Notre Dame students approach their residence hall rectors with all sorts of questions. If they're wondering about a possible career in teaching, and especially if they happen to live in O'Neill Hall, their rector Ed Mack is an ideal source of answers.
Because he spent 33 years as a Catholic high school teacher before arriving to head the O'Neill staff ten years ago, and because he wants Notre Dame students to be well supported as they pursue a profession he loves, Mack's answers about teaching always point toward the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).
He says he often has chances to "plant a seed" about ACE in his conversations with first-year students, perhaps because they're considering teaching among their future options or their parents are teachers.
"I tell them, if you're thinking about teaching, ACE is a super, Catholic mission-oriented way to get your master's degree and teaching experience through Notre Dame," says Mack. His "street cred" as an educator—still today, he's an adjunct professor across the street at Holy Cross College—combines with his empathy toward individuals as a rector who's "plugged into the lives" of residents in the dorm.
He winds up having more detailed conversations with seniors who may be considering different pathways into the teaching profession, and he can acknowledge to them that the first couple of years in the classroom will be challenging.
"I always tell them about the enormous support system you get through ACE—not only in the summers when you're studying here on campus, but the visits to your school and to your ACE community home [by ACE faculty and staff] during the school year," Mack says.
"You're living in a community of people your age, with similar ambitions, hopes and dreams, decency and integrity. Plus there's a support system not only from Notre Dame, but also in the school where you're teaching—from your mentor teacher and your principal."
These aspects of ACE Teaching Fellows make a difference, he says. They clearly carry some weight with the students: About a dozen alumni of O'Neill Hall have applied and successfully completed the formation program.
Mack derives such joy from seeing excellent, caring people pursue the vocation of teaching that he regularly serves on the ACE interview teams who meet with applicants every February. He doesn't leave campus to interview the many applicants graduating from colleges across the country, and he doesn't participate in the interviews of students from O'Neill.
Nevertheless, the connections to young people through the call to teaching can span time and distance in remarkable ways. Mack in particular remembers Brad Cake, whom he taught in high school—in his Freshman Honors English class in 2000-2001. Brad did not attend Notre Dame as an undergraduate but suddenly appeared in the summer of 2008, having successfully applied to ACE.
"It was a pleasure to have him here for the two summers." Brad stayed in Austin, where he taught as an ACEr. He's married to a young woman he met while teaching in Austin, and he has continued a career in Catholic school teaching. Mack stays in touch with both Brad and his parents, with memories that hark back to his own days as a high school teacher. "ACE just has a way of interweaving in people's lives," he observes.
As a teacher at heart, Mack is glad that extraordinary young people are coming into ACE and entering the profession: "I'm always so impressed by the quality of the people" from across campus and across the country. He's not the only rector helping to interview applicants, and he's certainly not the only rector helping to point the men and women of their dorms toward ACE.
Indeed, ACE is grateful to Mack and to all the rectors whose wide-ranging discussions with Notre Dame students occasionally involve this vocational choice. It's a comfortable conversation about the values and virtues of this home away from home, he explains. "The best thing about ACE is that it's at Notre Dame."