Sustainability On Campus: A Conversation With Bob Morro and Liesel Schwarz

Walking around Villanova’s campus, you’ll probably be charmed by the graceful trees by Alumni Hall, the iconic St. Thomas of Villanova Church and the beautiful gothic style of many of the buildings on campus. I know that’s what charmed me when I visited campus. What I didn’t appreciate about Villanova’s campus, however, was all of the daily work that goes into maintaining our beautiful grounds. I knew even less about all of the initiatives Villanova supports to reflect our commitment to sustainability.

In the spirit of Earth Day, I was able to sit down with two major contributors to Villanova’s green initiatives on campus. Bob Morro, the Vice President for Facilities Management, and Liesel Schwarz, the Sustainability Manager, were both kind enough to speak with me about Villanova’s commitment to going green.

Jane: First, I wanted to get a better idea of what both of you do at Villanova. What are some of your responsibilities?

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Part of the Earth Week celebrations included a local Farmer’s Market in the center of campus!

Liesel: As the sustainability manager, I oversee all the different aspects of sustainability that we work on here at Villanova. I work with our Facilities team on energy efficiency and I work with our Grounds team on sustainable grounds management. I work with our students a lot, like on Earth Day, but other events too. We have an on-campus garden that I help manage. I (also) work with faculty to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum. One of the most important things to me is recognizing that our product is a student. We want to make sure that our students understand what sustainability is, why it’s important, and more specifically, how it relates to what they’re interested in.

Bob: We have five different divisions within Facilities Management. We have building maintenance, grounds maintenance, custodial, environmental safety and health, and design and construction. A lot what we do operationally really impacts how the University attacks sustainability. The President’s Climate Commitment cites our mission to become climate neutral by 2050. We have a central steam plant, we burn fossil fuel, so we’re trying to reduce that and become as efficient as possible in those areas, as well as encouraging our students, faculty and staff to be as sustainable as possible.

Jane: Liesel, when you try to integrate sustainability into the curriculum, do you meet with professors directly, or are there guidelines for professors?  

Liesel: Word of mouth is helpful. A couple of years ago we held a workshop – and we’re hoping to again – about how sustainability can be incorporated into what they already teach. I think on one of the biggest barriers is that faculty don’t want to teach something they’re not super familiar with, which is totally understandable. We want to give them those tools. We’ve been collecting sustainability teaching resources in a database to provide to faculty, and help them get over that hurdle and explore new options that may be available to them.

Liesel also mentioned a brand-new advisory board for green initiatives on campus. She believes that this new board will have an incredible impact on the strides Villanova is making in sustainability, stating, “We’ve started the Sustainable Leadership Council, which is made up of all senior leadership throughout campus, which is a big step for us.”

Bob added that some major influencers are in this new leadership council. “Two people – the Dean of Engineering, Gary Gabriele, and the Vice President for Mission and Ministry, Barbara Wall, are really driving the council, (as well as) people like Liesel, who did her thesis on a very similar topic,” he said. “There are maybe about 18 people on it, so it’s just getting started. That’s kind of new and developing, but I think it’s a great and overarching organization to try and gather and coordinate all the different activities the University does to support the environment and sustainability.”

Jane: So you’ve mentioned how Campus Ministry has an interest in all sustainability efforts. Do you think that Villanova, being an Augustinian school, encourages certain values when it comes to being sustainable and eco-friendly?

Bob: When Father Peter first signed the President’s Climate Commitment, he cited our spiritual and emotional leader, Saint Augustine, and the types of values he espoused when it came to issues like this.

Liesel: Even when you read the Cliff’s Notes version of the Pope’s encyclical from 2015, “Laudato Si,” it’s all centered around environmental stewardship, but also on environmental justice and helping others who are impacted by our actions with regard to climate change. It’s a nice tie-in. And Catholic social teaching is essentially what environmental stewardship is trying to be. It’s being good stewards to our environment and being good stewards to our neighbors. That’s really what we’re trying to do.

