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Blog posts by claire

What is the #AQdifference?

The hashtag AQdifference is a popular one throughout the Aquinas College’s community.  It can be tracked throughout Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  It’s become a way for students, faculty, staff and departments to highlight their unique experiences at Aquinas College that make it stand out amongst other schools.

But what exactly is the AQ difference?  Well, here’s what the #AQdifference is to me.  It is:

  • a professor hosting an event called “Puppies and Pizza” to celebrate the completion of class by bringing in 3 of his dogs for the class to play with and ordering pizza
  • a random anonymous fellow saint paying for your bagel at The Moose when you’re three pennies short
  • when a professor hands back your writing portfolio and says, “It was a pleasure reading your work again”
  • passing by a fellow saint on the way to class and they say, “it’s so sunny and you look beautiful!”
  • meeting your future bridesmaids, potential godparents to your children, and your best friends on the first day of orientation
  • getting done talking with a staff member about how stressed you are about exams and they leave the conversation by saying “I’m going to pray for you and I’m not just saying that, I’m going to go say a prayer for you right now.”
  • the opportunity to participate in four service-learning trips and a study abroad program during your four years as a student
  • receiving an email from a professor that says, “I’m looking forward to having you in class again!”
  • wanting to be back on campus only two days after leaving it for summer break
  • bonding with other students through retreats that take you on 40 mile trips or backpacking on South Manitou Island
  • a professor that starts all of his classes by addressing his students as “persons of quality”
  • your middle school dreams coming true when singer Teddy Geiger performs “For You I Will” at the Refresh Yourself event
  • a professor taking time out of class to discuss the importance of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health
  • being assigned to watch The Office in order to analyze the organizational communication within Dunder Mifflin
  • the barista at The Moose Café knowing your regular drink and has started already making it before you even order
  • when a professor you had once freshman year still remembers your name four years later and always asks how you’re doing as you pass by on campus
  • being invited to lunch with the Dominican Sisters of Marywood and having them bless you
  • when the president of the college serves you eggs at the annual Exam Cram breakfast

Finally, it’s when you’re preparing for graduation and instead of feeling lost and hopeless, you feel confident going into the “real” world and capable that you can grab all the successes you want, while also being able to look back on your four years at Aquinas and feel like you got everything you had hoped and more out of the experience.

The #AQdifference is what makes you proud to be known as an Aquinas College Saint.

Community with AQ Faculty and Staff

One of the greatest aspects of going to a small school like Aquinas is the relationship that can be built between students and the faculty and staff.  I admire a lot of the professors and staff members who I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with.  The community that is easily fostered from a small school environment makes it so even when you’re not regularly interacting with a professor or staff member, they still remember you after time apart.  Just this past week, I have had two wonderful interactions with a faculty and staff member at Aquinas.

I first met writing professor, Pamela Dail-Whiting, last fall semester.  I was enrolled in her Creative Writing I class.  Throughout the semester she was supportive and affirming to all of her students and their work.  She was great at acknowledging people in their strengths and challenging them to face their weaknesses.  It’s because of Pamela that I decided to become a writing minor and why I’m currently enrolled in her Creative Writing II class.  After the first class of Creative Writing II, she said to me, “Claire, I’m so glad to have you back in class!  I’m excited!  It’s good to see you!”  It’s been over a year since I last had a conversation of quality with her and she’s still able to recall my name and pieces of work I wrote in Creative Writing.

The director of the Writing Center is Julie Bevins. Even though this is my second year being involved in the Writing Center, I have only occasionally talked with Julie one on one.  However, whenever I see her she’s always asking me about what I’m doing and how I am.  After I’ve given her my life updates she always asks what she can do.  She genuinely wants to know how she can better help you and your pursuit of your goals.  I feel like every time I’m leaving her she says, “let me know how I can help!” and she truly means it.  This week when I was working in the Writing Center, she started a casual conversation with me that turned into a solid 20 minute discussion about what I’m doing in my senior year at Aquinas and what I want to do after.  Throughout this conversation, multiple times she suggested ways she can help or asked me questions about where I might need assistance. She made me feel like I’m not alone, and she’s great at making others feel like they can do and handle everything they have going on.

