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Saint Mary’s offers dual degree

Katie Kohler | Wednesday, August 30, 2006

At two schools where finishing a degree in four years is strongly encouraged, a five-year engineering degree program offered between Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame was formalized and updated after existing for nearly 30 years at the College.

Saint Mary’s students are able to receive an engineering degree from Notre Dame in addition to a non-engineering Saint Mary’s degree in just five years – a unique example of the close relationship between the schools.

The program, which has been available to Saint Mary’s science and mathematics majors since 1977, gives students the chance to pursue an engineering major – a degree not offered at Saint Mary’s alone.

Students involved in the co-exchange major program take pre-engineering courses to fulfill the degree requirements at Saint Mary’s prior to taking the required engineering courses at Notre Dame.

Cathy Pieronek, director of Academic Affairs and the Women’s Engineering Program for Notre Dame’s School of Engineering, said the University works with Saint Mary’s students to make sure they are taking the appropriate calculus, chemistry and physics courses before they enroll in engineering classes.

“Some of the classes are scheduled so they are woven together so that they count toward both majors,” she said.

Pieronek said the hardest part of the five-year program is getting through the first and second years.

“By the time we see the students [at Notre Dame] in their junior year, they are already fully committed to finishing the major,” she said. “Once students reach their first engineering classes at Notre Dame, most continue with the major.”

Toni Barstis, chemistry department chair and dual-degree advisor at Saint Mary’s, said the program is advantageous to the women interested in combining scientific knowledge, human values and proficiency in the professional world.

“The program broadens professional and post-graduate opportunities by enhancing students’ technical skills with the values and problem-solving skills developed through a women’s liberal arts education,” she said.

Although the program has existed for several years, significant changes have been made this year to improve the program, most notably the simplification of the transfer process.

“The [transfer] process has been streamlined and made faster,” Barstis said.

Notre Dame has agreed to make the transfer process more efficient by requiring only official college transcripts and a transfer application form, Barstis said. Students will not have to submit standardized test scores, high school transcripts or a personal statement.

Also this year, Saint Mary’s has offered to provide on-campus housing for students in their fifth year.

Barstis said she is pleased with the updated program.

“Now students can benefit from the best of both institutions by combining the broad liberal arts foundation of the Saint Mary’s experience with the strength of Notre Dame’s engineering curriculum,” she said. “It also offers the option and flexibility to design a combination of majors that fits a student’s individual interests.”

Junior Emily Coffer, who is majoring in chemical engineering at Notre Dame and chemistry at Saint Mary’s, cites the dual major as one of the incentives that convinced her to attend Saint Mary’s.

“I’m really glad that an engineering program was offered here [Saint Mary’s] because that is always what I’ve wanted to do,” Coffer said. “I would have gone to Purdue otherwise.”

Erin Heck is also a junior chemistry major in the joint engineering program. She said she enjoys the opportunity dual engineering majors are given to experience both schools.

“We have the joy of attending small classes and benefit from having a liberal arts education from Saint Mary’s, but we also have the opportunity to experience the atmosphere of a larger university,” Heck said. “This program is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Susan Vanek, associate dean for advising at Saint Mary’s, spoke highly of the program and its coordinator.

“[Barstis] has done a lot of work over the last few years to make it more feasible for Saint Mary’s students to do a major here with engineering at Notre Dame,” Vanek said.

Nicole Gifford, a fifth-year senior majoring in chemical engineering, said the program’s course load is difficult.

“But it is definitely worth it,” she said.