Dual Degree Alumnae

Our Five-Year Dual Degree in Engineering Program is one of a kind. Women are finding their way through rigourous academics, attaining two degrees in five years, and going on to do incredible work in their chosen discipline of engineering. We asked several graduates from the past 10 years to tell us what they are up to now and what the program meant to them. Their thoughtful responses and achievements are shared with you here. 

 


Kathleen Parsons '11 (ND '12)

Associate Consultant — Environmental/HSE at Eli Lily and Company
Indianapolis, IN

Mary Kathleen ParsonsWhat drew you to your specific discipline in engineering? What do you do in your current position? What do you love about working in the field/discipline?
I fell in love with chemistry in high school and I knew I wanted to study chemical engineering. I have always enjoyed taking on a complex problem; there's nothing quite like the thrill of problem solving. In my current role, I provide environmental compliance support for our insulin manufacturing plant. There are various environmental permits and regulations we are required to comply with and it is my job to make sure we have programs and procedures in place to meet those requirements. I love that I am part of a multi-discipline team. When problems arise in the plant or we are implementing new projects I have to work with operations, maintenance, safety, and process engineering to solve the problem or deliver the project. Each discipline brings an important point of view to the table and it's imperative we work together. I really thrive in a team environment!

Did it make a difference being at a women's college during your time at both schools? What advantages, if any, did it give you?
Absolutely it made a difference being at a women's college! I think the greatest gift I received from Saint Mary's was the confidence and bravery to speak up. I didn't realize it while I was in college but in my opinion an all female classroom was a safe space for all of us to share our opinions and ask questions without fear of judgement. During those formative years at SMC it became second nature for me to ask a question when I was confused or to share my opinion about how to approach a problem. This has payed dividends for me in my career. I'm not afraid to speak up in meetings when I think we could approach a problem differently and I don't hesitate or worry about being judged for the questions I ask. I have found more often than not most people have the same question I do.

With the perspective of time, what does it mean to you today that you achieved an engineering degree through this program? Did it help to receive two degrees?
I am incredibly proud to have achieved my engineering degree through the dual degree program. The program is so unique and I think it was incredibly beneficial to receive two degrees. I cherish my time at Saint Mary's and the professors that really guided me through the program. The SMC and ND educations are both incredibly rigorous but my SMC education really formed the human being I am today. As I look back on my time in the dual degree program the quote by Sister Madeleva speaks to me more now than it ever did as a student, “We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe and your place in it.", Saint Mary's delivered on that promise!


Catalina Vajiac '18 (ND '19)

PhD Student in Computer Science — Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA

Catalina VajiacWhat drew you to your specific discipline in engineering? What do you do in your current position? What do you love about working in the field/discipline? 
My first year at Saint Mary's, I had a feeling that I'd like computer science, which ended up being my engineering major. I took a programming class at SMC, fell in love with it, and then decided to pursue the dual-degree program doing computing and applied math + CS.

Currently, I'm pursing my PhD in computer science. I started doing research both at SMC and ND during my five years in the dual-degree program, and knew that I wanted to continue working on hard problems. I'm currently working on the detection and prevention of human trafficking by studying patterns in online escort advertisements. What I love the most about it is the real-world impact — this research can help change real people's lives and help catch the criminals who are exploiting them.

Did it make a difference being at a women's college during your time at both schools? What advantages, if any, did it give you?
While I really loved the environment at Notre Dame and made some lifelong friends there, I loved going back to SMC at the end of the day. I felt safe and supported, especially by my dual-degree Belles!

With the perspective of time, what does it mean to you today that you achieved an engineering degree through this program? Did it help to receive two degrees? 
The time I had at SMC was invaluable. Even though I'm currently studying computer science, I use the math background that I got from SMC all the time! The dual-degree program is great, since you're able to have the best of both worlds from both institutions!

Other Thoughts
Professors both at SMC and ND helped me find my path in life and my passion for research. I'm forever grateful for Dr. Barstis for helping give this opportunity to so many strong women at SMC.


Diane Hyzer '12 (ND '13)

Loft Design Engineer — The Boeing Company
Saint Louis, MO

Diane HyzerWhat drew you to your specific discipline in engineering? What do you do in your current position? What do you love about working in the field/discipline?
I’ve always been fascinated by everything space-related, so aerospace engineering was the obvious choice for me. My job is a little bit of a niche field in the overall design of an aircraft – I create the 3-D shape of an aircraft, the complex contours and surfaces. More complicated than it sounds. I love working in the aerospace field – there’s a cool factor about it. Everyone has a sense of the importance of the work that we do, but there’s also a lot of excitement about going to work and creating something new and better. I particularly love having a career and being able to advance in a field where women are historically under-represented.

