Just Mercy

Loyola’s common text for first year undergraduates is Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, a gripping narrative of his work as a defense attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Through the book, Stevenson tells numerous stories of racial injustice in the American criminal justice system, the central one being the arrest, wrongful conviction, imprisonment on death row, and eventual release of Walter McMillian, an African-American accused of murdering a white woman in Monroeville, Alabama. Students heard a panel of experts discuss the various themes of the book, then engaged in their first college level text discussions in their 16 person, Messina course sections with their professors, Evergreen student leaders, and Messina administrative mentors. Eighty students, a record number, wrote their reactions to the book for an essay contest. Check out a sample of their insights from the three award winners:

Brittany Bonin

In order to do so, however, Stevenson did not get close to the McMillian case; he got close to Walter. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Walter’s future, and the possibility of another heartbreak, Stevenson went all in. He got close, investing in every aspect of Walter’s life through countless visits and hours of getting to know the man behind the case. Now, the two men’s lives are so intertwined that it is impossible to tell either of their stories without also mentioning the other.

Emily Cebulski

Getting close is not something that will ever be easy to do. It requires the added effort of understanding another’s point of view and offering compassion to console and heal others. It will never be convenient. It requires setting aside previously assigned priorities to allocate attention towards becoming knowledgeable, embracing that which one does not know. Stevenson’s account provides multiple real world examples of how we, as incoming “Ignatian Citizens” can live up to this calling.

Katherine Stockton-Juarez

We should not be running our justice system on the foundation of punishment but instead through the idea of rehabilitation. Education is essential and it must be used both in and out of the prison cells in order to derail hate and bigotry—evils which propagate hopelessness. For even as I write, those evils march down the streets in white robes and with swastikas, obliterating the hope for a more progressive nation with every step they take.

As Mr. Stevenson notes at the end of his book, “With more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, an additional six million people on probation or parole and an estimated sixty-eight million American with criminal records, there are endless opportunities for you to do something about criminal justice policy or help the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated.”

Common Text 2017
L-R: Lisa Oberbroeckling, Birgit Albrecht, Anna Sasson, Margaret Shea, Emily Manzo, Emily Cebulski, Katherine Stockton-Juarez, Mike Puma, and Rev. Tim Brown, S.J.

Join the intellectual conversation through Common Text events: including hearing Bryan Stevenson speak on Monday, March 19 at 6 pm, and check out opportunities to volunteer at the Center for Community Service and Justice.

~ Amanda M. Thomas, interim vice president for academic affairs

High-Impact Practices

This summer a team of Loyola’s faculty and administrators traveled to the 2017 AAC&U Summer Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success. Loyola was represented by:

Jim Dickinson, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President for Career Services

Brian Norman, Ph.D., Professor of English

Barnaby Nygren, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Fine Arts; Committee on the Assessment of Student Learning; Reimagining co-chair

Lisa Oberbroeckling, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Math; Dean of the Class of 2022; Interim Academic Co-Director of Messina

Marie Yeh, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Marketing

The Institute featured 4 days of breakout sessions led by expert speakers and significant team time to explore a project of Loyola’s choosing. We arrived in Boston focused on answering the question “What would it mean to truly embed high-impact practices into the undergraduate experience at Loyola?”

High-impact practices (HIPs) are specific activities that have been linked with students’ ability to develop essential learning outcomes through their higher education experience. HIPs provide students with opportunities to apply their learning outside of the classroom, engage in communities of learning, and develop critical skills to serve them in their lives and careers. They have also been demonstrated to drive more equitable outcomes for diverse students and closely align with views on the value of liberal education. Structured first-year experiences, internships, and service learning are a few examples of these practices.

It quickly became clear to our team that Loyola is a place where HIPs are more woven into the student experience than at many other universities (see Figure 1). From the success of Messina to our active, structured service-learning programs and high percentage of students studying abroad and reporting internship activities, these practices are highly visible on campus.

HIP Figure 1
Figure 1. A Sampling of Loyola’s Existing Implementation of High-Impact Practices

While some of our colleagues at the institute were focused on building initial plans to introduce HIPs at their institutions, our team concentrated on the ways we could better guide students to reflect on and integrate the transformative experiences and deep learning made possible through a Loyola education. Our attention quickly turned to the promise of a universal culminating senior experience that could act as a bookend to Messina.

