The religious studies classes in the Mater Dei Chapel are an example of expecting the unexpected.

students sitting in chapel for class

Over the past year and a half, resilience and adapting is something we had to succeed in. Still, now, there is the unexpected we still have to overcome. The ongoing battle against COVID and social distancing is something we are still fighting. At this point, we are all wondering, when is this going to be over?

The religious studies classes in the Mater Dei Chapel are an example of expecting the unexpected. Due to a large number of students in the classes, social distancing is a requirement hard to meet in a classroom. Dr. Andy Buechel found out a week before school started that some of his classes had been moved to the Chapel.

After a month into the semester, Buechel reflects on his class Introduction to Catholic Christianity: “Teaching in the Chapel comes in handy because when referencing something, I do not have to try to describe it. I can just point to it."

But with every strength, there's a weakness. Buechel took a survey to hear from his students and found that "out of the 25 students' response, about 72% said the desk is important for them." The lack of desks adds to the difficulty of taking notes for select students.

You wouldn't think a desk would be that important, and Buechel didn't think of that either. He also added another difficulty saying, "being able to engage the students farther in the back can be difficult." It is difficult for him due to the size of the classroom versus the size of the Chapel. Thankfully he has not noticed any concern that the Chapel is decreasing student engagement. He has classes in a regular classroom as well and said, "The class in the chapel feels more engaged than those,” adding that he is unsure if it is because of the space or the time of day.

A student's point of view is just as important as a teacher's point of view. Ben Gerdsen, a senior, said, "What better place to study Catholicism and Christianity than in a chapel? Certainly, the lack of a desk makes taking notes somewhat interesting, but that's why it is called a laptop. There is something reverential discussing the existence of God, creation, and the works of Christ while surrounded by statues and stained glass.  I liken it to the study of science in a lab."

It is Buechel's first year teaching at the Mount. Props to him for overcoming this space challenge and trying to make it work for both him and the students. So far, he is enjoying the Mount, saying, "From the hiring process and on, I am impressed by both the friendliness and the dedication that everybody I have encountered at the Mount has to students’ well-being and success."