Nicolette Bardele, 21, a senior at the University of Notre Dame, stands on the Mediterranean shore during her semester in Greece. Since coming home, she has been “missing all the authentic Greek food.” (Submitted photo courtesy Nicolette Bardele) Nicolette Bardele, 21, a member of Christ King Parish, Wauwatosa, is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Following graduation next May, she plans to earn her doctorate in sociology and become a sociologist and university professor with a focus on incarceration, poverty and education. She’s no stranger to those issues, as in high school, she tutored economically disadvantaged middle school students, and went on parish mission trips to poverty-stricken Native American reservations in South Dakota. In college, she interned with a nonprofit substance abuse rehab program for women in New York, and took a course in a male prison that opened her eyes to the struggles of the incarcerated.

“I got to know them not as criminals, but as real individuals who deserve love and respect, and I think that experience really strengthened my faith just in that the idea of human dignity took on a new dimension for me,” she said of her class in the prison. “I mean, I came face to face with, I shook hands with, laughed and learned with these people who are often typically forgotten in our society.”

Those encounters have not only made her want to research and teach, but they’ve also strengthened her faith.

School and/or occupation:

Senior at the University of Notre Dame, pursuing a double major in sociology and statistics; I plan to attend graduate school in the Midwest or on the East Coast to pursue a doctorate in sociology.

What is your dream job?

I hope to become a sociologist and a professor at a university. I’d like to conduct research and teach at the university level. I’m really interested in issues like incarceration, poverty, education, so doing research and teaching around those things.

A couple years ago, I enrolled – kind of on a whim – in this course at school, it’s called “Rethinking Crime and Justice,” and the course itself took place inside a male prison.

Each week a bunch of students on campus – they called us outside students – would go and have class together with inside students, men incarcerated at the prison. The idea was to engage fully as equals in the coursework and in discussing prison life, re-entry issues, criminal justice system. I previously knew almost nothing about those topics.

It was really challenging to learn about those things, but also to learn how to interact with people I had never really known. I had never known anyone in a prison, so that’s something now that I’ve seen their struggles and with what happens when a person leaves prison, so I think that research and policy and teaching could help a lot with that.

What’s on your iPod?

I really have a little bit of everything. Alternative, country, rock, pop, Latin, Christian. The different genres, they all can reflect the setting you’re in, or the day’s mood, or contribute to that, so I like to have a variety.

If you could dine with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why? 

I would dine with Mother Teresa. I really admire her selflessness, her faithfulness, humility, her living simply. She always recognized and promoted how sacred human life is, and that really resonates with me. To be able to speak with her directly about those experiences and the things she encountered would be incredible.

Who has made the biggest impact upon you? 

My parents have made a huge impact on me, just in terms of showing me how to live a faith-filled life and a moral life. They instilled in me, from such a young age, love for serving others, and for the Mass and for prayer.

My mom (Linda) prays the rosary every day, and my dad (Neal) shares his gift of music at Mass regularly, so I’ve always been able to see that.

When I was really young, every night before bed they’d pray with me, but they would also help me write in this gratitude journal, so they encouraged me to think of something I was thankful for from that day, and thank God for that, and that has stuck with me and impacted me ever since. 

What’s one thing that makes you unique?

Since I was maybe 5 years old, I’ve had a takeout menu collection. At last count, I think I have probably 500 takeout menus in this huge file. Whenever I’m in a restaurant that has them, I’ll pick one up. I’ve always loved trying new foods, and I think the menus remind me of all the meals I’ve shared with family, friends, locally or on trips, vacations.

Describe a normal weekend: 

Football weekends at Notre Dame are really just indescribable. Students, parents, families, alumni – everybody – they all come together on campus. It’s like this incredible energy and togetherness. Football games on campus are a big part of my Saturdays, and Sundays tend to include spending time with friends, doing homework, and then Sunday nights I go to my dorm’s chapel (Notre Dame’s 29 dorms each have a chapel) for Mass, celebrated by the resident priest. That’s a really beautiful way to end the weekend, and it’s especially beautiful to share it with neighbors and friends right in the dorm.

Favorite Bible story/Scripture passage/prayer:

I really like the parable of the poor widow’s contribution. It’s the one where there are wealthy people putting offerings at the temple and then a poor widow puts in just two small coins. Jesus (explains) this poor widow put in more than all the rest because she has offered her whole livelihood as opposed to (giving) just out of surplus wealth.

Favorite quote: 

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Origin unknown

What is your favorite food, dessert?

This past semester I lived and studied in Athens, Greece, so lately I’ve been really missing all the authentic Greek food, like chicken or pork gyros, or they also have pastitsio – some people say it’s like the Greek lasagna – that was kind of my Greek comfort food; As far as desserts go, I really love anything marshmallow or s’mores related.

A challenge in life that has strengthened your faith:

I really knew nothing about the people at the prisons, so I was challenged by learning about the criminal justice system, but also (by) learning how to interact with them.

The men in my class were extremely kind, they just exuded God’s love and going off of that, that experience led me to pursue kind of an interesting internship last summer in New York.

It was at a nonprofit substance abuse rehab program, but it was more of an alternative to prison for women struggling with substance abuse addiction, and I think interning there also challenged me in a way that I continued to learn about the impact of poverty and substance abuse, and lack of education and all those things, can have on individuals. Seeing that was hard, but then my faith was strengthened by the joy, the love, the perseverance, the resilience of all those women.

Favorite pastime/hobby/activity:

I like to go to see movies or plays, or I also like to play the occasional basketball game with friends, just something like that to relax. My friends and I, we also like to have game nights, periodically. We all get together to play card games, board games, charades, eat plenty of snacks, just have a relaxed evening together. It’s really fun.

What is the most important thing you want to accomplish in life?

In my future career, I’d love for the research that I’ll do to inform policy, especially in dealing with issues related to incarceration and re-entry. I’m really excited that those issues are being talked about today, from what I see in the news, and I look forward to seeing where those conversations lead, but I think most of all, I want to live in such a way that I consistently promote the inherent dignity of every human being and every person.

How do you live your faith every day? 

Well, prayer is really important to me. I like to pray the Serenity Prayer at least once or twice a day, and I’m really lucky and blessed to attend a school that has so many Masses all over campus every week, so I sometimes attend daily Mass with friends. But I also believe it’s just extremely important to strive to live out my faith by example, so I try to live simply, kindly, lovingly.

Name one guilty pleasure:

 I really love watching old sitcoms on Netflix and reruns on TV.