St. Ambrose faculty to students: ‘Bee’ busy and get involved

Anne Marie Amacher
Ella Johnson, associate professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, gives the convocation address Aug. 25 to freshmen in the Rogalski Center.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Faculty and staff at St. Ambrose University “like to take every opportunity to make a wordplay or pun about our mascot — the fighting bees,” Ella Johnson, associate professor of theology, told freshmen during the opening convocation Aug. 25. “As a good Ambrosian, I’m not going to miss that chance today.”

Using a PowerPoint presentation during her convocation talk, she focused on three points under the acronym B-E-E:

• Be Busy. Johnson encouraged students to get involved. Find personal and social connections to the campus. She recalled her freshman year 24 years ago at the University of Illinois. Her dorm housed more people than the city in which she grew up. Being on such a big campus, Johnson felt homesick — until she got involved. “For me, it was my faith. That’s what anchored me.” She joined campus ministry and attended the Newman Catholic Student Center on campus.


“So my advice to you is to find a club or an interest group that fits something important to you and your identity.” She encouraged the students to attend the upcoming Bee Connected retreat. Johnson also assured the students that it is okay to ask for help as they work toward academic success. She received Bs and Cs for the first time in her life while in college. “I went from being a big fish in a little pond to a little one in a big pond.”

As the first person in her family to attend college, she felt like she was failing and started to doubt herself. “Really, I was just learning to adapt to a new home, community and style of living.” She swallowed her pride and got a tutor. She went to her teaching assistant’s office. She studied a lot.

Johnson told the students that professors are there for them. Visit during office hours and “talk to us. I like to get to know you as people — how your sports events, clubs or families are doing. How things are going in general. If you need help in any way — reach out (to your professor).”

• Embrace. “Here at St. Ambrose you will experience and interact with people of various cultures, religious beliefs, sexual identities and orientations, ages and abilities. Accept and welcome difference in others,” Johnson said. In order to learn, “we all need to have our basic needs met.

We need to be healthy, feel safe, be respected and feel like we belong.” Her challenge to the students — take responsibility to ensure this happens.

• Explore. Go find your interests. Johnson began undergraduate school as a pre-med student. During her sophomore year, she realized that was not her passion. “I couldn’t stay awake in anatomy. And I couldn’t wait to go to my comparative literature, religion and philosophy courses.”

She believes her faith led her to study faith more thoroughly, through a critical lens. “And when I began doing it — I couldn’t stop.” When she took her first theology class, “I felt like my heart was beating for the first time. I realize now that the feeling was so dramatic because it was the beginning of me finding my vocation and future career.” She encouraged the students to pay attention, be open to explore interests, thoughts, majors, careers and new ideas.

Johnson closed with a final piece of advice. “You all have the great opportunity ahead of you to write your ending. Who do you want to become? What do you want your time at St. Ambrose to look like? I’ll be hoping and praying for you that it includes being busy, embracing difference and exploring.”

In her charge to students, St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak said, “As we begin this new academic year, let me charge all members of the St. Ambrose University community to promote and support learning and academic freedom, and to do so with the integrity, intellectual curiosity, Christian charity and a spirit of service to others.”

Bishop Thomas Zinkula led the benediction to conclude the convocation.

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