Greg O'Donnell (ND '08, PSY/HIST/ESS)
As a sophomore at Notre Dame, Greg O'Donnell had already declared a double major when he added ESS as a minor to explore his growing interest in education. Greg knew that he wanted to pursue teaching after graduation and explains, "I wanted to learn more about how education played a larger role in society, especially as an interdisciplinary field that paralleled some of the areas of study in my majors." Though he was one of only two men in ESS at the time (affectionately known as its "token males"), his experience was one of intense support and collegiality. About ESS professors he says, "They viewed our classes in the context of how we could engage with the issues, and they always encouraged us to pursue our interests and gain real life experience related to those issues." To this day, Greg connects with his former ESS professors when he can.
After graduation, Greg became a certified teacher and earned his master's of education through the ACE program. From there he went on to teach Santiago, Chile, before returning here as an associate director with ACE's Leadership Programs. Two years ago, Greg also began pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership."I often find myself looking back to the foundation of understanding around educational policies that I developed through my work in the ESS minor," he tells us. The program intrroduced him "to the intracacies of how education plays a larger role in the political and social milieu than just in everyday instruction and formation of children...If we are to truly form students for college and heaven, we need to understand not only their individual learning styles, but also how their personal and community relationships assist in this process."
Greg adds leadership as a key component in correcting what ails American education today. Equipping school leaders with the skills and zeal needed to truly transform an entire community is, he emphasizes, "the most important thing we can do to improve schools."
Kendra Reiser (ND '15, PSY/ESS)
When she was an ND undergrad, she joined the men’s rowing team as a coxswain and took interest in the leadership roles it offered. She graduated as president of the team her senior year. Meantime, she worked and researched in Psych labs and in ESS. She tutored at the Robinson Community Learning Center and volunteered in Casablanca through the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. She wrote her senior thesis on English as a New Language. Through each of these activities, Kendra defined and chased her passion.
“If it’s important to you, do that. That’s what matters to Notre Dame: you are becoming your own person. I was provided with these amazing resources; these amazing professors and staff that really allowed me to pursue opportunities that were in line with my beliefs, my thinking, and my passions,” Kendra said.
Today Kendra is serving as a Fulbright scholar in Indonesia. Read her full story here.
Erica Wells (ND '08, PSY/ESS)
Erica Wells, a former teacher for TFA (pictured below with her students), is currently enrolled in the clinical psychology Ph.D. program at Florida State University. We recently caught up with Erica for a little Q&A about her experience in the ESS minor and how it has informed her development to date. Here's what she had to say.
What led you to become an ESS minor?
I took Educational Psychology as an elective during my sophomore year, and I very quickly became interested in the topic of educational inequity and its ramifications for our communities.
What one or two things do you remember best about the program?
The senior thesis was such an illuminating research experience for me, and it helped give me the confidence to pursue doctoral-level studies. Secondly, the small, discussion-based classes deeply shaped my perspectives on education, multiculturalism, economic disparity, and the concept of privilege.
How has your ESS minor informed the way you understand education in society today?
ESS was an important jumping-off point for me, in terms of political and social awareness and activism.The coursework helped challenge my longstanding assumptions about education, such as the idealistic perspective that all American children begin on an equal playing field.
How has your ESS minor informed your current work/service/vocation?
The ESS minor was a crucial part of my decision to join Teach For America after graduation (2008-2010), and I continued to teach in a public school district for an additional four years. I still feel very passionately about educational opportunities and the distribution of resources to enhance educational equity. My current work involves teaching at FSU, as well as research to better understand children with learning and behavioral difficulties (e.g., ADHD) that may contribute to academic failure and other negative life outcomes.