These brief interactions with professors and staff members make Aquinas feel safe and comfortable.  I appreciate being able to attend a school where I can a bond with people I look up to and it is not always focused in the classroom.  Because of the positive relationships I have with my professors and staff members, I feel like I’m not just attending school.  I’m being welcomed into a community that exists outside the classroom and that will last even after I graduate and leave.

Reservations About Going to the Reservations


From October 16th to October 24th, I had the opportunity to work and learn about life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  This opportunity was given to me through Aquinas College and it was my fourth service-learning trip through the college.  The service part of this trip was focused on helping to build sustainable housing.  The learning part was focused on learning more about what reservation life is like, specifically for the people of the Lakota tribe.

Once I found out I was accepted on this trip, I had some hesitations about whether or not I wanted to go.  Being a senior and having already been on three service learning trips and studied abroad, I wasn’t sure if I should attend another trip.  I felt like I would just compare it to my past experiences and wouldn’t be able to fully be there.  I didn’t want to go in half-heartedly because that wouldn’t be fair to myself, the group, or the new people I would be trying to be a service to.

But, I also was really looking forward to spending time with a new group of people, being immersed in a new community and culture, and getting out of the city of Grand Rapids for a bit.  So, I put aside my hesitations for the time being and accepted the offer to go.  I’m very glad I did, because the trip was honestly the best service learning trip I’ve been on.

The group of Aquinas students I went with was amazing.  Everyone kept an open heart and mind, was always willing to help out in any form, and never stopped smiling or laughing while still being able to reflect maturely on our experiences.  The service we were doing was giving hope to the hopeless.  We worked with Henry Red Cloud who is a direct descendent of Chief Red Cloud.  He is using sustainable practices to help better the life of people living on the reservation.  The project we specifically worked on was helping to insulate a house being built for a family on the reservation.  This is a house that this family will be able to call home and will keep them warm when they need to be warm and cool when they need to be cool, a place that the children of the family can look forward to going home to after school.  Finally, we were educated about how beautifully the Lakota people view the world and their past despite some of the struggles they’re facing.  Pine Ridge Reservation is in a community where things like alcoholism, diabetes, suicide, and depression are at an all time high.  Even though these people are in such a toxic and decaying environment, they still love the earth and are able to value the good in it.  They still value education and the children are working towards getting degrees that can later on help their home roots.

This past trip helped show me the impact continuous small efforts can make.  The organization that Henry Red Cloud works with can only build one sustainable house a year, but those houses and the school are little beacons of hope.  They’re able to show those who are struggling that there is a solution and a way for things to be better.  I was so inspired by the people of Pine Ridge reservation and surprised at how quickly I felt a part of their reservation community.  The trip has motivated me to want to learn more about the Lakota culture and to one day go back and continue to help people with their struggles.  Looking back, all the hesitations I had about going seem so silly.  This was a trip that was unbelievably unique and not at all comparable to trips I’ve been on before.  It’s not that the other trips I’ve been on were bad.  Not at all.  I’ve loved every trip I’ve had the privilege of attending.  However, I feel like I left this trip feeling like I had more purpose in life and a strong connection to the reservation lifestyle and struggles.

Aquinas is so great at providing its students with many opportunities to grow into the best Saints we can be.  I am incredibly thankful that I chose to attend Aquinas College and was encouraged by fellow students and faculty and staff to go on trips like service learning trips that educate us outside of a classroom setting and give us hands on experience with real issues.

Falling In Love With Ireland

Last Spring Semester I had the opportunity to live in Ireland for four months through Aquinas College’s study abroad program.  I can easily and honestly say that it was the best four months of my life.  I’m not sure how anything else will ever top it, and I’m not sure if I want anything else to.  It’s hard to explain to others who have never been to Ireland or on a study abroad trip just how wonderful and life-changing it can be.  People are able to recognize the beauty in the pictures you post on Facebook and the sadness you probably feel having to be back in America, but they aren’t able to truly understand.  It’s by no means their fault, it’s just the way that the studying abroad culture works.

Studying abroad is very much like being in a new relationship.  Throughout my whole study abroad experience, I couldn’t help but feel similar feelings to what it was like to date someone new.  When preparing to go to Ireland, I talked to people who had gone on the trip before about what it was like in Ireland and what I should know.  This aspect of studying abroad was like when you ask friends for advice on dating.  Preparing for Ireland was like preparing to start seeing someone new.  You found people that had more experience than you did and have more insight to give you and you ask them questions and try your best to gain as much knowledge as possible.  When I was preparing for Ireland, I was also continuously feeling nervous and excited simultaneously much like how you feel when talking to someone new or going on a first day.

