Rising senior Monica Mesecar came to Notre Dame intending to major in biochemistry. Her interest in a medical career drove that decision, but once she began taking classes, she realized the subject she had chosen just wasn't a fit.
Because she enjoyed her psychology classes so much, Mesecar "took a leap of faith," she says, and switched to neuroscience and behavior.
She is still pursuing a degree through the College of Science, but the study of science as it relates to the mind is overall a much better fit for her. She can still pursue a career in medicine too.
Here, Mesecar gives us details on her major switch, her love of writing and art, and her work as the founder of a campus club for students with disabilities.
Monica Mesecar '21
Hometown: West Lafayette, Indiana
Major: Neuroscience and behavior, College of Science
Minor: Compassionate care in medicine
Clubs and Campus Involvement:
Dorm Section Editor - The Dome (Notre Dame yearbook)
Founder/President - Access-ABLE
Welcome Weekend; Apparel Commissioner; Senior Fellow - Ryan Hall
Neuroscience and behavior major: Social Media Manager; Senior Leadership Committee
Tutor for Student Athletes
How did you choose your major?
I came in as a biochemistry major as freshman and I was like, "I want to be a biochemistry major. I'm definitely going to be pre-med." So far, I had a path all figured out. And by the end of my freshman year I thought, "You know I really don't like my classes that much."
I realized I wanted to take more of my psych classes because I really enjoyed Intro to Psych and I wanted my science classes to connect more to what I was interested in. So I decided to take a leap of faith and switched my major to neuro. Even though I didn't know much about neuroscience at the time, thank goodness I did because it turned out to be exactly what I was interested in. The intersection of science and psychology was the perfect match for me. And I couldn't be happier.
And you added a minor in compassionate care in medicine.
Since I was interested in medicine, I was definitely interested in the human side of medicine as well. So I wanted to make sure all my bases were covered and I wanted to be a good doctor in every sense of the word. I thought compassionate care in medicine would help me with that and put me ahead of the curve.
Have you always had an interest in a medical career?
I don’t know if I would say “always.” I started to become interested in medicine in general in about seventh or eighth grade. However, what I have wanted to study has changed. First, I thought I wanted to be a pathologist. Then, I was dead set on psychiatry. But now, I’m thinking more about neurology.
What has been one of your favorite classes so far?
I will always have a special place in my heart for Dr. Boyd’s introductory Neuroscience and Behavior class. That course was where I had my “Aha!” moment—where I knew that neuroscience was my passion. Before, I would always just say, “I like science.” Now, I had a direction.
Tell us about starting the Access-ABLE student club.
I founded it with my two roommates, Michelle Moufawad and Ellie McCarthy.
We started Access-ABLE because we thought there was a need for programming related to disability on campus—because the University at that time had not recognized disability as an avenue of diversity. So there was virtually no campus programming, and there wasn't a space where people in this community could come together, and there wasn't a lot of awareness being spread on campus. There was just basically no attention paid to it [even though as a] minority group it's the largest minority group in the United States.
On campus there are over a thousand students who use disability services. So I thought there needed to be a place for them and I thought there needed to be a body providing programming to provide awareness to the general student body.
[We're] advocating for these students and spreading awareness across the campus community so that disability can be recognized as an avenue of diversity. [We think this is] important and that it is worth paying attention to so that we can improve our overall campus climate for these students.
What do you love about writing for The Dome?
Yearbook is definitely one of my favorite things here out of my extracurricular activities, so I've always been really involved. It was my first extracurricular ever and I'm still a writer for the yearbook, but I've recently been promoted to academic section editor. So that was a really nice change. I'm still writing stories but now I'm in charge of editing a section and helping people with the stories in that section. It's been really rewarding.
What I love about yearbook is the sense of a team coming together to create a beautiful finished product. You and the staff work together for most of the year, so you all become really close. Then, you’re working the whole year to make this one thing absolutely perfect. You put so much time in, and to see everything come together as one cohesive book is really amazing (but the perks are nice too ;) ).
What's your favorite Notre Dame memory so far?
There are so many memories that I cherish from my time here. It’s hard to believe that I will be a senior and that means my time here will soon come to a close. But I have two memories that really stick out. Both were as a freshman.
The first one took place during the first week of classes. I was sitting in the LaFortune basement lounge with a group of friends, and we were all sharing Pizza Hut while talking and laughing. I think that was the first time that I felt like I had a place here and that everything would be okay.
The second took place during the winter. There were about six to eight inches of snow on the ground, and my wheelchair kept getting stuck. Strangers (members of the ND community) rallied around me and pushed me out of the snow multiple times that day. It just made me realize how truly wonderful this community is as a whole.
Tell us something most people wouldn't know about you until they got to know you.
Given that I am a pre-med neuroscience major, most people wouldn’t know that I actually have a very artistic side. I love art, music, reading, and writing. Yet, because of my choice of study and minimal free time, I rarely get to indulge in these things nowadays. For example, in high school, I took all four levels of photography and AP studio art. Also, one of my photos received second place (in the photography category) in a local art show. I also loved my AP English course in high school and miss reading and critically analyzing literature.
What's your favorite place to eat on campus?
I’m torn between Garbanzo and Modern Market.
If you had one piece of advice for prospective students, what would it be?
In short: Just do your best, keep pushing through, things will get better and easier with time.
I had a really difficult freshman year and always felt like I just hadn’t gotten the hang of things yet. I didn’t actually feel like I had a true grasp on things until the start of my junior year. During those first two years, but freshman year especially, I was really hard on myself and constantly exhausted. I couldn’t wait for every weekend and it felt like I was always working for the next break.
But then one day, my first rector, Allyse, said “go gently with yourself,” and I realized that I had been doing the exact opposite this whole time. From that day forward, I vowed to simply try my best, get help when needed, and whatever happened, happened. So in closing, don’t be afraid to ask for help, And in all honestly, it just takes a while to adjust to college and get a handle on the new demands/expectations. Odds are, you will struggle in the beginning, and that’s okay. It’s about how you handle it.
Check out other Student Q&As:
First-Year Journey: Q&A with Aidee Barajas '23, QuestBridge Scholar and American Studies/Sociology Double Major
First-Year Journey: Q&A with Austin Wyman '23, Psychology Major and Ballet Folklorico Dancer
Student Q&A: Bethany Boggess '19, Marketing Major and Musician
First-Year Journey: Q&A with Gracie Molnar '23, Computer Science Major and Navy ROTC Student