CGI Spotlight Story

Dustin Mix is a recent graduate student in engineering who went to Haiti with the Common Good Initiative, an immersion course that enables graduate and professional students to integrate Catholic social tradition into their disciplinary study.

“My disciplinary background is in civil engineering, and specifically in the field of structural engineering. One of the current discussions happening within the field is the idea of designing structures for extreme events. These include earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and man-made events, such as blasts. As evidenced by recent events such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, structures are typically well designed to handle the average magnitude varieties of these events, but drastic damage and life loss can occur when the extreme varieties occur. The debate is over the determination of appropriate design criteria to address these events, especially when viewed in context with economic costs. I think that this concept also has an application to fighting poverty. Systems to fight poverty are often set up to maximize results and to do the most good for the largest number, e.g. providing temporary tents to Haitians after the earthquake. While this philosophy has its merits and applications, it also has its shortcomings. It often excludes those on the margins, the “extremes,” in exchange for addressing the “average,” more common case. Through the Common Good Initiative, I came to interpret inclusion to mean that we are not called to bring the marginalized into the current circle (this could be one interpretation of inclusion), but rather we are called to change the dimensions of the circle (another, but very different, definition of inclusion).

The Common Good Initiative complemented and enhanced my graduate degree in engineering. Notre Dame has constantly strived to be a vehicle for good in the world. It is hard to see how that is possible without combining technical skills with an appreciation and lens through which to view the problems of the world. The Common Good Initiative doesn't necessarily answer the "how" question to an engineering problem, but rather the "why" and "for whom" questions that are so vital to using engineering skills for good—a philosophy and framework through which to understand the human aspect of our work that provides us with a way to answer the tough ethical and societal questions that accompany every engineering problem, big or small.”

Marisel Moreno is an associate professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, who designed a community-based learning course with the help of Center faculty and staff. The course required Notre Dame students to work with students in a local Latino community center. Professor Moreno’s course was designed to communicate the importance of education in a community where school retention rates were well below Indiana state averages. Just one year after Moreno’s class was introduced at the community center, retention rates in the center’s programs themselves increased from 20% overall to 63% overall. The semester before Moreno’s class, 66% of the community center’s students were receiving average grades of D and F. The semester after Moreno’s class, 82% of the students were passing their classes with grades of C or better.

In Professor Moreno’s department at the University, there are now five faculty teaching 22 sections of community-based learning courses. They have now taught more than 300 students in the last five years, and those students have performed more than 15,000 hours of work with the community.

Professor Moreno was recently selected to receive the 2016 Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award. The highest teaching honor in the College of Arts and Letters, the Sheedy Award was created in 1970 to honor Rev. Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., who served as dean of Arts and Letters from 1951 to 1969.

 —Dustin Mix, B.S. Civil Engineering 2010, M.S. Civil Engineering/ESTEEM 2012