Politics, a priest and a preparatory school

Notre Dame graduate finds out how big of a deal his high school education was.


“I can tell what motivates you, what you’re interested in and the types of people you want to affect,” said the priest to a current Purdue graduate student when he was in high school.

“Stick to politics, Kulesza,” said Father Strasz of Notre Dame Preparatory School.

Chris Kulesza, a Ph.D. student in political science at Purdue University, listened to the advice of Strasz and now starts every morning by reading no less than five news outlets on his phone before even getting out of bed.

So began a recent article in a student newspaper out of Purdue University that featured a very busy young man who is active in many things in and around West Lafayette, including the governing bodies of Purdue and the communities surrounding the university.

Notre Dame Prep 2006 alum Chris Kulesza already has spent six years on the Purdue Graduate Student Government where he served as secretary, president and chair of the grants committee. He said the experience has provided especially keen insight into the workings of a major university.

“It is honestly just something that I love doing,” he told The Exponent, an independent college newspaper published by the Purdue Student Publishing Foundation. “I love giving back to my community, and I like working toward improving the lives of the people around me. When I see an issue or a particular problem happening around me, I like to see it get fixed.”

On top of all that, Kulesza is currently in the middle of a dissertation that will gain for him a Ph.D. in poly sci from Purdue. A very busy guy, indeed. But he did manage to find some time recently to talk about his high school, which he said, in addition to Fr. Jim Strasz, has had a number of other faculty members with a rather profound impact on his educational journey thus far.

Kulesza said Notre Dame and many of its teachers contributed to an almost seamless transition into college. But he narrows his list of influential teachers down to a select few of them who he says specifically inspired his college major as well as what looks more and more like a career in politics.

“There were some teachers in particular from Notre Dame who were highly influential in my decision to pursue political science,” Kulesza said. “Mr. (Russ) Cannon (retired 2007) comes immediately to mind. We had endless conversations about politics that really pushed me to get involved in my local political party. I must admit, there was not very much we agreed on in terms of policy, but that being said, he continuously challenged my views and attitudes in a way that made me realize how infinitely complex the political process is. It’s that realization that kept my interest alive for so many years.”

Kulesza, who spent his first four years of college at Michigan State University where he earned a B.A. in economics and a B.A. in political science, recalled that coming to MSU from NDP was not much of a problem at all for him.

“I would argue that the workload at Notre Dame Prep was very similar to my freshman- and sophomore-year classes at Michigan State, he said. “I remember other students in my classes at MSU feeling completely overwhelmed by the pace of college. Fortunately, I did not have this problem. I was already used to very high expectations from my experience at Notre Dame.”

In fact, he said he was surprised to find out how similar the coursework was between MSU and Notre Dame. “I recall looking at the syllabi thinking I was merely continuing my regular study routine from NDP.”

Another teacher from Notre Dame who was part of Kulesza's “regular study routine” was Norm Kotarski, who retired in 2011. 

“Before I began thinking about switching from physics to political science, Mr. Kotarski invited me to attend the Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Association (MIFA) student congress in Lansing,” Kulesza said. “It was through this program and his support that I realized that political science was my true passion.”

He said that without that invitation by Kotarski to go to Lansing, he likely would never have decided to enter into a Ph.D. program, much less come to the realization that political science was what he was meant to do. 

Kulesza also gives a big shout out to current Notre Dame social studies teacher Dave Osiecki. 

“Mr. Osiecki’s econ class ultimately made me decide to begin my undergrad program in economics,” Kulesza said. “It was not until my junior year at MSU that I added the second bachelor’s degree, but I had always intended to do graduate work in political science, not economics. That being said, the economics degree greatly helped me in getting admitted to graduate school.”

So what does Kulesza want to do with his life once he leaves Purdue? For one, he may not leave higher education at all when he joins the working world.

“I am hoping to enter academia, perhaps in university administration,” he said. “But ultimately I would like to serve in a political office. I am the type who enjoys not just studying politics, but being an active part of it. This sometimes differs from the norms of the discipline, but I believe for political science to stay relevant, we have to do more to practically apply our research.”

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy

Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." The Marist Fathers and Brothers sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program. Notre Dame is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.