Did it make a difference being at a women's college during your time at both schools? What advantages, if any, did it give you?
I think there are definitely advantages to being at a women’s college. The atmosphere there is unlike any other. You’re surrounded by ambitious women who want you to succeed – women empowering women. The smaller class sizes help you develop more personal relationships with your classmates and professors, expanding your network and support system.

With the perspective of time, what does it mean to you today that you achieved an engineering degree through this program? Did it help to receive two degrees?
Having two degrees has definitely made a difference in my career. It’s a pretty unique program, and it’s a great talking point whenever education history comes up. People are always curious about the program and impressed by it.

Other Thoughts
The program has meant a lot to me. Without a doubt, it’s the reason I have the job I have today. It wasn’t easy, but it was a great experience that prepared me to work hard and succeed in a field that I love.


Tabitha Ricketts '15 (ND '16)

Associate 2 — Pariveda Solutions
Arlington, VA

What drew you to your specific discipline in engineering? What do you do in your current position? What do you love about working in the field/discipline? 
I love the logic inherent in code — my favorite piece of troubleshooting advice, when I'm tracking down an elusive bug from some program that keeps breaking, is this: "The computer is doing exactly what I told it to do. So what did I tell it to do that's wrong?" I enjoyed studying philosophy in my classes at Saint Mary's, and growing my understanding of logic in a discipline that seems wildly different to computer science, but boils down to the same essentials.  The dual degree program enabled me to combine my love for programming with my passion for English writing. This gave me the perfect skillset for my career as a software consultant. My days are spent designing and implementing complex technical solutions to myriad business problems, but that's only half of it. As a consultant, I'm constantly supporting my technical expertise with the writing and communication skills developed in my Saint Mary's education to facilitate presentations, meetings and brainstorming sessions with all levels of client stakeholders. Having the perfect technical solution is no use if you can't effectively promote it to the decision-makers in charge; you can't even arrive at the perfect solution if you can't effectively seek out and explore the full nuance of the individual business' scenario.  I love being able to bridge the gap between hands-on-keyboard development and high-level business strategy.

Did it make a difference being at a women's college during your time at both schools? What advantages, if any, did it give you?
I was very young when I began my college career, so being at a women's college was first a question of safety and comfort before anything else. I happily viewed the smaller, close campus of Saint Mary's as a shelter from some of the more traditional aspects of a college experience as seen on TV that might not be suitable for a 15-year-old, but with plenty of opportunity for independence and exploration available between both campuses. I had no idea, starting out, just how valuable the all-women's aspect of Saint Mary's really was. Being in a female-centric environment, surrounded by examples of strong, intelligent women leaders, movers, and shakers, was empowering on a level I didn't fully understand. It forced me to challenge stereotypes and assumptions I'd once held, doing more than any book or lecture ever could to start tackling years of internalized misogyny. I grew in my understanding of womanhood, of society, and of the Church, discovering bits and pieces of each along the way that I loved and hated in turn. The impact of this all-women's education was even clearer to me as I moved through classes at Notre Dame. Particularly in the higher levels of computer science classes, which sometimes meant working more closely with Notre Dame graduate students than undergraduate peers, the lack of women was stark. In one required programming course, the older male professor sniggered through a few slides that used spam emails advertising male enhancement pills as an example to teach regular expressions. In a required Theology course, I witnessed the alarmingly disproportionate number of interruptions female students faced while debating Biblical teaching on the roles of husband and wife. At Saint Mary's, I didn't have to worry that what I wore might stand out too much in a packed lecture hall. There was no sense of "othering" to contend with or distract me from my education. I was able to ground my worth and my goals in that women-focused core of belonging, and carry that with me to my Notre Dame classes, and beyond — into technology consulting, a field that is still entirely too skewed toward white males. Saint Mary's proved the power of women beyond the shadow of a doubt, and it's my goal to pay that forward by supporting more women, and especially more women of color, to achieve their full potentials in technology.

With the perspective of time, what does it mean to you today that you achieved an engineering degree through this program? Did it help to receive two degrees? 
I am so grateful that this program helped me fully pursue my interests. I chose degrees in two disciplines that don't offer much overlap. A more traditional college program would have forced me to choose a path, but this program empowered me to achieve my greatest potential. I still look back in awe at all that I was able to accomplish in those five years — it's cemented a lifetime habit of discipline and diligence, and an unbending knowledge of my ability and worth. I am incredibly proud to have two degrees from two rigorous schools that highlight what I am capable of accomplishing. I hope future generations of Saint Mary's women continue to enjoy the same opportunity to make the most of themselves and their interests, and lean into their strengths in STEM and beyond. My only regret? The English writing degree may have made me a bit too sensitive to grammatical errors commented in code!


