Gonzaga University is one of 27 Jesuit universities. However, what people may not know is what that actually means. The value of a Jesuit education goes much deeper than religion and transcends all areas of study.
“In my own work, I am constantly referring to the writings of Jesuits and the guidance that is periodically given locally, regionally and internationally, said Thayne McCulloh, president of Gonzaga, in an email. “The Jesuits have developed priorities for their works, and there is an expectation that all Jesuit works will pay attention to and in some way reflect those priorities in their own works. Placing our aspirations as Gonzaga University in the context of the Jesuit mission is very important to me.”
The Jesuit tradition spans over four centuries. The Jesuits used their platform to lead people both spiritually and educationally and have worked to link the two.
“There is a sense that the education expense and understanding is rooted in Jesuit philosophies and historical traditions and the Catholic intellectual tradition,” said Deena González, provost and senior vice president at GU. “But it is also broad and encompassing of many other kinds of traditions. The exploration of all those other traditions is just as important as a deeper understanding though philosophy, history, classics and religious studies of the Jesuit and Catholic traditions.”
Jesuit institutions do not ask students to identify with any religion. They only ask that students come in with an open mind and be ready and willing to learn about a variety of topics. This is why Jesuit values and liberal arts values fit hand in hand.
“If you look at the origin of the word education – educere – it means to lead out,” said González. “That was part of St. Ignatius’ formation, his own thinking and life and his practices of being a spiritual person. He believed in leading out and helping people to become leaders. I think that’s a way in which students see that modeled at this institution.”
When GU built its curriculum, specifically its core curriculum, it kept this idea in mind. The university wanted students to find deeper meaning in everything they learn and use it to make the world a better place.
There are phrases that will be sprinkled across one’s time at GU such as ‘cura personalis’, ‘develop the whole person’, ‘meet people where they’re at’, ‘social justice’, ‘common good’ — the list goes on. These phrases are chosen and applied carefully across all disciplines and, whether students know it or not, are the core system used to develop almost all the programming both inside and outside of the classroom.
“Well-educated Jesuit university graduates not only grasp the domain of their particular disciplines, but reflect exposure to — and understanding of — a broad array of courses designed to deepen their cognitive and expressive abilities. [They] expand their understanding of human nature as well as fundamental questions of existence and of the divine, cultivate an appreciation of the arts and culture and foster the imagination to apply their learning toward positive transformation in our world,” said McCulloh.
The practical application of Jesuit values is where things may be less clear. Through in-class discussions, extracurricular activities and outreach every department on campus takes Jesuit thinking into account and then applies it to their work.
For example, in the College of Arts and Sciences a math student may wonder how calculus applies to Jesuit values. The answer is through service. The math department works hard in the realm of community outreach to help lift up the surrounding community through math tutoring on the weekends.
Another example would be the Science in Action program, which helps with science and education activities in the community.
“Part of our mission statement is to engage with meaningful problems with local communities,” said Matt Bahr, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
All 23 of the departments within this college regardless of discipline are very involved in the community Bahr said.
“The engineering education allows you to create and discover,” said Karlene Hoo, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “But, since we’re realist we ask can everyone use it?”
“Here at Gonzaga we’re asking students to be creative in how they learn the core values we have here,” Hoo said. “For example, some learning might come through spiritual praying while my learning may come from reading about it. So, I think it’s important to recognize there are many different ways to embrace [this education] and find how it works for you.”
The School of Business requires students to take a business ethics course and offers a sustainable business minor. It also uses core classes to cover ethics and social responsibility through Jesuit ideas. The business school is heavily invested in getting their students into competitions so they can have real world experience and live out the idea of “learning by doing” said Ken Anderson, the dean of the School of Business.
The Law School works hard to develop students both academically and as people.
“[The faculty allows Jesuit values] to motivate and fuel their teaching. It’s also part of our learning outcomes as an institution,” said Jacob Rooksby, the dean of the School of Law.
Rooksby cited the school’s interest in implementing humanism into its work, having tough conversations that would otherwise be avoided at some universities and helping students find the intersection of law, ethics, morality and policy.
In the School of Leadership Studies, the focus is on one primary Jesuit value: servant leadership.
“The Jesuit leadership model is core to all our academic programs,” said Rosemarie Hunter, dean of the School of Leadership Studies. “We have programs that are holistic in nature so students get engaged in the community. We develop a learning community which engages students with each other and their community.”
The hope of the majority of the faculty and staff at GU is that students leave their experience on campus better people who are ready and willing to make the world a better place.
“It’s great when you find students who have had a great academic training but also they deepen their faith and were able to make good friends that may be lifelong friends,” said Fr. Michael Connolly, professor of political science at GU.
GU wants its students to be the best they can possibly be both academically and personally.
“I think other schools are focused on getting students in, credentialed and out and gainfully employed, all things we do here," said Matthew Barcus, program manager of LGBTQ+ education and support. "But, here we are also asking how do we take somebody and their essence, the uniqueness, and how do we further that, how do we further challenge and support them through their individual and community growth, which is something I don’t see in other universities that don’t have that philosophical underpinning." The goal of a Jesuit education is to teach people values that will benefit the common good."
McCulloh said he believes the world needs people who realize that their education is not only theirs, but something that makes the world around them better.
“The world needs people who are selfless enough to lead, cognizant enough of the human condition that they are willing to serve others to advance the common good," he said.
Jesuit education is meant to help students realize just that. The university also emphasizes open-mindedness and constant questioning. GU staff and faculty want students to ask the tough questions no matter what industry they are in.
Hunter said that sometimes we don't have all the answers and it's the struggle students go through with the faculty that causes deep learning. Students don't need to come to school with knowledge of the Jesuits because GU is here to provide a foundation for learning and students should simply go into their experience with an open mind and ready to ask questions.
“There are lots of different ways to have a broader view of the public good and to contribute to the good," Rooksby said. "I think we’re well-positioned to open students’ eyes to that. What happens when they go forth is up to them, but I think they’re pretty well equipped to change the world."