The Student’s Path as a Hero’s Journey – Faculty Highlight from Notre Dame de Namur University

Therese Madden / Notre Dame de Namur University

A note from the CoD team:

Associate Professor Therese Madden, EdD, won the Notre Dame de Namur University 2019 Keller Teaching Excellence Award. As director of the Professional Studies Program and teacher in the Human Services and Intensive Business programs, Dr. Madden embodies the passion, dedication, and leadership that we value so highly at Colleges of Distinction. 

We think a college education is worth more than just a degree. The real value lies in the experiences, relationships, and values developed along the way. NDNU exemplifies what it means to be a College of Distinction; students are prepared for meaningful work, lifelong learning, and positive community engagement. In her speech at NDNU’s fall 2019 Convocation ceremony, Professor Madden praises students who arrive on campus and make the best of their education despite adversity. Continue reading to find out why Professor Madden believes college students are heroes. 


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If I were to sum up the experience of the hardworking, persevering college students I know in one word, it would be heroes. So many students overcome barriers to arrive on their college campuses. One student recently told me, “I still get butterflies every time I come to class,” because she feels so grateful to be here. I have such respect for these students and their journeys, more so because I see that so many of them use that experience to fuel their determination to use their education to do great things. These students are true heroes.

It is you, the students, who come to college from many backgrounds, with incredibly diverse experiences, and with a common story—whether you know it yet or not—of hope for and in the future, a future of better economic mobility for yourselves and your families, and of a better world for all.

Our culture so often speaks of doing good versus making a living, as if those are opposites. In fact, making a living and making the world a better place are absolutely consistent with one another. Our biological sciences students may go on to become doctors and make an impact on patient’s lives; our sociology students may lead major initiatives to relieve homelessness; and our business students will learn to run community-based organizations—otherwise known as companies—where people are treated ethically, where institutionalized discriminatory practices are ended, and where a community of workers provide quality products while creating ethical working conditions that sustain communities.

We believe in you, we are inspired by you, we look forward to growing with you, and… we are counting on you. We hear terribly depressing news every day and it is easy to feel dismal about our future. And there are plenty of problems, troubling and very real. But the more important truth—the one that rises above even the most troubling news—is that there are heroes out there in every industry. We believe—we KNOW—that you have already begun your journey to make your own contributions to a better world.

It’s important to tell the stories of our students and alumni to demonstrate how you contribute to this positive dynamic.

One student who comes to mind is Carmen. Carmen walked into my office after her first few classes, closed the door, and began to cry. She wasn’t crying because she was upset, but because she was so moved. In her classes, she was finding that she was being transformed beyond her expectations by the implications of deeper and broader education, the inevitable questions that such understanding raises, and by her unexpected questioning of long-standing assumptions. She was gaining critical thinking skills, and most importantly, she was beginning to understand her own personal power and the responsibility of the individual to society. When Carmen graduated, she used the inspiration, education, and skills acquired in college to start her own nonprofit. Her organization provides tools and a positive example to parents of students in elementary schools, many of whom are refugees, to help them understand our educational system and support their children in creating sustainable academic aspirations.

The other student I think of is Marcus. While at our university, Marcus started his own business, one that began through class projects, which he then implemented during his final year of school. He described his business as a lifelong dream of a high-quality, accessible, and community-based martial arts program. Even before he graduated, he reported that his experience was paying dividends both financially and spiritually, allowing him to serve more clients more effectively.

So, what do we believe? We believe in our students, know of the odds that many of you have overcome to enroll in college, and the parents and relatives in your lives who have inspired you with hard work. We know that you have the capacity to improve our communities, that you have already begun the journey to do so. We don’t just believe it as hypothetical, we see it in your stories, both while you are taking classes, and later, when you put your education to work. We know that you are on a hero’s journey, one that has inevitable challenges. We know that you will take those challenges, use them to ignite your passions toward your own unique purpose in the world, work hard, get great jobs and wonderful promotions, and along the way do amazing work to infuse our world with justice, compassion, and improved conditions for others. We welcome you and are honored to work with you, as you discern your own purpose, build the foundations of successful careers, and prepare yourselves to meet the needs of the world.


Learn More About Notre Dame de Namur University

Notre Dame de Namur (NDNU) features small classes that average 15 students, personal attention, quality courses and instructors, and a range of majors. Professors at NDNU are not only gifted instructors, but they are also committed to advising and mentoring students through the college journey. Individual learning is a key feature of an NDNU education. The university strives to give students the tools, knowledge, and inspiration to successfully engage and expand their talents. NDNU’s location also presents learning opportunities through community engagement and internships that can’t be found elsewhere.