Bob: Under Mission and Ministry we have the Center for Peace and Justice, so as Liesel said, we’ve always been about social justice at Villanova, but now we’re sort of expanding that to environmental justice. That’s what I see this leaning toward.

Jane: So the new strategic plan… is all of the construction on campus a part of that? 

Bob: The new strategic plan is overarching, so you know it encompasses academics, construction, mission and ministry. The strategic plan is still in the process of being developed, and I would say it’s maybe two-thirds done.

Jane: How does this construction impact our surrounding communities?

Bob: There are a number of new impacts. First of all, we try to do all of our new construction following LEED guidelines. LEED stands for Leadership Energy and Environmental Design. We hire architects, and charge them to design to LEDD standards.

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Artist depiction for the new living spaces along Lancaster Avenue!

The largest impact we’re trying to achieve is providing housing to our students, so we can take students out of the neighborhoods. We’re taking about 1,200 students and bringing them back on campus. That’s less impact to the neighbors. The other impact of that is that those 1,200 students had to drive to school. As true commuters, students have to drive to school once if not twice a day. So that traffic, we think, will diminish. That’s not to say these students won’t drive, and junior and seniors are allowed to have cars on campus. There will be, however, fewer trips. During construction we’re also trying to be more green and sustainable, so as part of the LEED design process we encourage or require them to procure their material for components of the buildings locally, opposed to getting them in (somewhere like) California. We want them to get material from within a certain radius of the construction site. We recycle any construction waste, therefore reducing the stuff that goes into the landfill.

Jane: How do the new buildings on campus impact our University’s efforts towards sustainability?

Bob: New construction is difficult because we’re trying to reduce our footprint, but every building we build uses more energy just because it’s a new building. As we start to use up our usable land, we’ll look at different ways to meet our space needs. Renovating and repurposing existing buildings, maybe putting additions on existing buildings.

Jane: What do you think is the most significant step our University has taken to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability?

Bob: Hiring Liesel!

Liesel: Ha! I would say our commitment to going carbon neutral by 2050. That’s one of our more higher-reaching commitments to sustainability that we haven’t achieved yet, but it’s a good goal.

Bob: The carbon neutrality is part of the President’s Commitment, which encompasses different areas. Something I forgot to mention with construction is our stormwater management. Basically the goal of stormwater management is to take all of the water that falls on your site, and to take care of it on your site, not to put it in a pipe which goes to a stream which goes to a river which goes to the ocean, which with it brings the pollutants of the parking lots or whatever that catch that water. So instead, we’re trying to capture the water and use it on campus. We also have two professors – Professor Rob Traver and Professor Bridget Wadzuk – who are experts in this field. They get grants from the state and are actually currently rewriting the state of Pennsylvania stormwater regulations for how you deal with stormwater anywhere. But we have 15 sites on campus and we measure and meter that water.

From this conversation with Liesel and Bob, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the wonderful work Villanova has been doing to become more eco-friendly. I was shocked that I wasn’t more aware of this information, and felt like it deserved more recognition. When I asked them both about why students don’t know about this as much as they should, they both agreed, “It’s hard to get students’ attention.” Between everyone’s extracurricular activities, athletics, classes and work schedules, it’s hard for these initiatives to be widely known among groups that aren’t naturally drawn to them.

That being said, we don’t all have to sign up for Sustainability Club right now. As Liesel reflected, maybe we can just think about how sustainability and environmental interests are more interconnected to issues that relate to our passions, opposed to just thinking of recycling more. (But do that too.) Take note of the actions that contribute to sustainable lifestyles, and see if there is anything – big or little – that you can do on campus to incorporate them.

