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Notre Dame Senior Claire Nauman Launches Website to Explore Faith and Engineering

Written by: Marijke Wijnen

Senior environmental engineering major Claire Nauman has launched a website, Engineer for the Soul (engineerforthesoul.weebly.com), to help young people grapple with questions related to faith and engineering.

Nauman explains it this way, “Engineer for the Soul lies at the intersection of faith, engineering, and discernment. It exists for the sake of sharing knowledge, for telling stories, for walking along the path of discernment, and ultimately for building up the young Church to authentically live out the call to serve the needs of the Church and of the world. It explores engineering in the light of faith, primarily through interviews with engineers, students, priests, and religious seminarians telling their stories.”

The origin story of Engineer for the Soul is Nauman’s own story of searching for clarity, which she shares beautifully on her website and which I have included below:

Nauman on an Engineers without Borders trip in Cameroon.
Nauman on an Engineers without Borders trip in Cameroon.

As a senior in high school, I knew two things: I wanted to help people and I liked math. Engineering was this cool buzz word. It was challenging. It was mysterious. It was something I wanted to explore. But why? As I was writing my application for Notre Dame, I was confronted with the following prompt, which provoked a response that I think begins to answer that question: “Why?”

“In his 2005 inaugural address, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, challenged our community: “We at Notre Dame must have the courage to be who we are. If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?” When you leave Notre Dame, what is one way you will bravely face the world, stay true to your values, and make a difference large or small?”

I remember sitting on the couch at my uncle’s house as I was working on college applications and telling my mom what I wanted to write—“What I want to do, when it comes down to it, is to be the Mother Teresa of Engineering, but I can’t tell them that. They’ll think I’m corny.” Yes, it was corny—I’ll admit that. But it was also true. And I maintain that it is the reason Notre Dame gave me a chance. That desire to live out one’s faith and to serve people through engineering is part of the reason I love it here at Notre Dame and it’s also one of the reasons that Engineer for the Soul exists.

When I finally got to Notre Dame, I found myself questioning whether engineering was the path for me. My theology class always left me pondering big life questions and my general chemistry class threw me for a loop. I was filled with doubt and questions. Was I even good at math and science? Maybe I should study theology. Could I even help people with engineering? Maybe I should pray about it. One night early in my freshman year at “Milkshake Mass” in Dillon Hall, I ran into a religious sister who worked in vocations in Campus Ministry. She invited me to join her discernment email list. I added my name to the list and told her that I was really looking for some help in discerning my major. I was thinking about engineering but wasn’t too sure. She smiled and said she could do her best to help but she didn’t know much about engineering. It was at this moment that the seed of Engineer for the Soul was planted. I walked back to my dorm after talking with Sister Maria Gemma wondering about how I could find someone who could help me. Who knows about engineering but also cares about their faith and discerning God’s calling?

Claire Nauman with host Ma Hannah in Cameroon on Engineers without Borders trip.
Claire Nauman with host Ma Hannah in Cameroon on an Engineers without Borders trip in January 2017.
Fast-forward a year and a half and I’m a sophomore with a major in environmental engineering. One of the professors for the Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences Department had hooked me on civil and environmental engineering by telling me that they were the most “people serving” disciplines of all the engineering disciplines. Whether or not that is true, I took the bait and declared a major in environmental engineering. Now knee deep in my major, I was realizing that the somewhat blind choice I made to study environmental engineering was a really good one. As is to be expected, I wasn’t in love with all of my classes but I was pretty darned excited about most of them. I thought environmental engineering was the coolest thing—sustainability, green energy, clean water, you name it—I thought it was the greatest. I was about to travel to Cameroon with our Engineers Without Borders chapter to conduct an assessment trip for a clean water project there. My roommate, Monika, was a year ahead of me also studying environmental engineering. We would stay up late chatting about what we wanted to do with our lives. I was at the exciting stage of discovering what environmental engineering was and how I might be able to do something meaningful with it.

In the midst of my questioning and discovery, I got an email from Sister Maria Gemma about a conference called the Given Forum. It was organized by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (aka a bunch of nuns) and was meant to help young women recognize their gifts and use them for the life of the Church. It was fully funded and featured talks by lots of great speakers. It sounded like a great opportunity to explore these questions I’d been pondering since the beginning. I decided to go for it. I opened up the application and saw that, in order to apply, I needed to come up with an Action Plan, my own “unique initiative to unleash the gifts of the feminine genius in the Church and in the world.” After thinking and brainstorming and praying for about a month about what I might do, I asked Monika, my roommate, what she thought. She told me, “Well, you’re always talking about engineering and your faith and how those two go together. What if you made some kind of online resource combining those two things?” Immediately the ideas started flowing. I wrote up my action plan and submitted my application.

I was accepted and quickly started moving on planning for the website. I fully anticipated that the conference itself would be the most meaningful part of my Given Forum experience. I have to say though, as much as I loved the talks and meeting tons of other young women and religious sisters at the Forum, my Action Plan (Engineer for the Soul) has been the greatest gift of this whole experience. I have so enjoyed meeting people, hearing their stories, brainstorming for the website, and sharing the fruits of this effort with others. My hope is that this website will serve as a resource for other young people seeking to live out their faith and pursue engineering or discern God’s call for their lives. It has been a joy to work on this website and I’m looking forward to continuing to share people's stories with it for many years to come.

For Nauman, Engineer for the Soul is still in its infancy. She plans to expand the project for many years to come. Below are a few of the interviews that she has already shared on her website.