Maria Elena Santos ’20
Business + Philosophy
“Providence is TRUTH. A place where you can find who you truly are and what you truly want to do. An experience of self-discovery like no other.”
Providence College wasn’t an obvious choice for Maria Elena Santos of San Juan, Puerto Rico. “It was far and very different from home,” she recalls. But her first visit to campus changed everything. “I fell in love with the campus, the people, the environment. I just got this feeling. I knew.” That feeling only grew as her first year began. “My first management course became like a family.”
In the fall of Santos’ sophomore year, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. In response, she and others planned Friars for Puerto Rico — a benefit concert to raise funds for hurricane relief. The event raised more than $10,000 and inspired her to found Friars For — a club raising funds and awareness for causes close to students’ hearts.
“I’m passionate about helping others and making a difference,” Santos says. For the management and philosophy major, this leads naturally to a career in business. “What upsets me about business is how rarely it uses its power to do good. Studying business and ethics has taught me the power — and the responsibility — businesses have.”
Jack Murphy ’20
Social Work + Spanish
“An opportunity to share with people of diverse backgrounds in order to deepen one’s understanding of self, community, and faith.”
Days before Jack Murphy was to arrive in Nicaragua to teach English through a summer fellowship, anti-government protests shut down Managua. Undeterred, Murphy flew to Costa Rica instead, then took three buses to the border, where he crossed on foot into Nicaragua.
Nothing kept the social work and Spanish double major from his pursuit to learn about social justice. He was the first PC student to participate in a program for social work students in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He witnessed Catholic social teaching during a course trip to Guatemala. He interned at Progreso Latino, a Rhode Island nonprofit, facilitating a support group for domestic violence victims and working with middle school students.
After graduation, Murphy was awarded a Fulbright to teach in Paraguay. He was honored to receive the College’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Award.
“That MLK’s message was about peace and love bears so much witness to the best of humanity,” Murphy says.
Dr. Raymond Hain
Associate Professor of Philosophy
“Here is where we learn to see ahead, to plan for the future, to discover and deepen the awareness of our pilgrim journey and to know how best to prepare ourselves for a life well lived and a death well remembered. And here too is where we learn that our small stories are part of a much larger story, a story written by the finger of God and etched in the heavens.“
“Providence” has an ancient lineage. For the Romans, “providentia” (“foresight” or “foreknowledge,” from the words “before” and “to see”) was an important human virtue, personified in the goddess Providentia who directed our planning for the future. The Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca wrote that the universe itself is the ordered result of an “eternal foreknowledge,” and “even those phenomena which appear to be confused and irregular do not come to pass without reason.” No wonder then that Christianity turned “providentia” into God’s sovereign guidance of all creation; “not a sparrow falls to the ground” outside His loving plan.
Both types of providence are at work in the deepest way here at Providence College. Here is where we learn to see ahead, to plan for the future, to discover and deepen the awareness of our pilgrim journey and to know how best to prepare ourselves for a life well lived and a death well remembered. And here too is where we learn that our small stories are part of a much larger story, a story written by the finger of God and etched in the heavens. We can be forgiven for forgetting these beautiful things in our everyday campus lives, but they are always there, the deepest sources of our common life together, and on the best of days they shine through, animating with a word, a gesture, a sign the things we keep closest to our hearts.
Jolssen Rodriguez ’21
Public & Community Service Studies + Global Studies + Women’s & Gender Studies
“It is a journey of trust, self-reflection, and determining worth.”
Uncovering Untold Stories
Jolssen A. Rodriguez ’21 has never had a class with Christopher Chambers, Ph.D. In fact, Chambers, who is an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, wasn’t even a faculty member in Rodriguez’s major or minor. But when Rodriguez was seeking just the right faculty mentor for his study of U.S. immigration policies on LGBTQ+ migrants, his professors advised him to seek out Chambers — a faculty member whose scholarship was the best fit for Jolssen’s interests.
This is a perfect example of the student-centered approach Providence College faculty take toward research, Chambers says. “Schools like PC offer something remarkably special. It affords students the opportunity to interact with faculty in a way that is not complicated by titles.”