 

National Champions: Part Two

Many Villanovans had to change their Easter plans this year. Instead of driving back home or flying to see family, many of my friends scrambled to find flights to San Antonio, Texas. Many eagerly entered in the student lottery to get ticketed for Villanova’s second Final Four appearance in the last three years. Some students were able to get on one of the two chartered flights Villanova arranged for fans. Others took a wide array of transportation—planes, trains, and automobiles—to get to the Alamodome in San Antonio. Conversations for the two days prior to Easter break were dominated by the big questions —“Are you going to San Antonio?” “Did you get ticketed?” “Where are you staying?”

I was not personally able to go to San Antonio, but the enthusiasm surrounding the game followed me to New York City, where I was visiting my family. I did an inordinate amount of research on Villanova’s first opponent, the Kansas Jayhawks, to see who their key players were and how we would pull out a win. While I braved some East Coast rain, I saw Snapchats of my friends in sunny San Antonio learning about the historic Alamo and walking around their famed River Walk. I envied not only their ability to see our team play in the Final Four game, but also to see Nova Nation in full force, traveling more than a thousand miles to support our school.

In true Catholic school fashion, after our 95-79 win over Kansas Saturday night, we held an Easter Mass Sunday morning. This Mass served the nearly 4,000 Villanova fans who had made the trek down and bolstered the already high-spirits of Nova Nation. Team Chaplain Father Robert Hagan said of the Wildcats, “May they fill up more baskets than the Easter Bunny.” That, they did.

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An inside look at the watch party held in the Connelly Center!

Returning back to campus that Monday, the energy was palpable. My friends who were flying back into Philadelphia around game time did everything in their power to expedite their return to campus. Everyone was vying to get a great spot at the game watches our Campus Activities Team put on in both the Connelly Center and at the Oreo, the central hub on campus. Complete with DJs, free pizza and halftime entertainment, this game watch had just as much excitement as any other Villanova game. I was quite thrilled to find out that during the halftime entertainment, my amazingly talented roommate won a dance battle on stage, and was subsequently gifted a Villanova lawn chair.

I’m in a unique situation in which I can compare my two National Championship victories to each other. Not many college students in America have that blessing, but here we find ourselves in an era of Jay Wright-Villanova Basketball excellence. If you’re at all familiar with “The Shot” (which you should be!), this is the shot Kris Jenkins took with 4.7 seconds left in the 2016 National Championship game that propelled Villanova to a 77-74 win over the UNC Tarheels. When people ask me how it felt to see that shot as a Villanova student, I find I don’t have the words to explain it. In disbelief. Out of body? No one quite knew what to do. Surreal.

This year, it was in the cards. We started off confident. We maintained our lead throughout the second half. The 79-62 victory over the Michigan Wolverines put to rest any qualms people had about Villanova being an underdog.

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Jalen Brunson holds up the 2018 National Champion trophy in celebration!

Once the clock ran out, all of the students bolted to the intersection of Lancaster and Ithan, where we had congregated just two years earlier. Tears of happiness were shed. Hugs were shared. Many chants of “Let’s Go Nova” were shouted at the top of our lungs. Being the best really feels the best. The second time around was just as sweet.

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Students cheered on as the parade traveled toward Philadelphia’s City Hall!

School was cancelled the next day, and this past Thursday the city of Philadelphia held a parade for our new 2018 National Champions. The trains from West Campus were packed with Villanova students clad in their freshly minted “Villanova NCAA National Champions 2018” shirts, just picked up at the University bookstore. Against the backdrop of Philadelphia’s City Hall, we were able to unite in celebration. This parade included not only the Nova Nation, but everyone from Philadelphia who felt the magnetic excitement of this victory.

 

Since the 2016 title game, I have attended more Villanova basketball games at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. I’ve listened to more commentary of Big East basketball on television, which my dad and brother supplement with their own perspectives on how Jalen Brunson has matured as a player since his first year. I’ve purchased more Villanova shirts from our University Bookstore. I’ve interacted with Jay Wright in the Davis Center, where I felt like I was speaking to a full-fledged movie star. He took it well, as I’m sure he deals with that a lot. I’ve celebrated, cried and cheered, all with my closest friends.

