First-Year Journey: Rocco Campanelli '23 on Thinking in New Ways at Notre Dame

Author: Shannon Rooney


It didn’t surprise Rocco Campanelli ’23 when the academics at Notre Dame turned out to be as challenging as advertised.

He expected to be challenged in the classroom. What surprised him was the abundance of opportunities he had, and continues to have, for exploring his interests outside of the classroom. 

When a hallmate in O’Neill Family Hall, where Campanelli lives on campus, learned Campanelli was interested in politics and debate, he invited the first-year student to a weekly Thursday night political discussion group. Group members are students from different class years and majors who shared a passion for current issues. 

“It's a really interesting club because we just talk about modern day politics and what's in the news and [have] hot topic debates and give our thoughts about what we think ought to be done. And it's really interesting to me as a political science major. That's what I love,” says Campanelli.

Campanelli’s interest in current issues is rooted in his desire to be of service. “Serving my community is not just something I do. It’s who I am,” he says. 

As a high school student in Long Island, New York, Campanelli started a nonprofit called Smithtown Boys Who Care. He, along with other students in the Smithtown school district, got together and when they saw a need, tried to meet it. That included raising funds for Make-A-Wish, volunteering for local organizations, and offering college scholarships, among other activities. 

At Notre Dame, Campanelli has gotten involved with his residence hall’s service activities. O’Neill’s signature charity is the South Bend Center for the Homeless and Campanelli is always on board for whatever project the residents commit to, from fundraising to painting dormitories. 

Conducting service with his hallmates is just one way Campanelli has found community at Notre Dame. 

Rocco Campanelli '23, center, with friends at a Notre Dame football game

“When I applied to Notre Dame, I always heard about how great the community was and I wasn't sure if it was real or was just something they said,” says Campanelli. “But ever since I got here, I've learned that there actually is a true Notre Dame community and family unlike any other school I've looked at—or basically anywhere else.” 

He admits it can be challenging to balance his extracurricular activities with the demands of his coursework, but says good time management skills are key. He finds that professors are supportive and make themselves available when he needs help. And he can rely on fellow students too.

“One thing that I've noticed here is that, especially when it comes to academics, students don't try to [one-up] you. They actually try to raise you up along with them and they will help you to succeed like they do,” he says. 

The environment in the classroom is collaborative, but Campanelli likes that his courses are pushing him to think in new ways, outside of memorizing and repeating information.

“[I]n college you have to think beyond that and you have to think, ‘What are the implications of what I'm learning?’" he says. "So [at Notre Dame] they inspire you to think beyond just copying and repeating things. And to think, ‘Why am I learning this and what can I use it for?’”

Learn More

Watch the video above to see what Rocco Campanelli’s favorite class is and learn more about his Notre Dame experience. 

Check out the rest of the First-Year Journey series:

First-Year Journey: Alexis Lopez ’23 Explores the Importance of Stories

First-year Journey: Jack Davies ’23 Explores Rocket Science and Music

First-Year Journey: Sam Al-Bahish Finds Global Opportunities at Notre Dame

First-Year Journey: Isabella Garcia ’23 Explores Political Science and Comedy Writing at Notre Dame

First-year Journey: Hayden Mascarenhas ’23 on Following Your Curiosity at Notre Dame

First-year Journey: Grace Rozembajgier ’23 Finds Connection through the American Studies Major and the Notre Dame Community

First-Year Journey: William Geoffroy ’23 Pursues a Foundation in Science and Ethics at Notre Dame

First-Year Journey: Intended Finance Major Sydney Kendall '23 Finds Her Academic Fit

First-Year Journey: Connor Martin ’23 Pairs Engineering and Service at Notre Dame

First-Year Journey: Caroline Pla ’23 Explores Sports Marketing and Literature in Her First Semester

First-Year Journey: Brandon Chou ’23 Discerns a Medical Career at Notre Dame