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Rome Essay Contest

Rome Essay Winner Focuses on Greater Appreciation for Beauty

Aspen DanielsDate published: March 22, 2017

In a conversation with her mom during her Rome semester in fall 2016, Aspen Daniels, BA ’19, talked about the first time she’d visited a small church in Castel Gandolfo. She hadn’t been very impressed by it. Then, later in the semester, she and a friend returned to the same place. Suddenly, Daniels was noticing details she hadn’t before, applying terminology from her Art and Architecture class. Her entire outlook on the little church had changed.  

“This was the biggest thing about the Rome semester, I think,” said Daniels. “Learning to see beauty, appreciate little details. We were always going to a new town, visiting these magnificent cathedrals; we would sit down and listen to a choir rehearsing or just look at the light coming through the windows. Or going on a hike: we were just always surrounded by beauty. And through Art and Architecture, we learned to see details and techniques in works of art that we would have completely missed before. Now, I notice beauty more everywhere — and it’s not just me. A lot of my classmates have said the same thing.”

This new insight and awareness of beauty became the subject of the essay, titled "Learning to See,” that won Daniels first place in the fall 2016 University of Dallas Rome Program Essay Contest, which engages students studying abroad through the university’s Rome Program in describing a place they visited or an encounter they had during their study abroad semester, exploring how some part of the Rome Program curriculum better enabled them to comprehend that experience.

The judges, who included Professor of English and Associate Dean of Constantin College Scott Crider, Associate Professor of Theology and Associate Provost John Norris and Associate Professor of English Greg Roper, were impressed by how Daniels’ essay “grounds itself in the particular and allows those particulars to speak toward the universal, while using sentences with skill. The essay throws light on its insights and comes around to Rome, provoking post-Rome insight.”

The prize will be awarded at a farewell reception for the fall 2017 Rome semester class in May, at which Daniels will read her essay. The essay contest is in its second year; the first award went to fall 2015 Romer Carolyn Mackenzie, BA ’18, for her essay “Vista Aventino.” Cited for honorable mention for the fall 2016 class were Jacob Newstreet, BA ’17, for “A Stranger Visits Aachen” and Katherine Tweedel, BA ’19, for “Rome Time.”

Daniels believes that whatever her post-UD future might hold, writing will likely be part of it. The English major has always enjoyed writing, from blog posts to poetry, and kept a dedicated journal during her Rome semester, recording her adventures and observations whenever and wherever she could — scribbling furiously on buses and trains and before going to bed, every time a moment presented itself.

“It’s so stained and messed up now,” she laughed.

Daniels arrived at UD after a gap year, having explored other schools both Protestant and secular and toyed with the idea of a communications major, but ultimately drawn by her love for the Core curriculum (of which the Art and Architecture course taught in Rome is a part).

“I just have hazy ideas about my future,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll write books, but I would like to do writing on a smaller scale, maybe for a nonprofit or some type of publication; I also love kids and could see myself having a family and writing on the side. But I do believe you have to live before you can write. During the Rome semester, striking off on my own, having adventures, getting lost — all of that really built up my courage and self-confidence and taught me that I could do these things, from figuring out train schedules to talking to people who speak a different language.”

Although Daniels lived in France with her family for several years as a child, she said that experiencing Europe is very different by yourself — or with friends and classmates — than when you’re with your family.

“I grew way more in that one semester than I would have in a year somewhere else,” she said.

Photos courtesy of Gabriela McCausland, BA '19 (top), and Emily LaFrance, BA '19 (story body).