Cura Personalis: Natka Bianchini, Ph.D.

By Stephanie Weaver  |  Photos by Howard Korn

NatkaIn March 2016, the University selected Natka Bianchini, Ph.D., associate professor of fine arts—theatre as class dean for the Class of 2019. The class dean is a faculty member who serves as a resource and mentor for all of the undergraduate students in the same class year. The class dean is in addition to an academic advisor and Messina advisor for a student’s first few semesters.

Loyola magazine interviewed Bianchini to see what her hopes for her new positions are, when she knew Loyola was her home, and a fun fact her students don’t know about her.

Bianchini is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but says she has always been an East Coaster at heart.

Explain your role as class dean.

As a class dean, my role is to be a resource and mentor to all the students in the Class of 2019. This could mean helping with anything from deciding whether or not to study abroad or what to major in, to helping students who may need to withdraw from a course for medical or personal reasons, to helping students discover their passion and figure out what that means for their career path. Students will have a Messina advisor in their first 2-3 semesters, and then a major advisor, but my job is to supplement and support the advising system currently in place, and to create continuity for the students over their 4 years at Loyola.

What are you most looking forward to in your role as class dean?

As a theatre professor, I get to know my students very well. However, these students are only a small percentage of all of the Loyola students on campus. I’m looking forward to getting to know a much broader and more diverse section of Loyola students through this new role.

What do you hope to gain from being a class dean?

My goal is to personally meet, at least once, every member of the Class of 2019. My hope is that every student will know my name and face, and feel that I am a resource to them if needed. I’m also hoping to help instill a sense of intellectual rigor and curiosity in our students. I majored in sociology in college, which was something I had never even heard of in high school! I want to help our students take advantage of exploring all the rich and rewarding academic and co-curricular options on our campus so they can discover what excites them and ignites their interest.

The students in your class–2019–are making Loyola their new home. When did you know that Loyola would be your home?

In the fall of 2010, I was pregnant with our boys – Alec and Leo. One Friday morning, I walked into my Intro to Theatre History class, and found out the entire class had secretly conspired to throw me a surprise baby shower – complete with cupcakes, decorations, and gifts! They had even found a way to contact Janna, my wife, so that she could be present as well. That was a very special moment for me, and I remember that particular class with incredible fondness.

The following year, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Katherine Brennan, in the history department, on the spring humanities symposium text – the classical Greek Comedy, Lysistrata, by Aristophanes. I directed a production of Lysistrata in February 2012 that was attended by more than 1100 people. It was the first time, as a theatre professor, that I felt I was able to use my discipline to connect people across our campus community.

Both of these events, in different ways, have helped to make Loyola home for me.

How do you plan to weave Loyola’s Jesuit values into your work as class dean?

I think having a consistent presence from year to year will help provide our students and their families with a sense of cura personalis. Although my role is primarily an academic one, none of us exist in isolation. Our spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health is intertwined with our intellectual growth and exploration. I see class deans as the glue that helps students to connect all these different parts of their identities and experiences at Loyola.

What’s something your students don’t know about you?

My birthday is July 4th.  When I was a kid, I thought the fireworks were for me!

What is your academic field and why did you choose it?

I have a Ph.D. in drama from Tufts University. I fell in love with theatre when I directed my first full-length production, as a junior in college. Being a theatre scholar allows me to produce original research and scholarship (I wrote a book on Beckett’s plays in America), and to direct plays (I have directed 7 productions since arriving at Loyola). I think involving students in productions is the best way to teach empathy, and to encourage students to engage in deep, critical thinking about complex issues of self, society, and the world.

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