Trailblazers: Dual Degree Engineering Grads Help Set Record, Strengthen Program with Notre Dame

Six Saint Mary’s students who completed the dual degree engineering program with the University of Notre Dame helped make Notre Dame history on graduation day, May 22, 2011. They were part of the largest group of women engineers, seventy-four in total, to ever graduate from Notre Dame. In all, 268 men and women received engineering degrees from Notre Dame this year.

The six Saint Mary’s students now hold two degrees, one from each institution, after graduating from Saint Mary’s in 2010. Jennifer Hellyer
Jennifer Hellyer '10

And the rigorous Saint Mary’s dual degree program they completed is stronger than ever. “The dual degree program has grown such that one-third to one-half of our mathematics and chemistry majors are pursuing engineering,” said chemistry Professor Toni Barstis, the program’s advisor. “This program is attracting prospective students interested in combining a liberal arts education with the technical education inherent to engineering and allows Saint Mary’s to retain our strong students.”

Ali Donahue
Ali Donahue '10

Saint Mary’s College’s dual degree five-year engineering program grants two bachelor’s degrees to each graduate: one from Saint Mary’s after four years of fulfilling mathematics, chemistry, and physics pre-engineering requirements, and one from Notre Dame after completion of a fifth year on that campus as a transfer student.

The program is mutually beneficial because Saint Mary’s does not offer an engineering degree, and because Notre Dame seeks to attract more women engineering students. The arrangement has existed since 1977, but was not formalized until 2006.

Jackie Corey
Jackie Corey '10

In the past, the program was limited to chemistry majors interested in chemical engineering. Now, it’s open to all Saint Mary’s science and mathematics majors who can chose from chemical, civil, computer, electrical, aerospace, or mechanical engineering, or environmental geoscience and computer science.

Jane Fleming
Jane Fleming '10

Students are taking advantage of the expanded opportunities. “Our trailblazers are paving the way for other students to follow,” Barstis said. “For example, Mary Zahm ‘10 is the first math major and mechanical engineer. Her success drew two other math majors into mechanical engineering,” Barstis said. “Other trailblazers include Ashley Crish ‘11 in computational math and computer science engineering; Diane Hyzer ‘12 and Grace Guyol ‘12 in math and aerospace engineering; and Suong Do ‘12 in math and electrical engineering. Women are significantly underrepresented in these engineering fields.”

The number of program enrollees has been excellent, too. The Saint Mary’s 2012 class is predicted to graduate eleven dual degree students, the largest group ever.

Barbie Shaw
Barbie Shaw '10

Outside the classroom, students are spending one to three summers performing academic research and/or industrial internships, Barstis said. And because of Notre Dame’s excellent career fair for engineering students, the dual degree program students are finding jobs easily, she said.

Mathematics Chair Joanne Snow praised the dedication, scholarship, and especially the supportive spirit of the students. “In five years, just one more year than the typical student who earns one degree, they are completing two very difficult majors,” she said. “Completing a chemistry or math major at Saint Mary’s College is cause for celebration (as it is HARD!), but doing this while working at a second difficult major is cause for extraordinary recognition. So while many college students drop out of an engineering program, our students embrace both that program as well as an additional major of equal or greater difficulty.”

Mary Zahm
Mary Zahm '10

More impressive still, dual degree students usually are involved in extra-curricular activities such as sports, band, campus ministry, and student government among others.

Then there’s mentoring. “At Saint Mary’s our students look out for their sisters,” Snow said. She cited Emily Gore ’11 organizing an informational session for chemistry, math and engineering majors to learn about the dual degree program. Also, graduates of the program are committed to helping others obtain internships and jobs, Barstis said. Such connections are critical to building a strong program.

“These women are trailblazers who are seriously committed to their sisters in the field as well as the wider community,” Snow said. “They deserve recognition for these aspects of their work.”

The names and bachelor’s degrees for the six students mentioned in this story are as follows; Saint Mary’s degrees are listed first, followed by Notre Dame engineering degrees: Mary Zahm ‘10, mathematics and mechanical engineering with honors; Jackie Corey ‘10, mathematics and civil engineering, structural; Jenny Hellyer ‘10, mathematics and civil engineering, structural; Barbie Shaw ‘10, chemistry and chemical engineering; Ali Donahue ‘10, chemistry and chemical engineering; and Jane Fleming ‘10, chemistry and chemical engineering.