Patricia "Happy" Hale '17 (ND '18)

Test Engineer — Google
Venice, FL

Happy Hale in front of Google signWhat drew you to your specific discipline in engineering? What do you do in your current position? What do you love about working in the field/discipline? 
I was drawn to Computer Science through the Liberal Arts Mathematics course I took freshman year. After speaking to Dr. Hoover about how much I enjoyed the work in that class she suggested I looked into Computer Science as a field.

My current role at Google is to automate, run, and validate tests on hardware entering Google's data centers (I especially focus on finding ways to break the hardware or gaps in testing coverage). As a System Test Engineer, I am working with teams and new products to make them as robust as possible. What I love about this field is there is so much you can do and there is always something new to learn.

Did it make a difference being at a women's college during your time at both schools? What advantages, if any, did it give you?
Being at a women's college gave me a strong connection to strong like minded women who ultimately became my support network. Tech is still a male dominated and having the support and strength Saint Mary's has given me has helped me grow as an engineer and given me the tools to navigate difficult environments.

Saint Mary's engineers are held to a high standard by Dr. Toni Barstis and her guidance teaches Saint Mary's engineers to respect the opportunities presented to them, to be proactive, and to keep pushing for your goals no matter how hard it gets. The Saint Mary's engineering program strengthens our women by teaching us how we can overcome obstacles.

With the perspective of time, what does it mean to you today that you achieved an engineering degree through this program? Did it help to receive two degrees?
Today, having both degrees serves as a stepping stone for me to achieve my goals. Regularly in my profession I will get asked mathematical questions because of my degree from Saint Mary's in Mathematics. Without my degree in Mathematics from Saint Mary's I would not have learned the same analytical skills that help me in my work.

Other Thoughts
The Saint Mary's Engineering program has given me strength, opportunity, and life long friends. I cannot express my thankfulness for this program. If it were not for the amazing professors at Saint Mary's and Notre Dame I would not be where I am today.


Casandra Williams '11 (ND '12)

Business & Technology Delivery Manager — Accenture
Fort Wayne, IN

What drew you to your specific discipline in engineering? What do you do in your current position? What do you love about working in the field/discipline? 
I always loved chemistry & math growing up! Chemical engineering seemed to be a perfect fit for me. While at Accenture, I have worked in the technology space to help large financial institutions align their systems to global compliance regulations. I often listen to a problem and help find the most efficient solution.

Did it make a difference being at a women's college during your time at both schools? What advantages, if any, did it give you?
I loved the peace of Saint Mary’s College. It always felt like a haven for me to go & focus on my goals. My friendships there have lasted me into adulthood, and I am forever grateful.

With the perspective of time, what does it mean to you today that you achieved an engineering degree through this program? Did it help to receive two degrees?
Participating in the dual degree program builds character, stamina, and of course intellect. I carry this growth into my present life. The discipline of this program is still with me today!


Taylor Chamberlain '12 (ND '13)

Nuclear Engineer — Newport News Shipbuilding
Saratoga Springs, NY

What drew you to your specific discipline in engineering? What do you do in your current position? What do you love about working in the field/discipline?
I'd always enjoyed chemistry when I was younger, but was also very interested in the processes that go into chemical and product manufacturing, which leans a bit more heavily into the chemical engineering side. When I was looking at colleges, I was fairly certain I was going to take the chemical engineering side of it, but still had some hesitations about losing the focus of the chemistry I'd always enjoyed. Discovering the Dual Degree program that would allow me to learn both in detail was an amazing surprise.

My current position is titled as a nuclear engineer because of the department I work for at my company, but my actual responsibilities are focused in ensure the proper handling and disposal of the hazardous and radiological waste that we generate. It's part reviewing documentation to ensure every item is accounted for and part researching material to verify we're meeting state and federal regulatory requirements. My job is never boring, even if it sounds like it might be. We put a lot of time and attention into being prepared and organized, but no matter how hard you try something unexpected is always going to arise. I love that at the very core of my job is a strong focus on protecting the environment and the general public.