From these experiences, I’ve realized Villanova basketball hasn’t just brought us more wins or more recognition. It’s brought us an undeniable sense of community. It’s brought us closer to what we all want from our college experiences—memories we will never forget.

College Tours – What I Wish I’d Asked

As a high school senior, I thought I was on top of my college admissions process. I did SAT prep classes, made a schedule for completing my essays and supplements and reached out to my college counselor to ensure everything was done on time. Despite all my preparation, there was always one task that seemed daunting to me: college visits.

To me, college visits seemed overwhelming. It seemed like I was an outsider, observing other people in their “natural habitats” – the dining halls, dorms, classrooms and fitness centers. I wanted to be the “coolest” I could during these visits. I wanted to blend in and not draw attention. Naturally, in my mind, that meant I shouldn’t participate. That’s what cool college kids did, or so I thought.

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The St. Thomas of Villanova Church is an iconic stop on Villanova campus tours!

On tours, my parents were always so engaged and I was always so embarrassed. They would be at the front of the group, asking about class size and on-campus food options, while I tried to maintain my position in the middle of the pack. I felt intimidated by the notion of asking questions that would help inform my ultimate decision of where to go to school, so I never did. After my parents would ask a question, I would always feel a slight moment of embarrassment, thinking “Ugh, my parents are asking another one?” This was then followed with my immediate attention to whatever the answer was.

On tours, I didn’t know what to look for. I wish I’d asked more. This is what I wish I knew:

What are ways to get involved on campus? This is a big one for me because the first week of school everyone asked me, “Are you applying to Blue Key?” or, “Are you applying to be an LPH?” My answer to both of these was no, because I didn’t know what they were. I soon learned that Blue Key Society is the on-campus group that gives admissions information before tours and gives tours to prospective students. LPH is in fact an abbreviation for “Local Program Host,” a position available to first-year students who would like to get involved in the Special Olympics Fall Festival held at Villanova.

How easy is it to change majors or declare your major? I entered Villanova as an undeclared major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This qualified me to take a one-credit class entitled “Advising: Explore and Experience” (known as ASPD) the first semester of my first year. This class met once a week to go over professional development opportunities and ways to figure out what you’d like your major to be. After a year at Villanova, I realized what really interested me was communications. I emailed my advisor to set up a time to officially declare, which I built up in my head to be a momentous occasion. And although it is a big deal to officially declare your major, getting a form signed seemed anticlimactic. I still prefer an anticlimactic experience to a stressful one, however. The ease with which I was able to officially declare made me feel more secure and supported in my decision.

Is it easy to study abroad? Although it may seem like a long way off as a high school student, the decision to study abroad will creep up on you sooner than you’d think. I didn’t know if I wanted to study abroad, but it was always a good option to have. I ultimately decided to study abroad last semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, which was one of the best decisions I could have ever made for myself.

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One of my best friends from Villanova, Spencer, visited me in Copenhagen while he was studying in Galway, Ireland!

The process of applying and getting courses approved seemed daunting, but all of the wonderful people in the Office of Education Abroad (OEA) were extremely helpful. I was able to meet with both my academic advisor and abroad advisor to finalize what classes would be counted towards my major and minor, and what classes would have to be taken at Villanova. OEA also gave me better tools to anticipate the financial costs of study abroad and ways to engage more fully in the culture in which I was studying.

Are most students from the area or all over? I did not anticipate this being an issue for myself until I got to Villanova’s campus. I didn’t fully prepare myself for the culture shock I would feel being a Californian coming to Pennsylvania. Although I knew Villanova was an extremely welcoming community, I initially felt that so many people were from the East Coast. And while there are many people from the region, my best friends are from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland. Villanova draws students from all regions of the U.S. and around the world, and I now see that my intimidation about people from the East Coast was misguided.

