Students personify a university. Through its students — their experiences, actions, and growth — a university becomes a living, breathing entity. And perhaps nothing captures the student story more than their first-person perspectives. The ability to share their challenges, successes, and everything in between brings people along on their journeys. The human connection that develops through storytelling inspires, motivates, and unites across communities. “Storytelling is universal and goes back to the beginning of time,” explains Dr. Bruce Campbell, associate professor of Education at Arcadia University. “Stories are emotional, experiential, and creative. Our brains process information almost as if we were actually there instead of just turning words into little factoids that will soon disappear. They connect us to universal truths about ourselves and our world.” Each week, Arcadia students bring these connections to life as they share their stories through a national award-winning blog. Its title, with an added comma, answers the question, “Why?” Because, Arcadia.
“Last January, I received an email from Dr. Marc Brasof inquiring if I and a couple other students in our Secondary Education program would be interested in being part of a leadership team — The Social Action & Justice Education (SAJE) Fellowship was a call to action to bring more students of color into the education field and to educate more students in our communities about the fulfillment of being an educator. We sent the information to our campus partners and high schools in the tristate area before the pandemic turned our world upside down, and we were fortunate enough to accept nine fellows into our first cohort! I am mentoring three of our fellows: Amani Harris ’24, Jakya Barnhill ’24, and Emily Rodriguez ’24 — I am so humbled to get to know these empowering women of color because it reminds me of the impact that they are going to have on their communities as educators someday.”
So writes Daijah Patton ’22 in What Diversifying Education Means to Me, which she published on Because Arcadia, a virtual library of blog posts, podcasts, and more that brings to life the experiences of Arcadia’s students.
Any undergraduate student, regardless of major, background, or writing experience can apply to the blog. Jen Retter ’16, the blog’s curator, helped create the platform as a student to offer a well-rounded, professional writing experience for budding authors from all majors and academic disciplines.
Established in 2014, Because Arcadia started with 15 bloggers in its first year. To date, nearly five dozen writers have shared hundreds of experiences. Retter now mentors student writers to help them develop their narratives and discover the power of their voice.
“I love seeing students go from ‘I got lost trying to find this class’ to becoming researchers, advocates, and activists,” shares Retter. “For many students, the first step in this journey is simply believing that they have a story to tell."
Breaking Down Barriers
"Coming to Arcadia in 2019, I knew it would be daunting as a disabled person. I hadn’t been to a brick-and-mortar school in years, and when I was, my needs weren’t met. Elevators were out of service or far from where I needed to be. I had to leave class early to avoid the bustling, narrow hallways. I missed field trips and was, every day, reminded of my “otherness.” When I did something for myself, I was revered for “overcoming” my disability, when really, it wasn’t my disability I was overcoming; it was the landscape built for everyone except me in mind, with no tools to ease my burden. One part of Arcadia that makes my life so much easier on campus is Disability Support Services... I’d never received support like I do at DSS... Through them, I’ve been able to access online textbooks, utilize handicap-accessible bathrooms, get extra time on tests, arrange accessible housing, and more." – Danita Mapes '23
Global Media major Danita Mapes ’23, a first-generation college student from central Pennsylvania, shares her campus experiences as someone who lives with cerebral palsy and brittle bone disease. In her blog post, Being Disabled on Campus and Striving for Change, Mapes shares how she hopes to create change for people with disabilities by participating in Arcadia’s Accessibility Committee, a group of students and faculty that work to address and resolve accessibility issues on campus.
Honest reflections from students like Mapes offer a snapshot of the diverse community that calls the University home.
Through her role as managing editor of Because Arcadia, career journalist Sandra Clark ’14 MBA is one of the first to catch these glimpses of the Arcadia experience. With an impressive career that spans outlets such as WHYY and The Philadelphia Inquirer, Clark is now the CEO of StoryCorps. She believes there’s something special about working with student authors.
