First-year student Jack Davies wanted to be an astronaut when he was little. A self-described “space nut,” the Billings, Montana native didn’t follow that particular dream, but he never let go of his space obsession and it led him to rocket science and the aerospace engineering major at Notre Dame.
Davies is currently finishing up his first semester of courses, which include Calculus, Introduction to Chemical Principles, and Introduction to Engineering Systems. He says adapting to the caliber of academics at Notre Dame has been one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of his experience so far.
Right now, he is knocking out some requirements—but even the requirements at Notre Dame can surprise you.
“My favorite class right now is actually my U-SEM”—shorthand for University Seminar, a requirement for first-year students. “It’s on elections in Africa and I love it. The professor, Jamie Bleck actually wrote the book that we’re learning from,” says Davies.
The course covers electoral politics in different African nations. Encouraged by a knowledgeable professor and fascinating class discussions, Davies dove into the material. Part of a group project required reading on Botswana, a country he’d know little about before. “I mean, I read books on Botswana,” he laughs, relishing the chance to research a topic that was new to him.
Now, thanks to his U-SEM class, Davies is considering adding a minor in the Keough School of Global Affairs and he wants to travel to several countries in Africa to experience the places he has learned about in person.
Along with the Core Curriculum requirements, engineering majors at Notre Dame have a packed schedule, but a motto of Davies’ is “work hard, play hard” and he makes time to pursue his interests outside of class too.
As soon as meetings started up in the fall, Davies joined the Notre Dame Rocket Team (NDRT), a student group that participates in the annual NASA Student Launch Initiative. Through the NASA challenge, NDRT students make an eight-month commitment to design, build, and fly a payload (the term that refers to a vehicle’s carrying capacity) that meets NASA’s specifications for the competition.
“We literally build a rocket and a rover payload and we launch the rocket to an average of about 4,000 feet. The rocket then breaks apart and lands safely and then our rover deploys, [completing] NASA's challenge,” says Davies.
Experiences outside of the classroom like these are fun, but they are also helping Davies build a foundation in the field he loves. As part of his work for NDRT, he has contributed technical writing, which will be presented to NASA during the Student Launch Initiative competition. The “space nut” in him is excited about that and he wants to continue gaining experience that will help determine his future beyond graduation. Davies plans to work as an engineer in industry before possibly making time for graduate school.
Apart from exploring rocket science both inside and outside of the classroom, Davies makes time for a very different passion: music.
“When it comes to extracurriculars and something that really set Notre Dame apart from other schools when I was applying is that I am passionate about music and I can [practice] my passion here,” he says.
All in all, Davies says he has found the complete package at Notre Dame—academics that challenge him, abundant opportunities to explore his passions, and a community that supports his goals.
“I talk to my friends from back home at [other] schools and some of them are struggling to meet people and find their niche. It’s not like that here,” says Davies. Living in O’Neill Family Hall, Davies has found community, where he has already made friends he knows will last a lifetime.
The community has made a big difference for Davies as he has adjusted to the rigorous academic environment at Notre Dame.
“On my first chem[istry] exam, I felt like I was struggling a little bit. So I reached out to the professor and he met with me...and my friends in my classes are always willing to help out,” he says.
Whether it’s chemistry, calculus, or symphony orchestra, Davies knows he has both the opportunity and the support to achieve his goals.
Click the video above to hear more from Jack Davies ’23 and learn more about academics at Notre Dame here.