Loyola’s first-year experience’s name references the mid-16th century beginning of Jesuit education on the island of Sicily. While the first year of college is seen as the beginning and senior year as the end, the latter can also be seen as a new beginning as our students prepare to go forth into the world (see Figure 2). Our team engaged in vigorous dialogue about the form which this culminating experience might take and how it could best help students make connections across their Loyola experience through integrated advising efforts (academic, career, student development, etc.) One way of facilitating these connections could be a series of what we coined “high-impact questions” that students and alumni would be exposed to throughout their time at Loyola and which would inform their development from freshman year to their lives after graduation. For example:

First year: What kind of difference do you hope to make in the world?

Senior year: How have your experiences at Loyola enabled you to make a difference in the world while you were here?

5 to 10 years out: What kind of difference have you made in the world through your life and career so far?

HIP Figure 2
Figure 2. Existing and Envisioned High-Impact Practices and the Loyola Experience

Our team is now excited to continue the dialogue we began in Boston with our peers at Loyola with a discussion of both the form of the experience and the “high-impact questions” that would shape it. Perhaps a senior culminating experience could include weekend retreats to help students tie together their learning from key projects throughout their academic experience. A capstone course, or a 1-credit Ignatian seminar course may allow for semester-long reflection. There are many options we could choose to pursue as a University. Regardless of format, our team returned to Baltimore this summer with excitement about the possibility of every Loyola senior graduating with a clear sense of how they would complete phrases like “I did…,” “I am…,” and “I will…”

We hope you share in that excitement and look forward to transforming knowledge and insights from the 2017 High-impact Practices Institute into powerful enhancements of our student experience.

~ Jim Dickinson, Ph.D., assistant vice president for career services



We all know the power of mentorship. Each of us has had one or more teachers who inspired us to try a new course of study, finish a project that seemed to be going nowhere, or who simply introduced us to an academic discipline that became a passion.

The chance to be a mentor is what brought many of us to the professoriate at Loyola and recent data from the Gallup-Purdue Index show that mentorship is a key factor in the success of college students.

Dr. Anne Young, professor emerita of mathematics and statistics, served as an outstanding mentor to one of our famous alumni, Dr. Lisa Mazzuca, ’91. Dr. Mazzuca is an actual rocket scientist; she works at NASA and currently is the manager of the Search and Rescue Mission. She has served in a number of capacities at NASA and credits her liberal arts education at Loyola and Dr. Young’s mentorship as critical to her success.

Dr. Mazzuca recommends that each of our students find a mentor and take advantage of internships and other services offered by the Career Center. Read more about Dr. Mazzuca in Loyola magazine and vote for her to receive the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in the Promising Innovations category, a category the Partnership for Public Service introduced in 2017 to recognize federal employees who are developing cutting-edge technologies or driving innovative approaches that have demonstrated measurable success and great potential but are still in progress.

The Service to America Medals are considered to be the “Oscars” of government service. You can vote up to once a day for her to receive the People’s Choice Award here. Voting will continue until Sept. 15. Encourage all members of the community to participate!

~ Amanda M. Thomas, interim vice president for academic affairs

~ Rita Buettner, director of marketing and communications

Assuming the good will of the other

Welcome to Chalk Talk, the Loyola University Maryland academic affairs blog! Today’s inaugural post focuses on a teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Our university was founded in 1852, but the Jesuits and Jesuit universities have existed for over 450 years. Throughout their history, the Jesuits have valued civil discourse through intellectual conversation and debates.

The enduring Jesuit charism permeates our campus in innumerable ways, including through our mission, values, and new strategic plan. More on all of this as the year unfurls, but today, I focus on the new beginnings that the start of an academic year promises.

Among the many lessons from St. Ignatius, perhaps the one most important to me, is that each of us is to begin with an assumption of the good will of the other. This assumption of good will is part of what is called the “presupposition” in the annotations to St. Ignatius’s famous Spiritual Exercises.

In interpersonal interactions where competing interests quickly surface, assuming the good will of the other can seem impossible; yet I believe it is not only what I am called to do, it is what will result in the best outcome not only for me, but for all. Presuming good will means one begins with authentic listening, uses encouragement, and is aware of the importance of context, asking questions rather than making assumptions As we begin the 2017-18 academic year, I invite you to consider how St. Ignatius’s presupposition could enrich your academic and personal experiences.

Perhaps you have your own take on this teaching, perhaps you have other quotes from St. Ignatius or other Jesuits that inspire you. I invite you to join the conversation by leaving a comment below or writing to me at vpacademicaffairs@loyola.edu.

~ Amanda M. Thomas, Ph.D., interim vice president for academic affairs