Experiential Learning and Social Distancing

Exterior of Smith Hall with clear sky
By Daniel Klinghard, Director, J.D. Power Center

Students across the world are experiencing significant disruption in their daily lives and in their education. At the J.D. Power Center, we know that many of the students we work with in normal times are particularly hard-hit, as internships, CBL sites, and research opportunities are curtailed. Most of these opportunities thrive most in situations where students can engage with people and communities on a close-up basis—internship supervisors, community partners, research subjects, all require the kind of one-on-one contact that the current situation prohibits. These experiences often come as the result of long term planning on students’ part, and are hard to recreate.

That’s why we’re starting a blog series on experiential learning from home—to help you think through some ways that you can keep engaging in experiential learning while you are engaging in social distancing. We invite students to join us by sharing their own experiences.

In the meantime, here are some ways you can continue engaging in experiential learning:

1.) Intern remotely

In many cases, students interning through the J.D. Power Center’s programming were automatically moved to remote work along with the rest of their work sites. If you have this opportunity, keep it up. Set aside specific hours that you can focus in on internship work, and keep in contact with your supervisor. In times like this, doing good work can really stand out, and demonstrate your engagement.

If you are not currently interning, but interned in the past, consider reaching out to past supervisors to see if you can help out—particularly if the kind of work you were doing can be easily done remotely. You likely have additional time on your schedule with normal operations shut down—offer a specific amount of time that you would be willing to return to your internship duties, and see if they could use the help.

2.) Learn about working remotely

Although the world of work is undergoing significant changes as large numbers of people shift to working remotely, remote work has been a feature of the American work landscape for some time. Take some time to think about your work habits while working remotely. Research best practices in working from home (the popular press is currently featuring a number of articles on working from home), set up your own workspace with this in mind, and monitor your own habits. Write your own guide, reflecting both your research and your own experience.

3.) Learn a skill

Often, our students have ideas for projects that they do not have a technical skill to accomplish—video editing, coding, statistics packages. This is a great time to develop some skills that might help you advance future projects. Or just engage in learning something you know you’ll value down the line: master Excel, polish your negotiation skills, or learn a new painting technique. Skills like these might help you when it comes time to launching a new project or internship when things get back to normal. Sites like Lynda.com and Coursera have a wide range of online courses that help you invest in your experiential future.

4.) Seek out a mentor

Students often say that one of the best things about experiential learning are the mentoring relationships that they develop. Make use of additional down-time by reaching out to a Holy Cross alum to develop a mentoring relationship. The Center for Career Development hosts the HC Network, a completely-online guide that lets you contact alums in fields you’re interested in via email, phone, and video conference. https://hcnetwork.holycross.edu/

5.) Build your online portfolio

Too often, social media is seen as a massive time waste (and very often, it IS a massive time waste), but it can also be a useful way to both explain and reflect on your work. Think about how you can build a web presence that you use exclusively to engage with others about your work and your interests. Maybe create an Instagram account that highlights artwork you’ve studied, or a Twitter account that posts news about an issue you care about. Use your time on social media to engage in ways that help you experience the world positively. Some helpful guides to using social media in a professionally-responsible way can be found here:





6.) Work with a club

Holy Cross’s RSOs could be particularly hard-hit by the campus shut down. If you’re part of an RSO, think about ways that you can work now to prepare for starting up again. Reach out to members and plan some virtual meetings, or propose some remote projects. Are there long-avoided tasks that could improve your operations or standardize your procedures that you just never seem to get to? This could be the time to get them done.


Staying at home is going to have its highs and lows, its frustrations and its moments of peace. It is also a moment of testing, and an opportunity to learn patience with ambiguity. Don’t stop engaging!

And remember, the J.D. Power Center is here to help. You can reach us at jdpowercenter@holycross.edu.

Holy Cross Students Present at Joint Mathematics Meeting in Denver

Students, alumni, and two faculty members posing during dinner at conference
Back row L to R: Emily Devine ’21, Piotr Pogorzelski ’20, John Graf ’20, Xu (Mike) Ding ’21, Emily Winn ’17, and Prof. Gareth Roberts. Front row L to R: Patrycja Przewoznik ’21, Marialena Bevilacqua ’20, Xinyi (Elena) Wang ’21, Prof. David Damiano, Kiara Sanchez ’18, and Dr. Ellen Gasparovic ’06. Not pictured but who were at the dinner before or after the photo was taken are Ligia Flores ’18, Prof. Eric Ruggieri, Dr. Joseph Hibdon Jr. ’04 and Prof. Andrew Uzzell.

Several Holy Cross students and faculty members spent part of their winter break taking part in the annual Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM) in Denver, CO. The group was part of the 2019 Weiss Summer Research Program, and their research ranged from predicting individual success in the National Basketball Association (NBA) to understanding differences in behavioral synchrony in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Not only did they get to show their findings during the conference, but some were even able to win awards for their presentations.

“Our students have a significant number of opportunities to present on campus,” said Eric Ruggieri, associate professor of Mathematics, “but it’s a whole different experience to present your work to faculty and students across the United States. I also think it’s an eye-opening experience for our students. It’s a huge community of people who are excited to hear what they have to say.”

The undergraduate poster session with over 300 posters
is the highlight of the conference for students. Students are judged based on their presentation, and can win awards depending on their success. Winning an award is not the sole benefit of the competition, however.

“A high point is the judging process itself,” said David Damiano, professor of Mathematics. “It is often the case that judges will suggest possibilities for further research. This is an especially good experience speaking to an audience of students and mathematicians from across the country. Our students invariably give polished and substantive presentations, and the experience is a confidence booster.”