Six months later, mentor and mentee have been meeting weekly as Rodriguez conducts interviews and begins data collection. His research is supported by a Summer Veritas Undergraduate Research Award — one of several research grants available to PC students.
“Any student interested in research should be unafraid and willing to explore,” Rodriguez says. Encouraging that exploration is something they do really well here.”
Chambers praises Rodriguez for his “passion and intuitive insight” and approaches their collaboration as the person behind the scenes. “It’s my role to contribute and help Jolssen produce the research he wants to produce. He is opening a door that has only been cracked,” Chambers says. “It’s an opportunity to make a significant contribution with an exceptionally interesting project — and a timely one.”
Uncovering a hole in the literature was an exciting discovery for both Rodriguez and Chambers. “I hope you set your sights on getting this published,” Chambers recently told Rodriguez, also offering his support to facilitate the process.
“There are people out there whose stories are untold. Jolssen is bringing those stories to the forefront,” Chambers says.
As he enters his senior year, with graduate school in his sights, Rodriguez reflects on defining his path at PC. “I was able to explore as a person — your major is really what you make it,” he says. “What I found at Providence College was my type of experience.”
Associate Professor of Art
“If you’re open to being changed by what you study, it will happen, and it will keep happening forever.”
Your Brain on Art
Art changes the way we think. It trains the senses to recognize more. It offers new language and space to challenging ideas. “It’s remarkable that a pretty humble introduction to something like painting changes the way your brain works and how you move through time and space,” says Heather McPherson, associate professor of painting and chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “In art, you’re basically coming up with new ways of thinking.”
Art asks where ideas come from. It asks how something can come from nothing. It is a process of self-discovery and definition. Through art, McPherson says, “students become more themselves.”
Kate Brewer ’20
Sociology + Global Studies
“A destination to learn about global communications for social justice.”
Kate Brewer’s commitment to immigrant rights stems from her Moroccan grandmother’s stories of her migration. The global studies and sociology double major dove into immigration studies at PC, traveling to Tijuana, Mexico, to learn from migrant narratives and to build homes with a nonprofit through the Global Border Crossing course.
Brewer served as a Feinstein Fellow for Providence’s Genesis Center, which provides immigrant job training. She then spent a semester studying journalism in Rabat, Morocco. Brewer’s reporting team backpacked for five weeks to research child migration for a piece published by U.S. News & World Report.
“Nothing that I do comes without my focus on equality and social justice,” Brewer said. “My education at PC helped me learn so much more about that.”
Tianyi Yuan ’20
Theology + Philosophy + Classics
“After four years at Providence College, I have been made a better human person with respect to my intellect, emotions, habits, and ethical character, as a human person ought to be. I believe I have discovered Providence at Providence College, as I was given a chance to collaborate with It.”
Tianyi Yuan grew up in China, a communist nation with a rich tradition of philosophy. Exploring what it means to live a good life, he studied Aristotle’s “unmoved mover” in philosophy courses at PC, which inspired him to learn more about God and to major in theology, too.
Yuan’s intellectual quest led him to study languages — classical and Biblical Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and Syriac. He is pursuing a master’s degree in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School with hopes to obtain a Ph.D., teach, and live a scholarly life, rooted in his Chinese cultural heritage. “Be courageous, compassionate, and grateful,” Yuan says. “No matter what happens, do not lose determination, love, and gracious appreciation of those who are supporting you.”
Dr. James Waters
Associate Professor of Biology
“Jewish mysticism teaches that there is a spark of the divine that resides within all of creation, from leaves blowing in the wind to ants working tirelessly to build complex societies beneath our feet. Providence teaches that everything is connected.”
Small Wonders, Big Discoveries
Two major grants from the National Science Foundation support the research of Dr. James Waters, associate professor of biology. Waters and his research students study insects, specifically ants and fruit flies, learning about how physiology, behavior and epigenetics interact in stressful environments.
Waters and his students have collected thousands of ants and have identified many new species records for Providence and across Rhode Island. Now, in a collaborative project with Dr. Marla Tipping from PC and three other universities, the Waters lab is undertaking fruit fly research as well.
“Anyone can get involved with research, and they don’t have to have any prior knowledge,” Waters said. “I find out what the students are interested in, and we go from there.”