Do TA’s teach classes? It’s important to think about what experience you’d like in the classroom. Although topics of extracurricular involvement and room and board will help shape your college experience, you are ultimately going to college to learn. After taking five semesters worth of classes, I have never had a teaching assistant (TA) teach a class. My notion of an intimidating, standoffish college professor was quickly disproven my first day of classes, as my statistics professor asked each student to say his or her name and where we were from. Verbatim, he said, “For any of you first-year students in this class, don’t be intimidated. I promise you all of your professors will be nice.” He did not mislead me.

What’s Greek Life like on campus? Villanova offers a whole host of opportunities for students to get involved on campus, one of which is Greek life. There are nine Panhellenic organizations, eight Interfraternity organizations, and eleven Multicultural Greek organizations on campus. I currently participate in a Panhellenic organization on campus and am incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities it has afforded me. I appreciate, however, that Greek life is not for everyone. Villanova enables students to involve themselves in a wide variety of on-campus organizations. Formal recruitment for Greek life organizations takes place second semester, which allows new students to build off of their involvement of first semester. There is no Greek housing, which allows Villanova students to meet more students in other groups as well. Out of my three current roommates, two of them are in different sororities and one is not involved in Greek life

Outside of these questions, it’s important to take in your whole experience on campus. Statistics and facts about a school are very important. It’s essential to get a feeling for the ways you can get involved, shape your expectations for your classroom experience and understand where you’ll most likely be living throughout your four years of college.

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The Oreo is a favorite spot on campus to hang out with friends – especially when it’s 75 degrees and sunny!

Beyond that, however, it’s important to look around. Look at the current students. See if they seem genuinely happy, or if they were just getting through their days. Do they all look stressed? Are they friendly? Are they helpful?

People are what make a community great, and that’s never been truer than here at Villanova. Knowing about class size and service opportunities helped shape my decision, but more than that, it was the personal experiences I had on campus that ultimately made me feel that Villanova was home.

Groundhog Day – A Californian Experiencing East Coast Winters

My senior year of high school, I was giddy with excitement to tell my friends and family where I decided to enroll for college. There is such a buildup in the month of April when it comes to college decisions—making last minute visits, creating lists of pros and cons in your head and, if you’re anything like me, polling your family members on where you should go.

When I finally made the decision to go to Villanova, my family was overjoyed, knowing it was the right choice for me. It was everything I wanted in a school and more. And when I told my high school classmates I was going to Villanova, they were thrilled for me. They always responded with a huge hug and congratulations. Then came the joke: “Don’t you think you’ll get a little cold in Philadelphia?” Being from San Francisco, California, I know I’m spoiled when it comes to the weather. I get it. “Cold” for me at home is around 40 degrees, while “cold” for me in suburban Philadelphia usually entails a snow day.

Before coming to Villanova, I’d never experienced a snow day in my life. I never really considered the weather when compiling my college list, because I decided if the school was right for me, the weather wouldn’t matter. But everyone else’s concerns over the cold winter temperatures on the East Coast made me a little more concerned.

After two full experiences of an East Coast winter, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not the biggest fan of snow. For a week over winter vacation, sure. But not week-in and week-out.

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The first ever Groundhog Day was held over a hundred years ago, predicting either a longer winter or the early arrival of spring!

That’s why, this coming Groundhog Day, I’m hoping that Pennsylvania’s own Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow. I am more than ready for spring to come early, and I’m hoping Phil will pull through for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a beautiful snow day. A blanket of white snow is always welcome, especially when I’m able to stay inside with my friends, enjoy a cup of tea, read a book and catch up on some work. The snow is not so welcome the days after, with bitter winds that make my walk to class feel like a trudge through the arctic tundra.

My first-year roommate, Brooke, is from Los Angeles. She had never seen snow before in her life, which I truly could not believe. People would ask me if I’d seen snow before coming to Villanova, to which I always said, “California isn’t just one big beach! We have mountains and skiing too, okay?” Brooke reinforced their notions, however, that some Californians really didn’t know what the snow had in store for us.

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My freshman year roommate Brooke and I loved our experience in Good Counsel Hall!