For the students who attended, along with presenting on their own work, the conference was a chance to learn about other research taking place across the country.

“Each day, we would wake up and attend presentations on various topics such as Probability and Statistics, Real and Complex Analysis, and Mathematical Biology,” said Marialena Bevilacqua ’20. “I was given the opportunity to meet and talk with mathematicians and other students from many universities all over the country. This conference opened my eyes to the many opportunities that (studying Mathematics) would afford me in the future.”

“My experience in Denver was exciting and informative,” said Elena Wang ’20. “I was able to see a lot of mathematics that I wouldn’t have been able to learn at Holy Cross in a classroom setting. Being able to go to Denver gave me a taste of what mathematics is like outside of Holy Cross.”

Seven Holy Cross students presented at JMM. Their project titles, as well as any awards won, are listed below.

  1. Marialena Bevilacqua ’20 [Outstanding]
    Title: Predicting Success in the N.B.A.
  2. Emily Devine ’21
    Title: Understanding Behavioral Synchrony:  Differences in Behavioral Synchrony in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder using Functional EEG Networks
  3. Xu (Mike) Ding ‘21
    Title: Simulating the Board Game Risk
  4. John Graf ‘20
    Title: Consecutive Increases Related to the 3x+1 Function
  5. Piotr Pogorzelski ’20 [Honorable Mention]
    Title: Predicting NCAA Basketball Games Using Logistic Regression
  6. Patrycja Przewoznik ’21 [Outstanding]
    Title: Structural analysis of the force chains within communities of particle
  7. Elena Wang ’20 [Honorable Mention]
    Title: Clairaut Surfaces in Euclidean Three-Space

Máire White ’20 Discusses Recent Research Trip to India

Maire White stands in front of Indian temple smiling at camera
Máire White ’20 (PC: Luke Butcher)

Máire White ’20 is a senior Asian Studies and Chinese double major, as well as an Ignite Fund fellow. She will be presenting on her Senior Honors thesis on March 10th in Rehm Library at 4:30 P.M. Her thesis is on Tamil Shaivite revivalism and Hindu activism. She will also discuss how her recent trip to Chennai, India, funded by an Ignite Fund grant, has enhanced her research. Máire recently took time to answer some questions about her research and her trip. She also extended her thanks to her external reader, Professor Dheepa Sundaram from the University of Denver, whose guidance on things Tamil has been invaluable to her project. 

1.  What was the goal of your trip to India?

I wanted to go to Chennai, India to do some fieldwork and read some primary sources for my honors thesis.  Chennai is a really interesting place within Tamil Nadu because it’s an education hub as well as a major center for IT companies, so people are really well educated and very engaged with religion and politics. I chose to live in the suburb of Mylapore, where I did interviews with people at Kapaleeshwarar (கபாலீசுவரர் கோயில்), which is one of the most prominent temples in Chennai.  Kapaleeshwarar is an important temple for several reasons.  First, Shiva’s wife Parvati is said to have worshiped Shiva who was in the form of a peacock in this temple (hence the name of my suburb, as “mayil” in Tamil means peacock).  Second, devotional poems written in Tamil called the Tevaram from the middle ages mention this temple, so it has a sort of legendary character.

I was asking people about how they engaged with Lord Shiva, one of the most popular Hindu gods in the region, on social media websites like Facebook or Instagram and how their religious beliefs inform their understanding of Indian modernity.  Furthermore, I got to visit the Theosophical Society, which is a library that seeks to help people understand “religious wisdom,” mainly Hinduism.  Most of the sources are from the 18th-20th centuries, and I was looking at collections of sources that were written by Maraimalai Adigal, who was a Shaivite orator, professor, and sannyasin that wanted to reform Tamil Nadu or Dravidian society (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu) and modernize without British or North Indian support.

2. What gave you the initial idea for this trip?

I found out that I could go on a trip like this when one of my professors, Dr. Lewis from Religious Studies, suggested that I go to India to further my honors thesis research.

3. Describe the day-to-day experience of traveling in India. What did you see, eat, etc.?

Every day, I would wake up at 4.30 am to go watch mangala aarti, which is when a Hindu priest wakes up the gods within the temple, and is one of the most crowded times for puja (worship) every day before school or work. Hindu temples typically serve small free, vegetarian meals to people, called prasadam (பிரசாதம்), and consists of a rice dish mixed with vegetables and a sweet. Then, the temple was usually open until 1:30 before they close until 4:30 so that the gods can rest, so I could stay and observe, chant in Sanskrit, do informal interviews, or participate in pujas in the temple.  I almost always ate dosai for lunch, which is like a large, savory crepe filled with masala potatoes and served with sambar and chutney.  After lunch, I could go to the Theosophical Society and read sources.  Another thing that I was lucky to have the chance to see was that it was Madras Music Season, where there are Karnatic music concerts accompanied by bharatanatyam devotional dancing in temples almost every night.  For dinner, I was usually given rice, some other kind of vegetarian curry, dhal, and chapati.  Then, I would make my notes legible or transcribe them on my computer before going to bed early.

4. What was the most significant aspect or experience from your trip, research-wise?

For me, I had the opportunity to get access to sources and visit places I never would have had the chance to without going to India.  I could not have had the opportunity to truly understand the zeitgeist within Mylapore, read some of the sources in the Theosophical Society, or do interviews without physically going to India. Further, I got to practice Tamil language every day, so hopefully it’s gotten a little bit better!

5. How did this trip fit into your academic and professional goals?

Currently, I’m writing my honors thesis on the development of a Shaivite modernity in Tamil Nadu, so this research fits in.  In the long run, I’m applying for master’s and PhD programs to continue my studies on the same topics.