“I get to see life through the eyes of an artist, athlete, or someone studying science, literature, or physical therapy,” she says. “I love watching them challenge themselves to play with words, helping us visualize and experience what they’re writing about.”
Managing My Time
In my first season of lacrosse, I was not worried about how I would perform on the field or how much weight I could lift in the gym. Instead, I was worried about how I was going to manage my time. Luckily, the coaches shared their tips to help us do this. The first thing is trying to manage your class and practice schedule. Before the season starts, the coaches make it clear what the practice times will be. They also stress that it is more important to go to class instead of pushing it off if it interferes with the practice time. I have personally scheduled classes during practice time and have never been punished or penalized in any way. The entire athletic department—from your trainer to Arcadia’s strength and conditioning coaches—is dedicated to supporting you in your athletic and academic achievements." – Patrick Ensmenger ’23
Student Before Athlete author Patrick Ensmenger ’23 is a Long Island native pursuing Arcadia’s Pre-Physician’s Assistant track. He aimed to address misconceptions that some may have about the student athlete experience.
“Some people think that you get to skip classes and goof off in sports, but through these stories I can show that it’s definitely academics first and athletics second,” says Ensmenger.
Creating Opportunity During COVID
"I was bound for the Gold Coast in Australia, slated to spend my Spring 2021 semester abroad. That plan was almost immediately extinguished by the time my third year of undergrad came around, as COVID had resulted in stringent travel restrictions (and rightfully so). Besides the cancellation of my study abroad program, COVID enforced additional limitations. In-person classes were a memory of the past, and instead, many STEM students had to learn lab procedures virtually. Internships and research opportunities foundered during the pandemic, leaving many STEM students, including me, with fewer ways to gain professional experience. Thankfully, I was accepted into the Dublin research program and received my preferred project, which involved work with E. coli antigens for a potential vaccine." – Alex Chin '22
Chin found a new opportunity through the Dublin research program, which involved work with E. coli antigens for a potential vaccine. He was excited to “interact with so many bright and talented PhD students.”
“My project itself had inspired me to consider research as a potential career. The Summer STEM program was an entirely unpredictable and memorable experience that I will continue to treasure, not only for the people I met, but for the obstacles I encountered and overcame thousands of miles from home.”
As posts like Chin’s show, the past two years have offered no shortage of experiences for bloggers to explore. And yet, unfailingly, Arcadia students have risen to the challenges in their paths.
“These stories really reveal how events such as the pandemic or protests after the murder of George Floyd affected the student body,” Clark says, as she reflected on what it’s been like to work on the blog throughout these difficult times.
Au Revior and Willkommen
"As I look out at the vibrant Green and majestic Grey Towers, I wonder: How do I even begin to consolidate four years of growth, adventure, and emotion into a succinct, goodbye letter? From Day One, I knew I wasn’t going to get an average experience with you. You’ve given me the world, and I loved it... And to the incoming Class of 2021: Get ready to embark on what could be the most fun, dynamic, exciting, and challenging years your young lives have seen yet. If there is a trip, take it. If there is an event, go. To the person sitting next to you in class, say hello. Explore Philadelphia. Stay up late laughing with friends. Engage with professors and peers who are different than you. Take advantage of each opportunity you will be offered during your years here. Thrive!" – Isabela Secanechia ’17
Philadelphia native Isabela Secanechia ’17, author of the heartfelt Au Revoir and Willkommen, wrote for Because Arcadia from 2015 to 2017 while pursuing a double major in Italian and International Studies. During her time at Arcadia, she studied abroad in London, England as well as in Rome and Perugia in Italy. While Secanechia loved the global perspectives she gained, she also experienced homesickness — emotions she coped with through storytelling.
“The blog was a way for me to stay engaged with the community at home while showing students the community abroad,” Secanechia shares.
When she returned to campus, storytelling helped Secanechia cope with her post-study abroad blues. She remembers how many of her pieces in 2017 explored “How do you find the elements of being ‘abroad’ in your own backyard?”