The first snow day we had at Villanova, Brooke and I were truly in awe. We woke up to alerts in our Villanova student emails that the school had been closed for the day due to the snowstorm. It seemed surreal. Both sitting in our beds, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. One whole day off from school?! This is paradise. What does one do on a snow day?

We eventually ventured out into the cold as we realized we needed some food. The short walk from Good Counsel Hall to Donahue Dining Hall on South Campus was filled with a lot of jumping and playing in the several inches of snow. Utilizing our Snapchat stories, we played to the fact that two Californians were having a ball on their very first snow day.

What took me a year to realize, however, is that the fun and excitement surrounding snow days was short lived. After our first snow day, Brooke and I realized what snow means for one’s daily operations. Snow is only beautiful for the first few days or so, which is a fact I was naively unprepared for. I imagined a winter wonderland from the months of December to March, but I have come to accept this may not be my reality. After the first day of a major snowstorm, people need to get on their way to work or school. The snow is then a nuisance. The trucks come out, prepared with salt, to move and melt the snow. What once was the snow Brooke and I played in quickly turned to slush.

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St. Thomas of Villanova Church surrounded by a blanket of snow!

Now in my junior year at Villanova, I’ve realized that being on the East Coast has made me adapt. I always contended that I would do just fine at a school that would have all four seasons. And once I enrolled at Villanova, it was time for me to live up to that. So to answer the question of whether I’d get a little cold in Philadelphia—yes. I have gotten a little cold in Philadelphia. It’s been more than worth it, though.

The cold winters are not as big a deal as everyone makes of it. I got a big coat, a nice hat and a good pair of boots. These additions to my wardrobe quickly remedied my hesitations about dealing with the cold. I didn’t want to limit myself by staying where the weather was always nice, because then that just means I would have stayed home. I wanted to explore something new, go to a different coast and see what I thought about going through a real winter. Snow is not my favorite, but Villanova is.

 

Return and Readjustment: Back From Abroad

It’s 5:30 a.m., and my parents are driving me to San Francisco International Airport. They help me unload my bags, and I check two of them. The airline employee comments, “Wow, you’re really cutting it close here,” referencing how unbelievably large these bags are. Little does he know that they contain four months worth of clothes, covering the winter and spring seasons of the East Coast. “Where are you going?” he asks. “Philadelphia,” I respond.

The last time my parents dropped me off at the airport in August, I was embarking on a four-month study abroad experience to Copenhagen, Denmark. That goodbye was filled with nervousness and uncertainty for what the next few months would bring, living in a city I’d never been to, with people I’d never met. This goodbye was different, however. Filled with anticipation and excitement, I could not wait to see the campus I’d parted with for about seven months.

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As I sat on my cross-country flight, my mind started to race to all of the unknowns. I hadn’t seen campus since May of 2017, and I’d wondered how it had changed. How was it going to be living on West Campus? Did people miss me? How was I going to acclimate back into the rigorous course load I had? Now that I’d opted out of a meal plan, how would I get a caramel iced coffee every morning from Holy Grounds? They were all hard-hitting questions. Nervousness set in, but was offset by excitement to see my roommates, who had all studied abroad as well.

After I land in Philadelphia, I collect all the boxes I’d left behind over the summer to finally move into my on-campus apartment. Exploring the contents of these boxes resembled going through a time capsule, recalling the last few days I was able to spend in Sheehan Hall my sophomore year. I was now more fully transitioning from residence hall life to apartment life. There was no longer just a need for a hamper and a desk lamp, but for kitchen supplies and living room decorations.

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My roommates and I eventually get the majority of our things unpacked, and decide to take a walk around campus to see what we’d missed. We quickly recognized all of the changes that were made in our semester-long absence. Mendel Field was in the middle of being transformed into a pedestrian-friendly green space. What was once a parking lot that ran along Lancaster Avenue was now the construction site for new student housing. We saw that the bridge connecting South Campus directly to St. Thomas of Villanova Church was fully constructed, getting final touches of stonework completed.

