Earlier this month, Newman University hosted its sixth-annual Summer Symposium on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT) and the Newman Studies Program (NSP), the university’s unique approach to the core curriculum every undergraduate must complete to earn their degree.
Every year a topic is selected that corresponds with one of the four themes of the NSP: “The Human Story,” “The Creative Spirit,” “The Universe We Live In,” and “The Quest for Meaning.”
This year’s topic was “Dying Well” as it corresponds to “The Quest for Meaning,” the NSP theme that focuses heavily on philosophy and theology.
The symposium on “Dying Well” centered around the quest for meaning, specifically at the end of life, and featured expert speakers and panelists discussing how the Catholic faith and its intellectual tradition prepares us for that part of our journey, said Charlotte Rohrbach, ASC, director of mission effectiveness.
Rohrbach, who leads the planning committee for the Summer Symposium, said that another goal of the symposium is to develop new NSP courses while discussing the CIT and how it affects Newman.
“The CIT invades all aspects of the NSP,” she said.
Rohrbach said professors who attend the symposium are paired up and use the 5-day symposium to brainstorm and develop a new course. Then the last day, they present what they’ve come up with.
“Some of them get very fat,” Rohrbach said. “Some of them almost get a syllabus done.”
One pair of professors came to this year’s symposium with a course already completed and that students are already taking this semester. Associate Professor of Nursing Amy Siple and Assistant Professor of Theology Matthew Umbarger created a course about the very topic of this year’s symposium, “Dying Well,” something Siple, who still works as a nurse practitioner and end-of-life caregiver, has dealt with very intimately.
“I help people die,” Siple said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to take on in a class.”
Siple said she came to Umbarger with the idea last year for a class that would be geared toward pre-med and nursing students, who will have to deal with death in a way that mostly all other majors do not.
The class, which has 21 mostly pre-med students enrolled, will have students face their own mortality as they volunteer in hospice care, view a cadaver, plan their own funeral, write their own last will and testament, and more.
“I’m OK with them not feeling comfortable,” Siple said. “In nursing, we feel uncomfortable all the time and that’s how you learn.”
Siple also said she wants her students to know that she and Umbarger, as well as Newman counselors, are available to talk if the material does become too much. Her reason for such an extensive agenda is to increase knowledge about proper end-of-life care.
“Doctors often don’t want to give up and they end up increasing pain and suffering,” she said.
Siple said she thoroughly enjoyed many of the presentations at the Summer Symposium and that a few of the speakers may come talk to the “Dying Well” class.