Once I was in Ireland, I was trying new things and re-defining myself.  I went and explored new views, ate different foods, and lived a different way of life.  When you’re in a new relationship, you also go out and try things you may not have done on your own.  You may try a new sport or eat food you normally wouldn’t eat.  Your life is influenced by who you’re dating, just as my life was influenced by living in Ireland.  While I was in Ireland, I was also becoming a different version of myself.  I wasn’t the same person I was when I left for Ireland.  I was growing and changing.  The same happens when you date someone.  You become a different person and a part of you changes.

Leaving Ireland was the worst.  Leaving Ireland was like breaking up with someone you love very dearly and want to be with, but you know that it has to end for the good of you both.  When I said goodbye to Ireland, I felt the most extreme kind of emotional pain.  I desperately wanted to stay and continue on with my Irish life, but I also knew I had to leave because I had a family and friends and other goals waiting for me back in America and life just has to go on.  This felt like a break up that you didn’t want to happen, but knew it was inevitable.  Like with any typical break up, I cried, ate lots of ice cream, and tried to move on as best I could while still holding onto the great memories of the past.

It’s been 5 months since I had to break up with Ireland.  I’m still adjusting to being back, and I still miss it everyday, but the most extreme of the pain has subsided.  I’ve moved on in a healthy way.  I’ll never forget my experiences in Ireland, and I eventually do want to move back and live there, but for now, I’m coping and enjoying the time that’s in front of me.

All this being said, I’m the kind of person who would never go back to someone that broke my heart.   I think it’s too painful and you end up just trying to re-live something that can’t be re-lived in the same way.  I’m the kind of person who guards my emotions and tries to experience the least amount of pain.  I do my best to prevent myself from getting hurt.  However, I would leave my family, friends, and everything else in my life if it meant I could experience Ireland all over again.  I would gladly experience the worst kind of pain I’ve ever felt a second time just to be with the country I love.

I encourage any in-coming and current students to heavily consider studying abroad.  It really is an adventure unlike any other and it’s something that you’ll never regret.  It takes a lot of courage to leave your family and your comfortable life and go immerse yourself in a new country, but you come out of the experience a new person that you’ll appreciate it.  Go out and get your heart broken, because it will make you love yourself and this world a whole lot more.

Senior-itis turned into Senior i-can-do-this

The last stretch of senior year comes with a lot of work.  You have to make sure you have taken all the credits and classes you need to graduate on time.  You have to start to prepare for graduate school, or start looking for a job.  You also have to make sure you enjoy the last few months you have with your friends and favorite faculty and staff members.  This can all be overbearing.  Seniors can get bogged down by having to say goodbye to some things while simultaneously saying hello to others.  Senior-it is, the desire to just be done and the feeling of kind of over school, can easily be contracted.

Going into my senior year at Aquinas, I thought for sure that I would catch the senior-itis bug.  This was my first semester back at school after studying abroad in Ireland last spring, and I wasn’t sure how I was feeling about classes, graduation, and school in general.  The first day of school came and instead of being excited and looking forward to seeing all of my fellow AQ Saints, I had a feeling of disinterest.  But, by the end of the week, that feeling of disinterest I had on the first day had turned into enthusiasm for the rest of the weeks to come.

As a senior, the majority of the classes I’m taking this semester apply directly to the majors and minors I’m pursuing.  This had me nervous at first because that meant every class required my hardest work and full attention.

I am now heading into my fifth week of senior year.  I can’t believe how fast the year is going.  I think time is going by so quickly because I’m really enjoying many aspects of my senior year.  I absolutely love all my classes. Normally when I have to read for class, I tend to skim the material if it doesn’t interest me.  This hasn’t been the case for my classes this semester.  The reading that I’m required to do not only applies to the class, but it applies to the larger field of what I want to go into with my degrees.  I can see the benefit in the reading that I’m doing.  For example, the first week of school I was assigned to read the whole textbook for my Community Leadership Practicum class.  I was not looking forward to trying to read a whole book in a week on top of the other assignments and time commitments I had going on.  But, when I sat down to read it, I was surprised–in a good way.  Instead of skimming through, I was taking my time and really trying to make sure I was getting everything out the text that I wanted.  I was making notes in texts to go back and re-read certain passages because I felt like they were worth another read.  I had finished half of the book no problem and was excited to keep going.