Did it make a difference being at a women's college during your time at both schools? What advantages, if any, did it give you?
Having Saint Mary's as the home base for my time in the program . The campus environment is supportive and empowering. You may not necessarily know what you need or want to do next, but you know that you have people around you that you
can ask for advice and that they'll support you in your decisions every step of the way. Having that as a frame of reference after you graduate gives you the perspective to build yourself the same type of support network for your professional career.

With the perspective of time, what does it mean to you today that you achieved an engineering degree through this program? Did it help to receive two degrees?
Having both degrees lends a flexibility to both my resume and my qualifications that I wouldn't otherwise have. My current job is definitely not the chemical engineering, but having the additional chemistry background supported my application through the hiring process. Should I ever try to change career paths, I'm positive that the two degrees will continue to support me in expanding outside the typical options for either a chemist or a chemical engineer.

Other Thoughts
The company I work for builds the nuclear aircraft carriers for the Navy. Right before I took the transfer to New York, I was accepted to a short 4-day program the company runs to put personnel on an in-service carrier. The logic is that the best way to build a better carrier is to have employees who have seen how a carrier operates and spoken with the sailors who man it. The program is amazing and a fantastic example of how there's room for improvement in every process. For 3 days, my group's guide arranged for us to meet with the various departments on the carrier and speak with them about how they do their work and any ideas they had for improvement that we could take back and share with our management teams. On the last day, we returned home by launch off the flight deck, which was both exhilarating and a little terrifying.


Alyssa Richards '12 (ND '13)

Manufacturing Engineer — General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems
San Diego, CA

What drew you to your specific discipline in engineering? What do you do in your current position? What do you love about working in the field/discipline?
What drew me to mechanical engineering was my fascination with and passion for automotive vehicles. In my current position, I assist in the production of equipment on aircraft carriers. I work very closely with the technicians on the floor and suppliers to come up with solutions that may come up during fabrication. My favorite part of my job is being out on the floor and obtaining hands-on experience with the technicians. A lot of them have been machining, welding, and building parts for decades. They are a wealth of knowledge, eager to teach others, and so much fun to learn from.

Did it make a difference being at a women's college during your time at both schools? What advantages, if any, did it give you?
It made a huge difference being at a women's college during my time at both schools. Saint Mary's has this amazing staff that empowers women to get out into the world, do whatever they are passionate about, and be whoever they want to become, regardless of gender roles or other barriers that may stand in the way. My confidence and self-esteem went through the roof during my time at Saint Mary's. Dr. Barstis in particular has this incredible super power to appreciate all of her students and push them to be the best they can be. The confidence I gained at Saint Mary's gave me the advantage to walk into a field dominated by men, and not be intimidated. I am usually the only woman in meetings, and it does not bother me one bit. That is not something I could have said prior to going to SMC.

With the perspective of time, what does it mean to you today that you achieved an engineering degree through this program? Did it help to receive two degrees?
I still look back at that dual degree program and think, "Wow...I cannot believe I did that." It was easily the most difficult challenge I have ever been through, which made it that much more rewarding to complete. I remember coming back to my dorm after taking an engineering exam during my junior year, throwing myself on my futon, and crying because I just was not entirely sure I could make it. But there was nothing else that I wanted to do more than that dual degree program. And with the support of all of the SMC professors and my SMC chicks, there was nothing that could stand in my way. Having two degrees has multiple advantages. First of all, it demands respect from peers. While I have had very few negative experiences being a woman in a male dominated field, the minute one of my male colleagues learns of my education, the way they address me shifts ever so slightly into a more respectful manner. That is something you will never hear me complain about. Secondly, it gives you the ability to juggle two schools of thought at the same time. Engineering often requires thinking outside the box and looking at a problem from all possible angles, with all possible variables. Receiving two degrees (essentially simultaneously) prepared me for attacking problems from different angles and I will forever be grateful for that advantage. Another advantage, and something I thought I would never, ever say, is that I am so grateful for all of those technical papers my math professors made me write at Saint Mary's. I would say about 75% of my peers do not know how to effectively communicate in technical terms via the written word and I am so appreciative of that experience during my time at Saint Mary's. Oh and, lastly, being able to write two different, technical B.S. degrees on your resume isn't terrible either :P

Other Thoughts
When I walked into Saint Mary's, I just never thought that I would ever be the kind of student to receive two degrees. Let alone two technical degrees. Let alone a degree in mechanical engineering and another in mathematics, of all subjects. In my head, an accomplishment like that was beyond my reach. But the support and encouragement I received (specifically from Dr. Barstis and the Mathematics Department), made me believe in myself. They inspired me and pushed me to be a stronger, smarter version of myself that I did not know was possible. That is not something that most people can say about their undergraduate experience.