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Society of Women Engineers advisor wins fellowship

| Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Catherine (Cathy) Pieronek, associate dean for the College of Engineering, director of the Women’s Engineering Program and faculty advisor to the Notre Dame chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), was named a SWE fellow in October at the national society’s annual conference in Los Angeles.

“We are all very proud of Cathy for her recognition,” senior Jillian Montalvo, president of the Notre Dame SWE chapter, said. “Cathy is a huge advocate for women in engineering, and she has been an extremely active member in SWE. … Her success reflects highly on the Notre Dame section and it brings even more attention to the University’s dedication to increasing the number of female students in engineering.”

Peironek received the accolade for her “dedication to the SWE mission, for a lasting and positive impact on engineering education and for illuminating public discourse on gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields,” according to a College of Engineering press release. Her award of Fellow Grade is the society’s highest category of membership.

“What the award recognized is my contributions toward helping SWE become a national leader in the discussion of how to make engineering education more accessible to women,” Pieronek said.

Pieronek also has served as Title IX lead and chair of the society’s Government Relations and Public Policy Committee, helping shape SWE’s position on how Title IX should be applied to engineering and science programs and giving presentations to federal agencies on this topic.

Pieronek, a Notre Dame alumna with a degree in aerospace engineering, joined the Notre Dame engineering faculty in 2002 and established the Women’s Engineering Program.

“When I started working with these students, our retention in engineering from first year to sophomore year was 45 percent for women and 62 percent for men,” Pieronek said. “Within three years, through strengthening SWE and through using those students’ feedback, we increased the retention rate of both genders to 72 percent. Today, we have an 85 percent retention for that same period for both men and women.”

Last year, female engineers made up one-third of Notre Dame’s graduating engineering class, compared to a national average of 18 percent, Pieronek added.

“Although Notre Dame SWE is a student organization and completely student-run, it owes a huge amount of success to Cathy,” Montalvo said. “With her guidance, our membership has seen a dramatic increase in the last few years … and it doesn’t look like this trend will change anytime soon.”

SWE serves as a resource for female students to find ways to make a traditionally male-dominated profession work for them, Pieronek said.

“Our goal is to make sure that women never feel pushed out of engineering, but that they choose to stay because they know that they can thrive here,” she said.

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