Where academics meet faith

Notre Dame academic and arts programs help grad student in divinity school find voice, career path.

(Updated Feb. 17, 2017)

Two-thousand-ten Notre Dame graduate Simone Amalio said earlier this year that when she finishes grad school, she wants to work as a college professor, a job that no doubt will educate many young people in the coming years. But in Amalio’s case, who at the time was in her second year in the Master of Divinity program at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., she’s hoping to not only prepare students academically, she is looking to provide the spiritual leadership necessary in the development of future ministers of the church.

“I graduated from Spring Arbor University with a BA in biblical studies and a minor in speech,” she said, “and then moved into my graduate career at Duke in their Master of Divinity program where I am working toward becoming a college professor. In this way, I plan to stand in that space between scholarship and the church, preparing future church leaders academically and spiritually.” 

After finishing up at NDP in 2010, Amalio knew her future would include some form of ministerial work, but it was not until she graduated from Spring Arbor in 2014 that she realized there was a calling to a career in academia as well as to the church. 

“At Spring Arbor, just like at NDP, I was heavily involved in the arts, and eventually I became co-president of our drama department,” she said. “Being involved in theater, both off and on the stage, allowed me to continue to fall in love with the power of story and what it was like to take on someone else's story and tell it faithfully. It was this ability, which I first saw in my time in NDP’s theater program, that helped me become a more faithful historian, theologian and biblical scholar.”

She said that with the insight she gained from the arts, she is better able to analyze what makes the people behind the scholarship she studies, the people in the pews at her church, and even herself who she and they are and why people believe what they believe. 

“It has helped me to figure out why I have the hopes, fears, dreams and convictions that I have, and consequently, how to live those out in my life and faith.”

Also, Amalio said, the many opportunities she had as part of NDP’s visual and performing arts programs not only helped her learn how to express herself creatively, they allowed her to become a better scholar academically. 

“They gave me an edge when it came to the more competitive aspects of academia by allowing me to stand out among my peers,” she said. “I could say, ‘Look, I don't think the way everyone else thinks. In fact, I have these skills that give me my own voice in the field and help me make insights more easily than my peers might.’” 

In this way, she said, she is very grateful for not only the excellent education she received at Notre Dame, but also to her teachers and fellow students who challenged her as an artist and a storyteller. 

Real-world experience

Besides her college prep experience at Notre Dame, Amalio credits many other things in her young life so far for leading her into her chosen field.

“During both my undergraduate and now my graduate experience, I’ve had many wonderful opportunities that helped shape my career path,” she said. “I was able to participate in a semester-abroad program at Spring Arbor in 2012, where I studied the apostle Paul in relation to the New Testament and Hellenistic culture while living in Greece. This experiential way of learning deeply informed the way I read and work with Scripture today. I also was able to work under the university chaplain, which provided insights into the logistics of ministry as well as into college-campus life.”

At Spring Arbor, Amalio also worked with the university president's office as an ambassador for the university, which led to being invited to events around the country speaking on behalf of the school. She said those public-speaking engagements were huge in refining her networking and presentation skills, which have continued to pay dividends for her in her continuing academic pursuits. 

At Duke, Amalio also has spent the past year as an associate student pastor in a rural United Methodist congregation in North Carolina. She said that experience combined with her rigorous academic formation has been eye-opening to say the least. 

“Getting to make real connections between what I'm learning in the classroom and helping to lead a congregation requires a whole different level of knowledge that has required me to use all the tools in my tool belt,” she said. “In this setting, theology meets praxis, which means living the word and acting on what we know and understand about God. Although pastoral work is not something I feel called to, it has been a wonderful and formational experience that has allowed me to understand people in a much different light. I feel that these experiences — these insights into peoples' humanity — will make me a better scholar and a better asset to future generations of scholars/ministers.” 

Notre Dame Prepares

Amalio said that it’s obvious that her academic training has been essential to her journey thus far. And it will continue to be in the future since she won't be done with school for quite some time. 

“But starting with my time at Notre Dame Prep, I was not only prepared with a wonderful education, but more importantly, I was trained in how to think and how to analyze material critically with academic integrity,” she said. “The wonderful education I received at NDP made it possible for me to be a part of a top-tier program like Duke.” 

Amalio said, however, that it was not only her academics that made such things possible. 

“Such a journey has required and will continue to require me to be tenacious in my learning and faithful to the calling I feel I have received,” she said. “My creativity really continues to be an asset that I think allows me to stand out from my peers.” 

While her entire NDP experience and all her Notre Dame teachers were hugely beneficial, Amalio has a special shoutout for a couple of her former high school instructors.

“My art teachers, Mr. Devine and Ms. Swieca-Brockman, were major influences in my life, and I am eternally grateful for their time and the way they attended to me,” she said. “They taught me about expression and the hard work that goes into creating what you see in your mind's eye. They taught me about trusting myself enough to take risks and to see them through. Those are skills I continue to use every day in my art as well as in my scholarship.” 

While acknowledging that college has certainly been a big part of her life thus far, Amalio nonetheless wanted her fellow alums and other members of the Notre Dame community know that among all the chaos of her post-high school years, she’s also managed to get engaged. 

“My fiancé, Tyler Klebba, and I have been dating for six years now and are set to get married the summer after I complete my master’s at Duke, which will be in June of this year!”

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 National Association of Independent Schools, 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.