanced person for it. During my time here at Loyola I have grown in my independence, in my thought and my actions, and learned much more about the world and my place in it.