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viewpoint

In honor of Cathy Pieronek

| Tuesday, April 14, 2015

“Hard, but fair.”

“A woman I want to become.”

“The reason I graduated.”

“One of my greatest mentors.”

“The reason I stuck with engineering.”

“The perfect role model for engineers everywhere.”

“An incredible advisor, an even better friend.”

“The fiercest advocate you could have in your corner.”

“Highly intelligent, motivated, and innovative.”

“A force for good.”

These are the words students have used to describe the College of Engineering’s Dean of Academic Affairs, Cathy Pieronek, both before her passing last Thursday and in the days since. Cathy, as students called her, had one of the more difficult jobs on campus. She was responsible for providing 900 young adults with their best chance of academic success in the midst of all of the other opportunities Notre Dame provides us. Students who just years earlier had been at the top of their high school classes, never having failed in their lives, were sent to Cathy’s second-floor office in Fitzpatrick Hall when their grades dropped and academic probation or suspension was looming. The phrase, “the fear of God,” has been used by more than a few of those students. You see, Cathy did not accept excuses. If you put in the effort, however, she matched you every step, working with professors, rectors, counseling staff and parents, to fight for your success. Time and time again, that same student who was frustrated sophomore year by the standards Cathy held him to proudly walked up the steps of the Dome on graduation day speaking her praises for helping him to get there.

Cathy also served as a mentor to the student leaders of the college. The same passion she had for helping struggling students was funneled into developing student leaders in the College of Engineering. She pushed for meetings that produced outcomes, placed us on college-wide committees and sought our opinions. There was hardly a week that went by where she wasn’t asking about the challenges of being an engineering student or running plans for new programs past us. During her time in the Dean’s Office, Cathy raised retention rates across the college. She is primarily responsible for the increase in the retention and graduation rates of female engineers at ND. She was the type of advisor you went back to see every time you were on campus, the type you would always want a recommendation letter from.

To today’s engineering student leaders: Guide Cathy’s successor to achieve the same results. To the struggling students: Do not let her last days of work in you go to waste. To the Pieronek family: Please take solace in the future achievements of former students that would not have been possible without the dedication Cathy showed to all of us.

Sincerely,

Shannon Warchol O’Brien

class of 2013

civil engineer

 

Rosemary Alberico

class of 2012

chemical engineer

 

Matt McDowell

class of 2012

aerospace engineer

 

Abigail (Wilkins) McDowell

class of 2011

civil engineer

 

Erin Vogel

class of 2013

aerospace engineer

 

Chris Hensler

class of 2013

chemical engineer

 

Katie Winter

class of 2014

mechanical engineer

 

Brian Quinn

class of 2014

aerospace engineer

 

Jillian Montalvo

senior

computer science

 

Maggie Miller

senior

chemical engineering

 

Ryan Griffin

senior

aerospace engineering

April 13

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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