As part of our mini-series in recognition of the start of the school year, a professor shares with us her experience working at a Franciscan institution and what is important about an education inspired by Franciscan values.
I spent my first 15 years of teaching at state universities all over the country before we settled in the Milwaukee area 10 years ago. Since then, I have been teaching at a Franciscan campus, Cardinal Stritch University. It is hard to even begin to explain the difference I have found teaching in this place.  I love the emphasis on service.  
Students engage in service projects during orientation, with athletic teams, with campus clubs, and campus ministry. The campus, at every level, emphasizes St. Francis’s giving to those in most need.

I wondered when I first arrived if the focus on certain Franciscan values actually made a difference to students.  Did the fact that I required students to engage in service-learning in my Communication Arts classes have an impact on them? Was it important to be able to recite the values upheld by Francis?

I have been blessed to see the impact of this Franciscan education on my students. From those who choose to teach in impoverished schools to those who find their employment with inner-city non-profit organizations, students from a Franciscan university often make their way out into the world with an attitude of service rather than being self-centered. 
Listening to students in their Keystone Experience course, where they focus on what their Franciscan education has meant to them and what it will continue to mean as they leave campus, is perhaps one of the most satisfying experiences.

Students speak of the camaraderie and support they found on their sports teams, which put into action the value of creating a caring community. They describe how learning about Duns Scotus’s view of the uniqueness of every aspect of creation has helped them in their approach to customers, pupils, and patients. They explain how they learned about peace and mediation, and then practiced it as a Resident Assistant in the dorm.  

Students say that they might not have considered their particular profession had it not been for a moment of service they engaged in during a class or a spring break service trip. An education in the Franciscan tradition makes a difference. 
I won’t claim that I’m on a perfectly flawless campus. The people aren’t without fault. There can be competition and frustration. There are times that decisions do not seem to be caring. But, as a whole, this is a place that turns back to the teachings of Francis to offer students a chance to learn by engaging in compassionate service. 
Students not only hear the Gospel in Mass on campus, they experience it in the classroom and they live it out through giving if their time and talents to others. The goal of a Franciscan education is transforming students by following the model of St. Francis.  I have seen it happen here.

Dr. Barbara Spies is a Communication Arts professor at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, WI.  She is a secular Franciscan and joined other college staff and faculty members on the 2010 Franciscan Pilgrimage.