Despite these changes, there were many things that remained constant. I was still in awe of the Church’s beauty. I missed seeing the Oreo (or, more officially, “The Awakening”) in the middle of campus. Connelly Holy Grounds still seemed to be a safe haven for my caffeine obsession.

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And by the first day of classes, it was apparent that the physical growth on Villanova’s campus profoundly reflected the personal transformations I’ve seen with my friends and classmates. I’ve talked to numerous people who have joined new groups on campus, lined up exciting internships for the summer or are pursuing leadership roles in those groups they are already passionate about. People have made new friends, and grown closer to old ones. The people I’ve come to love the last two years at Villanova were evolving in their own, unique ways.

“How was abroad?” is the most common question I receive when reconnecting with people. This question is a simple one, and yet I never feel like I answer it to the fullest extent. Abroad was incredible for countless reasons. Living in Europe for four months will always be one of the best experiences of my life, not only because of what I learned while there, but also for the appreciation it gave me of everything I have at home. And which home?

I always find conflict within myself when trying to define what “home” is. I know it’s San Francisco, where my parents, siblings, dogs and childhood house are. But I also know that it’s here, at Villanova, where I learn about myself and where I learn about my community. It’s the place that gave me the opportunity to study in Europe, and the place that made me so excited to return.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at Villanova is that every semester, and every experience we have within those semesters, teaches us something important. My semester abroad is no different. It taught me about independence, taking chances and cultural differences. These lessons have changed me for the better. My semester abroad also reiterated a point that has impacted me the most in coming back—Villanova is home.

 

A Thanksgiving Abroad

I maintain that Thanksgiving is one of the most underrated holidays. You either like the food, or you don’t. (Hopefully you do!) There are no gifts. That’s a big one for a lot of people. You almost always see extended family and receive some overly personal questions about school or work or social life. It starts at “What’s your major?” and evolves into “So why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

(Because I haven’t found the right guy, okay?)

Yet being in Europe for this Thanksgiving, I realize just how much I’m missing out on. For starters, I’m missing out on Thanksgiving as a holiday. It’s a harsh fact of life that Europeans don’t get a day off to spend time with their families and eat delicious classics like turkey and pie. Their founders didn’t sit down with Native Americans for dinner.

Thus, there was no delay in full-fledged Christmas mode here in Copenhagen. After Halloween, the city set up Christmas lights over the main pedestrian streets. Christmas stalls were set up to sell everything from hot chocolate to gifts. Stores redecorated to incorporate wreaths and signs that read “God Jul,” which means “Merry Christmas” in Danish. All of this would be severely upsetting to my mother, because she has very strong feelings about not putting up Christmas lights before Thanksgiving.

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What I really miss about Thanksgiving at home are the things I didn’t know I’d be missing. I miss football. Football! I’m not a huge football fan, but there is something about watching NFL games in my family room over Thanksgiving break that makes it really feel like Thanksgiving.

I miss the low-level stress my family has around our Thanksgiving meal. I miss debating over our division of labor, who has mashed potatoes and who has Brussels sprouts. I miss making the pecan pie from what I thought was grandma’s recipe. (I was recently informed that that recipe is actually from a random person my dad met at a Thanksgiving meal he had with his friends in Washington, DC right after he graduated college.)

Although that doesn’t tell the beautiful grandmother-granddaughter story that I believed for 20 years, I think it still has good wisdom in it. There is someone out there that had dinner with my dad 30-plus years ago, when a group of recent college graduates from out of town decided to make Thanksgiving together. I don’t know who you are (on the off chance you read this), but thanks for giving me the best pecan pie recipe in the world. I make it every year. I hope your family makes it, too.

I even (very minimally) miss having to clean up with my siblings. Although it can be a very high-stress environment, there is always music and a lot of laughs. Hopefully my mom doesn’t see this, though. I might be on dish duty more frequently.