For Secanechia, this meant volunteering with the International Peer Associates Mentors (IPals) program and introducing her Philadelphia home to Arcadia’s international students. Today, Secanechia continues to build bridges across cultures and languages as co-founder of ELNOR, a language learning nonprofit that supports people living as refugees and draws from her international experiences during her time at Arcadia.
Secanechia also looks back fondly on the connections she built through Because Arcadia, such as her friendship with former blogger Cliff Long ’17. Arcadia’s first Fulbright scholar, Long also took advantage of Arcadia’s many international opportunities by studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. Much like Secanechia, his global adventures didn’t stop after college. He returned to South Korea to teach English in public and private schools in Busan and Seoul.
Now pursuing a career in social work, Long shares how interviewing fellow students for the blog was invaluable.
“Conducting those interviews and empathizing with others’ stories was an important experience to have as I move into a career where I plan to be doing direct and intimate work with people.”
Impact on My Career Path
New Jersey native Frances Dumlao ’15, who has managed social media for such publications as Self, Mashable, and Bustle, used her Because Arcadia posts as writing samples when interviewing; these helped land her first internship and, ultimately, launched her career.
“Working for Because Arcadia made how I tell stories much better,” Dumlao shares.
The opportunity to work with a content manager, not a professor, was a key advantage when she entered the marketing and communications world. Now an associate director of audience at Vox, Dumlao uses her skills to hone Eater magazine’s user experience.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many Because Arcadia student bloggers end up capturing the essence of Arcadia by going into global, impact-oriented careers,” says Retter.
Keeping Traditions Alive
"One of the coolest things about Arcadia is the Castle, and Halloween is the perfect time to showcase it. For example, ghost tours highlight the Castle’s historic roots and leave you wondering about the lives of those who lived here before. One of the most anticipated events is the Rocky Horror Picture Show performance hosted by the Honors program. From the late hours of the night into the next morning, the Honors program went all out to put on a show that’s an Arcadia classic. The fall experience at Arcadia is like no other, and I’ll be counting down the days until next year." –Micah Gordley ’24
Scientific Illustration major Micah Gordley ’24 had to give up her dreams of joining the London First-Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE) in 2020 due to the pandemic. This news could have soured Gordley’s first year at Arcadia, but it instead gave her time to explore Arcadia's unique traditions.
Gordley’s Celebrating Halloween the Arcadia Way is one of the many articles on Because Arcadia that shares numerous on-campus traditions, such as the haunted castle tour, annual Mr. Beaver pageant, and midnight bingo. Dr. Campbell notes that storytelling plays a large role in helping a community celebrate its traditions, legacies, and culture, while maintaining an authenticity that cannot be replicated by someone who has not lived these very experiences.
“When ‘others’ share or re-write stories, originality and cultural identity gets lost and sometimes even erased,” said Dr. Campbell. “Hence the importance of appropriate cultural representation of stories and what I refer to as, cultural citation. This is when a story is shared from an individual that is embedded in that culture — or better yet, present for the story they are sharing.
He explains how stories preserve culture and pass on cultural knowledge from one generation to the next. “At the heart, stories keep cultures alive. Moreover, they also connect us to universal truths about ourselves and our world.”
Above all, Because Arcadia allows students a platform to connect directly with readers, both on and off campus, in addition to underscoring how the student experience is — and has always been — the bedrock foundation of our institution’s legacy.
“Because Arcadia has truly allowed me to spread awareness about issues, share some of my favorite places in the area, and, more importantly, highlight some of the best parts of this university,” says Patton. “Everyone has a story to share.”
Nic Gieselman ‘19 (they/them) is a Kansas native who graduated from Arcadia University in 2019 with a BA in Global Media. Now based in Washington, D.C., they support community led nonprofits through multimedia storytelling and campaign management at GlobalGiving, the world’s first and largest nonprofit crowdfunding platform. Outside of work hours, you’ll most likely find Nic backpacking through the woods, teaching a yoga class, or pestering their friends with unsolicited fun facts.