Also, the papers I have to write and assignments I have to do don’t feel so burdening.  Homework to any extent isn’t necessarily enjoyable, but when you’re doing work that you know is going to help you post graduation and help you better understand the purpose of your majors and minors and help you toward the path to a career, you don’t put it off as much.  Another example of this is when I sat down to revise an essay I wrote for Advanced Composition.  Normally, I hate revising papers.  HATE it.  But, after learning in class why revising is a sign of ability and not a punishment, I was able to tackle my paper with ease.  I ended up treating my revising process like a puzzle game.  What could I add, delete, or change in order to get the “winning” paper?  Freshman year me wouldn’t have even read the paper when I was done writing it, but senior me was reading it out loud and asking others to read it as well.

Yes, my classes are harder than what I took my first year of Aquinas, but I actually look forward to going to class and feel satisfied leaving.  I think it’s because you find a new respect and interest for what you’re going into.  You can start to see the potential of where your classes are going to take you in your future.  This is the attitude I just have to remind myself of when finals come around!

Being so happy with my classes is what has really changed my attitude to senioritis diagnosed to senior I can do this.  College, especially senior year, is far too short to spend every week dreading going to class. So why not embrace it?

A Semester in Ireland

Something on a lot of college students bucket lists, especially at AQ, is to study abroad for a semester at some point in their college career.  Having the opportunity to experience another country and culture while earning credit for school is the best of both worlds.

I was lucky enough to be able to seize this opportunity beginning my sophomore year at AQ.  I had applied for the Ireland semester in the Spring of 2015, and a year later, here I am writing this post in the beautiful country.

I’ve been here for about two weeks, but it has felt longer (in a good way).  Aquinas has sent 22 students and two professors to Ireland for this semester.  We live in the village of Tully Cross on the Renvyle Peninsula in the county of Galway, which is on the western coast.  We live in thatched roof cottages that have up to three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, bathroom shower, and a backyard full of views of mountains, the ocean, and cows.

The way our classes are set up is that we meet around two to three times a week.  For example, this past week we had our Irish Literature class on Monday from 6 to 9pm and Irish History on Tuesday from 6 to 9pm.  We also had a hike on Wednesday afternoon for our hiking class.  The classes are held in the study cottage, which is a cottage reserved for all of our academic supplies and for our lecture space.  It’s a little small, but it’s cozy and personal.  We also have the opportunity to do an internship while we are here.  Our intership schedules vary, but for the most part, we go to our internships on Tuesday and Thursday mornings until 1pm.  The internships range from working in the local schools or at the colleges or even helping out at animal shelters.  I am interning at the local radio station and learning how to create and edit my own radio broadcast.

In our free time we go on hikes, talk to the locals, play pool and dance in the pubs, and explore what has become our new home.  It’s hard to express how much fun we have had and how much we have learned in such a short amount of time.  It’s also hard for us to actually grasp that we’re all here and going to be here for many more weeks.  But, it’s wonderful knowing that we were all given this opportunity and that Tully Cross and Aquinas have such a great bond and history.

Write in the Center of Campus

This year, I have had the wonderful opportunity to start working in AQ’s Writing Center.  The Writing Center is a resource on campus that helps students become better writers and more confident in their writing by working with them on a personal and interactive level.  Students are encouraged to bring in any kind of writing they are working on, no matter what stage of the writing process they are in.

As a first year on campus, I had heard little about the Writing Center and never utilized it.  It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I began to hear more about all the great things the Writing Center can do.  I had a friend who was enrolled in the class that teaches and trains students to become Writing Center consultants.  She nominated me to be in the course, and a year later I am finishing up the class.

