Being a Name, Not a Number

by Kelly Fitzpatrick on September 12, 2016

IMG 6273Hello, Purple Eagles! Thanks for reading. I can’t believe I am writing to you with my first week of SENIOR year already behind me. The start to this final chapter has me thinking and feeling a lot of different emotions, especially as I am participating in so many “lasts” with my best pals. We’ve already experienced our last CA training week, the Walk to Whirlpool, freshman move in day, FirstFest and concert (still gushing over Jesse McCartney), fireworks on the turf (which had me in tears), and so much more.

Both nostalgia and excitement for the future are setting in, and the idea of this double-edged sword hit me bigtime during my first NU Beginnings course last week. In a nutshell, NUB is a freshman seminar class that all first-year students take to help transition into college, learn how to read actively, and get the 411 on how NU works. I am a peer mentor for this course and, during our first class, we had a discussion about why everyone chose to come to Niagara. I’ve answered this question countless times in the past, but this time was different. I was talking to a room full of students with the rest of their college careers ahead of them, while mine is already mostly behind me. They have no idea what is in store for them, and I have thousands of memories that I never thought that I would have made, but am so thankful that I did.

One of the most common reasons that the class gave for coming to Niagara was “to be a name and not a number.” I have used this phrase at every Open House I have ever worked at, and I describe NU in these words when I tell my friends and family about it as well.

But what does that actually mean?

Of course, on the surface, it means that the smaller class sizes that we offer result in more one-on-one attention during lessons. It allows for more interactive discussions and class participation. It means forming relationships with professors, because it becomes very likely that you take multiple courses with the same instructor over the years. This, in turn, means that they get to know your work ethic, your style of writing and thinking, and your personal experiences that ultimately have an influence on your thought process and outlook on the world. 

It also means that you’ll develop really meaningful relationships with your peers. A small community allows for a higher chance of forming friendships and fostering academic discussion in your courses. It creates a community in the residence halls and university common areas that just can’t happen at a bigger university. It’s nearly impossible to walk between any two places on campus without greeting someone you know. Even Father Maher, the university president, greets students by name! As I am starting to think about entering the real world, I am realizing how much this type of environment that Niagara provides really means to me.

During my time here, I have been and continue to be a name and not a number. The little things associated with going to a small university go such a long way. Since that discussion in NUB last week, I have been thinking fondly of some of my favorite memories and moments that just likely would not have happened anywhere outside of our small purple home. 

I have experienced being a name and not a number when I was having a bad day, and within the first 45 seconds of class, Dr. (Jim) McCutcheon asked me if I was okay, because he immediately noticed that I was not being myself. He asked again on my way out of class, and that meant the whole world to me. Those exchanges just do not happen in lecture halls of 500 or more students.

I experienced this at the end of a week of volunteering in Nicaragua with Bienvenidos, when I was taking a photo of the sunset on the beach. I turned around to see Dr. (Abigail) Levin taking in the same amazing view that I was, crying, with her arms wide open and saying, “Just hug me, Snuggles!” That was the most meaningful week of my life, and spending it with fellow club members and two faculty members made it even more memorable. That particular moment made me realize how lucky we truly are to be surrounded by so many people that care about us here. 

I experienced the benefits of this tight knit community through my relationship with an alumna from the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, who I worked with this summer and who teaches me even more about the industry that I want to pursue. Going to a small university allows for relationships and connections not only with current students and faculty, but also with alumni who want to give back in their own ways.

I felt like a valued student and not a number when I was on a study abroad trip in Ecuador, and Dr. (Esteban) Mayorga and I had an engaging conversation about something that we had seen on the trip that we had discussed in one of his courses a few years ago. The class was small enough that he knew us all as people, and we were able to have productive discussions that stuck with me longer than just the semester in which I took the course. Being able to talk about those issues again in a real-life setting was an amazing feeling.

I feel this sense of community when I walk into the Office of Residence Life and get a big hug from the office coordinator, Mama Ro (Macri), each and every time. I feel it when I catch up with Father O’Malley whenever I see him sitting in his “office,” which is just a sofa in the middle of Gally because he loves being able to interact with the students any chance he gets.

I feel it when I am greeted by name by professors who I haven’t had since freshman year. I feel it when I see Professor (Nanette) Harmon sharing coffee and practicing ASL with students in the program, whether they are in her class or not.

I felt it when a friend of mine was visiting from Boston University, and as we were passing through Gally, we stopped to talk to Dr. Kurt Stahura, the dean of hospitality and tourism management, about an opportunity to work an event in Washington, D.C., that he knew about and asked if I was interested in attending. We walked away, and my friend’s first words were, “Kelly, that was your DEAN! He knows who you are? Did he just get you a work gig?” Here, those exchanges seem so natural. She attends a much larger university, and does not get that personalized attention and relationships that Niagara can offer.

I am so thankful for the small community that Niagara has created and that I have been a part of over the past few years. People mean everything in this world, and the ones we have here are pretty amazing. We have so many role models, mentors, friends and connections here that have the potential to impact the rest of our lives. Going to a small school was important to me, and I am so happy that Niagara was the one that I chose.

Thanks, NU, for making me a name, and not a number. It really means the world.