What I miss the most about Thanksgiving is the comfort. It’s the ease with which I can talk to my family and really, truly feel at home. When they say there’s no place like home, that’s no joke. It’s true, and it’s never been truer around the holidays. I’m blessed to be able to have such a wonderful meal every year. I’m blessed to have a family I love, and a family that can see each other on these holidays.

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You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. So, if you’re dreading going home for Thanksgiving because you’re going to see that random aunt from forever ago, I challenge you to embrace it. Embrace the moments you have where your house is warm and full of love, because those are the most important ones. Embrace the awkward conversations, because it’ll make for good inside jokes with your sister next year. Embrace helping out in the kitchen, because it might lead you to having a really funny and really genuine conversation with your dad.

Embrace your comfort.

Taking Action For Job Action

Jobs. Internships. Professional development. Networking.

These are all things we worry about, even before we reach our first years of college. Even when I was in high school, I had to check boxes on college applications regarding what I wanted my major to be, a decision that at the time seemed to be momentous. What was I good at? What did I want to do?

In my case, I knew I didn’t want to do anything involving math or science. I wasn’t particularly bad at these subjects, but man, I did not enjoy them. I knew I liked my English and history courses, but I couldn’t see myself pursuing anything seriously in one of those fields. So, like many 17 year olds, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

And, in high school, a lot of people told me that it was, in fact, fine that I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career. Many adults I knew joked about how they still weren’t even close to knowing what they wanted to do – or, that they thought they did and very quickly realized it was the wrong path.

But, more and more, I found that not knowing what you want to do seemed less and less acceptable. It was fine in high school, and maybe fine in my first year, but by sophomore year it seemed like I should know. And I wanted to! But I didn’t know where to start. I knew that I liked people and writing, but not much beyond that. I felt that my friends were inching closer to what they saw as a realistic future for themselves, and I was still stuck in that in between feeling of knowing I had potential, but not knowing where to direct it.

In my sophomore year, I finally declared to be a Communication major – something, I thought, that could be applied to a wide variety of professions. And, after all, I knew I loved communicating. Verbal or written, I think it is fascinating how we as humans experience communication. I find it interesting to look at communication in a non-linear way, as a study and profession that constantly evolves and expands. The more classes I took with the passionate professors in the Communication Department, the more I found my own passion for this field of study.

Finally, at the end of sophomore year, my wonderful friend Sydney invited me to be a part of the Odyssey at Villanova. This online platform gives students across the country an outlet to share thoughts about anything from pop culture to the political climate. Not thinking anything of it, I joined to help out my friend. I wrote a few articles and realized I actually enjoyed writing about my own observations or experiences. I thought of it as a hobby or an outlet, not necessarily a life move.

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Sydney, the wonderful woman who inspired me to write!

 

Much to my surprise (and pleasure), I was then approached to write for this wonderful Villanova Admissions blog over the summer. Justin Ledesma, who coordinates this awesome blog, said that he saw some of my articles on the Odyssey and thought I would be a good fit for the student blogger position. I remember reading this email from Justin, almost shocked it was intended for me. I always just enjoyed writing, I didn’t actually think I was good at it.

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But, here I am now, writing for the Villanova Admissions blog. Was this a strategic move for my professional development? Not necessarily. I just told a friend I’d help her out. Fortunately, someone saw some talent in my writing, and it led me to this wonderful opportunity. Perhaps job action is just about taking action – action over our lives, our goals and our talents. This furthering of our careers is intertwined with furthering ourselves as people.

Sometimes, especially as students, we think of professional development in such rigid terms. We think of networking events, business cards and suits. And yes, that is a crucial part of it. But another major factor is figuring out what you actually want to do in the bigger scheme. Part of our professional development is our human development – taking leadership roles, writing in our free time, volunteering more – not because it will help our resumes, but because it will help us.

So, take a step in the right direction and take a chance. You might not know it will bring you closer to your calling, but it’s worth a shot.