What I think makes the Writing Center so great and so effective is that the people who are consultants are also students.  We are able to be empathetic and understand the struggles and challenges of writing in college because we are experiencing it too.  We are in the same boat as the clients that we are serving.  I have had clients that have come in with the exact same assignments I’ve done for professors.  Having that first hand experience and knowledge is how the Writing Center is able to be successful and how it has been able to help so many students.  After each consultation, we asked that our clients fill out feedback forms.  We request that people write down suggestions, what they thought was helpful about the consultation, what they thought was not helpful, and just anything that can help us improve what we do.  Reading these feedback forms is a treat; sometimes we find out we’re helping our clients in ways we didn’t know and they express how appreciative they are.  An example of this is how one client had never thought to have someone read her paper to her.  Sometimes consultants will read a clients paper to them so the client can hear their own words and experience their writing in a new way.  It can help the client hear how their message is received.  It was a basic technique that helped her more than she thought it would.

Being a consultant has also made me a better writer.  In the past, I used to hate having to revise my papers or have other people read over my writing.  I was protective over my words and had this idea that what I had written was fine just the way it is.  But, I’ve learned that revisions and work shopping and getting feedback is not a punishment.  It is a way to simply become better.  Asking for help and going to the Writing Center should not be seen as a weakness or that a writer isn’t good at writing.   It shows that a writer cares about their work enough to want to make it the best it can be.

The Writing Center is another example of how much Aquinas cares about the people that call it home.  We want our Saints to succeed in everything that they do and we try to offer as many resources to reach that success.  It’s not secret that AQ students are beyond capable, but it’s also nice to know that we have the support when we need it.

Pre-Thanksgiving Snow Day– No Way!

The hopes of having a snow day, of being able to sleep in, of not having to go to school, do not simply continue after your childhood, but heighten as a college student.  We track the Doppler radar, try to estimate how many inches we have, and constantly check our emails hoping to have a notice that classes are cancelled.  This protocol would be acceptable and expected come January at the peak of winter and its snowstorms.  However, Aquinas didn’t just get an early Christmas present this year, we got an early Thanksgiving treat.

On November 19th, the Aquinas College campus was closed due to the weather, and all classes were cancelled for students.  I wasn’t really expecting the day off, but I had no complaints.  I love my classes at Aquinas, but I’d be crazy if I wasn’t thankful for a day to just de-stress and relax.  As a college student, it can be hard to handle classes, clubs, work, friends and family.  The result is that free time and just enjoying yourself can be put last on the list of priorities.  I think the world took note of how hard the Aquinas Saints were working and granted us the day off to refresh ourselves.

FALL(ing in love with service) Break

One of the perks of being an AQ Saint that I appreciate most is the break we are given in the middle of our Fall semester.  After eight weeks of classes, homework, and studying, Aquinas students are able to spend a whole week at rest to help prepare for the next eight weeks of the semester.  A lot of students spend their week at home eating delicious meals prepared by their moms, binge watching Netflix shows, and sleeping in.  It’s great.  However, a great alternative to going home or staying on campus is to attend a Service-Learning trip.

During my sophomore year fall break, I went on a Service-Learning trip to West Virginia.  I was able to spend a week at Bethlehem Farm.  The goal of the Bethlehem Farm trip is learn more about sustainable practices and home repair while being a service to other people.  Every day I had the opportunity to do farm work, cook fresh meals, and meet and benefit the people in the surrounding area.  The main service component of the week was helping local residents near Bethlehem Farm prepare their homes for the winter.  This involved insulating houses, re-doing roofs, and installing rails.  My favorite moment from the week was when my group finally finished building a small step porch for a local man’s home.  We had spent all day cutting boards, measuring, and hammering nails in the cold and rain.  It was all worth it to see how happy and thankful the man was for our service.  He kept telling us that it would have taken him days or weeks to finish what we had done in a day.

This year, I have been given another wonderful opportunity to go on a Service-Learning trip for my fall break.  I will be spending my week in Maine doing work at the Acadia National Park.   As much as I love going home and being able to see my mom and sleep in, and as much as I need a good break from all the homework I’ve been keeping up with, I always find myself signing up for these trips.  I do this because I get the most joy when I am using my time to make others happy and to help make the world just a little bit better.

Before coming to Aquinas, I did have a great interest in service.  But, it was spending time at Aquinas and with other students that really made me realize how much I love helping others in ways I didn’t think I could.  The Service-Learning trips I have attended have given me such great memories but an even greater appreciation for my college.  I’m thankful that I am attending a school that offers these kinds of experiences for students and supports my love for others.


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