Santa Clara University

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 Challenging students to become independent learners

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The first female Rhodes Scholar in SCU history, Noelle Lopez '09, was one of 32 students this year from across the United States awarded the prestigious scholarship for postgraduate study at Oxford.

In 2008, Noelle Lopez ’09, became one of 32 students from across the U.S. awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship. Only the second Rhodes Scholar, and the first woman, in Santa Clara history, Lopez is frequently described by her coaches and professors as someone who breaks the mold, a student who is the embodiment of the athlete as scholar.

Originally from Tucson, Ariz., the former crosscountry and track team captain is now studying virtue ethics at Oxford University and says she ultimately sees herself pursuing a career in education.

While academic excellence may be a fundamental criterion for earning a Rhodes, it’s not sufficient on its own. It’s the other factors—as Lopez has consistently demonstrated—of character, leadership, service, commitment, and discipline that tip the scales.

Consistently on the dean’s list, Lopez, a philosophy major, was lauded for earning numerous academic awards, fellowships, and grants throughout her time at Santa Clara, but her success wasn’t limited to the confines of the classroom.

Noelle was encouraged to question everything she learned.
“In so many ways Noelle is the consummate Jesuit-educated student-athlete,” says Dan Coonan, Santa Clara athletic director. “She was a brilliant student, a gifted athlete, and leader on her team. She has a huge heart, which is evidenced by her commitment to community service and social justice. She is an inspiration to us all.”

As a key leader and participant in Santa Clara’s women’s track and cross-country teams, Lopez believes that the intense training on the field instilled a high level of discipline that carried over to all other aspects of her college career.

“Overall, running definitely teaches certain virtues,” says Lopez. “Patience is a good one, and there’s a certain optimism that has to go along with running. I think the discipline is really huge, too.”

She credits Santa Clara with supporting and encouraging her wide range of interests, and this was one of the main reasons she chose to attend the University.

Speaking of Lopez, Professor of Philosophy William Prior states, “She was encouraged to question everything she learned, which is central to philosophy as a discipline, and I’d say the most important thing she derived from Santa Clara is this critical perspective.”  

At Santa Clara, Lopez had the opportunity to become involved with student organizations and clubs that hold social justice central to their mission. She was a 2008–09 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, where, annually, three seniors receive funding, allowing them to design ethics programs for their fellow students. For her Hackworth Project, Lopez along with her peers explored the question: “What do we mean when we use the term social justice?” To experience social justice issues firsthand, Lopez participated in community-based learning and immersion trips to Mexico and the Salinas Valley.  

“We have great expectations of Noelle,” says Christopher Kulp, associate professor of philosophy and a key supporter of Lopez’s efforts to apply for the Rhodes scholarship. “True, she doesn’t yet have a doctorate and she isn’t yet a professional, but it sure looks like she’s on her way. She has enormous potential.”

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Students have found the perfect recipe to build community with a game of broomball. It's simple. Put on your sneakers. Get a bunch of brooms and a round ball. Have fun. 

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It’s 10:30 on a Thursday night. Sixty students from the da Vinci Residential Community in Casa Italiana listen intently to Associate Professor Phil Kesten as he explains the physics of movement on ice. It’s not a formal physics class, but Kesten is getting rapt attention because the students are subsequently headed to a game of broomball. And they want to apply what they learn from him on the ice rink.

“I almost feel like one of those kids who hates fractions but accidentally learns them by baking cookies,” says Genevieve Kromm ’13, who is majoring in arts and sciences. “It’s a fun way to approach concepts like friction and inertia.”

Back in 2003 some students came across the idea of broomball—a sport that combines ice hockey and indoor soccer—and invited Kesten, then-faculty director of the residential learning community, to give a lecture that tied in with the game. “I decided to talk about sliding, friction, momentum, and it occurred to me that since I’ve studied ice—albeit ice on some of the moons of Uranus—that I would throw that in as well,” says Kesten.


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Spray cooling redefined
Sergio Escobar Vargas , a Santa Clara doctoral student in mechanical engineering, has been helping Hewlett-Packard lead the charge in information technology’s never-ending battle against heat. While HP researchers find ways to spray the hottest parts of a chip’s processor with microscopic bursts of coolant, Escobar is focusing on keeping processors at the minimum temperature required to dissipate the maximum amount of heat. The success of spray technology hinges on the success of Escobar’s research, and he has already helped set a new record for dissipating heat from a chip. His name is on two pending patents, alongside those of other HP scientists, and he received the 2008 Student of the Year award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. At Santa Clara, he has relished the ability to research, as well as the social and professional opportunities. “This school has always pushed me to think and learn independently—a quality that will serve me well in life,” he says.
The lecture was a big hit and gave Kesten the opportunity to “create an environment in which the students don’t have to feel that academics and fun are two separate things.”

It was an idea that worked in reality as freshman Kromm “kept in mind the inverse relationship between speed and friction” when running on ice in her sneakers with a broom-like stick. “I must have looked pretty funny,” she says. “But it was fun. Plus, I only fell once!”

The informal class setting and the subsequent game also afforded students the opportunity to strengthen their community. “It was the perfect excuse to get to know some of the other residents and interact with a faculty member I may or may not take a class with,” says Kromm.

Kesten says it’s all about integrating all the different pieces. “We’re giving them a holistic educational experience by bringing together the academic, the residential, and the social components,” he says. “They learn, they mature, and they acquire leadership skills from working and playing with their peers and professors.”