Exploring Faith and Education

Exploring Faith and Education

Houston Fellow Powell plans ambitious study of Catholic schools and families in St. Louis

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

Mario M. Powell, '03, was barely out of elementary school when he concluded that his education was incomplete without the presence of faith.

Mario Powell is the first sophomore to win the Amanda Houston Fellowship Award. (Photo by Bill McCormack)

Having attended a public school in which there was no discussion of religious themes, Powell found the Los Angeles parochial school where he enrolled as a seventh-grader far more to his liking.

"It soon dawned on me that you can't separate education and faith: They are intertwined," said Powell, who became a Catholic later in his junior high years.

Powell will now be able to explore the relationship between religion and education on a larger scale, thanks to the Amanda V. Houston Fellowship he received at an April 3 ceremony in Gasson Hall. He plans to do research on the impact of Catholic education on African American families living in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Named in honor of Boston College's first Black Studies Program director, the Houston Fellowship is awarded annually to prepare a BC undergraduate for leadership by enriching their educational development through travel-study experiences.

A graduate of Loyola High School in Los Angeles, Powell is the first sophomore in the award's six-year history to win the Houston Fellowship, which is typically given to a junior.

A history and political science major, Powell has already shattered precedents at BC. Last year, he became the first freshman and first African American to win the Fulton Prize Debate and the prestigious Fulton Medal.

"Mario is a very compassionate young man," said Powell's faculty advisor, Prof. Andrew Bunie (History), who teaches a course on the history of Boston in which Powell is enrolled. "He brings a spark to the class. He's always contributing and asking questions."

Powell has plenty of questions for his research on African American students' performance in Catholic secondary schools. While evidence indicates Catholic schools "offer an environment for learning that produces enormous results when compared to public schools," he said, African American students continue to lag behind other groups.

Through interviews with St. Louis high school students and families from a broad spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, Powell says he hopes to explore how family life influences a student's approach to education.

Powell also will interview teachers and administrators from three Catholic high schools in the St. Louis area that serve students from different economic strata. He will assess these schools based on criteria from the National Catholic Education Association, which include the examination of a school's faith community, morale, academic emphasis and commitment to discipline.

While he cannot accomplish an entire sociological analysis in one summer, Powell said, he hopes that his project can at least start a conversation.

"From my own journey through education I've seen the difference that Catholic schools make," said Powell. "But there are still unanswered questions."


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