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Jacob McDaniel visited Sugar Loaf Mountain (background) beside Guanabara Bay during World Youth Day in Brazil.

Student Spotlight: Senior Jacob McDaniel’s ‘discovery of faith’ has led him toward a new career goal

Reaching out to help others is as natural as breathing for IUPUI student Jacob McDaniel, a senior in philosophy in the School of Liberal Arts.

Sometimes, McDaniel’s efforts involve serving as an academic mentor. Other times, it means joining one of IUPUI’s many civic engagement programs. Still others involve getting involved with individuals through the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and its work on the IUPUI campus.

The last one is becoming first in McDaniel’s heart. The Michigan City native originally came to IUPUI to check out the forensic sciences program and eventually migrated to chemistry and mathematics. But in the last couple of years, McDaniel has, in his words, “discovered my faith," and gotten more and more involved in programs offered by St. John’s Catholic Church in downtown Indianapolis. His discovery left him to shift from chemistry to philosophy as a major.

“That (switching majors) caught a lot of people by surprise,” McDaniel laughed. “Though I suspect most of the kids who know me well weren’t caught all that much off guard.”

McDaniel expects to wind up in a classroom, using his skills and training to help students find their own path. But he hasn’t ruled out a path that ends up with him joining the priesthood.

“I know I want to teach and share my love of academics,” McDaniel said. “I didn’t set out to become a priest, but it definitely is on the radar screen for me down the road.”

The new trail he’s been blazing has put the Honors College senior on the road. In the past year, McDaniel spent time on three continents (Europe, North America and South America), including a trip to Rome (where he had a chance to see Pope Francis) and in Brazil for World Youth Day.

“It’s been quite the whirlwind,” McDaniel admitted. “But I don’t think I’ve ever had such a productive, exciting summer.”

The impact of his travel and his work on behalf of St. John’s has only reinforced his new path.

“The big changes for me came after I discovered my faith,” McDaniel said. “It was behind my switch to philosophy. I’d always been interested in the physical sciences, but when I started looking at philosophy, I realized that it asked the right questions, and in the right way.”

McDaniel has been an academic success regardless of his pathway; he was a Top 100 Student as a junior, and is a Chancellor’s Scholar.

He believes his unusual background will make for an effective teaching career. His work in IUPUI’s Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) program gives him insight and experience in providing academic support for students who are struggling. He enjoys the PLTL’s work sessions, which feature small groups in weekly workshop meetings, led by a peer leader who has had success in the course (in McDaniel’s case, chemistry).

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