Gael Academy Offers a Glimpse Into the Mind of Saint Mary’s

Professor Robert Bulman offered insights on Hollywood high school films Gaelebration wasn’t just fun and games. Nearly 50 hours of “Gael Academy” events throughout the day offered an opportunity for guests to meet mind-to-mind with some of Saint Mary’s finest thinkers. Stargazers, philosophers, history buffs, activists and world travelers alike found something to satisfy their thirst for knowledge.

Fittingly, “Thinking with the Brain in Mind,” which explored the mysterious tricks the mind plays on us, was one of the first offerings. The workshop explained how our brain’s normal behavior can actually hold us back from thinking and learning.

Devon Day, a sophomore who attended with his mother, Katie Day, said he was fascinated by the insights he learned about how people who are engaging in the same conversation can perceive different realities. “Conversation is really why I’m here,” he said, explaining that he’s an Integral major. “You’re not just listening to lectures, you’re really engaging.”

After some mental training, guests had the chance to wrap their refreshed brains around the mighty cosmos with Astronomy Professor Ron Olowin. Plunging through the rings of Saturn and taking a journey through a black hole were part of a tour of our solar system from right here in Moraga.

Coming back to Earth, the newest Gael minds found themselves in Nicaragua from the friendly confines of Filippi Academic Hall. Professor Michael Barram of the Religious Studies Department shared insights from the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and its impact on today’s globalized food system.

After all this talk about international trade, there was no better place to stop next than a talk with Professor Tom Cleveland of the School of Economics and Business Administration, who spoke about what it takes to be a new venture entrepreneur.

Moving from new ventures to ancient history, guests in the “So, You Think You’re a Celt?” presentation were informed and entertained for two hours, both in the classroom and in the field, literally. An overview of Celtic culture and history from Costanza Dopfel of the Modern Languages Department transitioned into live fighting, clothing and craft demonstrations from the Iron Age Celtic re-enactors who took up residence right on campus.

From Celtic fighters, it’s a short hop to Irish singers, who were featured in a multimedia presentation by Marshall Welch, director of CILSA. “Spirituality and Politics of U2” used video clips, lyrics and songs to teach the messages of this world-famous Irish rock band.

Individuality is a hallmark of U2’s lyrics and songs, and no one knows this concept better than Robert Bulman of the Sociology Department. Discussing American culture and individualism as seen in Hollywood high school films, Bulman shared some thought-provoking sociological insights on how films like "Mean Girls" and "Coach Carter" demonstrate double standards about social class and adolescence.

If reliving high school memories wasn’t enough of a blast from the past, then Saint Mary’s Professor Emeritus Ron Isetti’s talk about the 150-year history of Saint Mary’s provided an entertaining showcase of the story of the College over the years.

Kathryn Peterson and her daughter, Erica, a sophomore communications major, were among dozens of visitors who enjoyed the talk. Kathryn was fascinated to learn about “the sacrifices people made to build the college.” A fan of history, she said she would love to “study the greats to learn how we evolved and the roots of our democracy.”

The Debate & Speech team tackled the big issues of our day If so, her next stop should have been “Gaelebration Great Books,” where visitors could drop in and participate in a typical Seminar conversation with great Seminar teachers like Frances Sweeney, Sue Marston or Barry Horwitz.

After expanding your intellection horizons, why not plan a trip with some inspiration from Jan Term travel? Professor Carla Bossard of the Biology department shared stories about experiences science students have had in every corner of the globe.

If exploring the globe wasn’t your cup of tea, maybe exploring the skies was. Thanks to the Integral Program, guests could learn about ancient Greek astronomy, measuring the height of the sun by using the new Meridian Plinth outside Galileo Hall.

Moving from an old technology to new ones, the School of Education explored “Teaching with Technology,” encouraging visitors to BYOD (bring your own device), such as smart phones or iPads, to learn new ways of using educational technology in the workplace.

To end the day, guests heard from a great teacher, Brother Ronald Gallagher, the president of Saint Mary’s. As Gaels, we’re tied to Ireland, and “The Irish at Saint Mary’s College” offered tales of Saint Mary’s long and historic connection to the Emerald Isle.

Sophomore Ryan Bangs emerged from the class with his parents, Randy and Patti Bangs of Salinas, and said, “Now I understand why everybody kept asking me if I’m Irish.”

Throughout the day, stories, ideas, theories and more enlivened the “Gael Academy” and undoubtedly left an impression on all those who “Gaelebrated” the day away at Saint Mary’s.

This is just a sample of the academic offerings of the day. For a full list, view the Gaelebration schedule.

By Daniel Murphy '13

Photos by Matt Beardsley