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For over 160 years, the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, a preeminent all-girls’ Catholic school, has educated bright young women who have excelled as leaders in medicine, law, the arts, engineering, education, and business. Now, with a transformative strategic vision and three-phase campus master plan, the revered Villanova institution will advance academic excellence with an innovative, forward-looking learning environment. 

The first phase saw the Academy upgrade its athletic facilities in 2014-2015. The second phase began in 2016 with exterior restoration of the Academy’s iconic Mansion and continues with construction of a state-of-the-art Center for STEM Education, focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

With over one third of recent Notre Dame graduates pursuing STEM majors at leading universities, Notre Dame graduates demonstrate career leadership in all STEM fields, including UN and World Bank health and refugee programs, research in underwater electromagnetic signatures as Navy physicists and medical research on obstetrics ultrasound technology for resource-limited African communities. Here, Dr. Judith Dwyer, the Academy’s president, shares what is to come and how the Center will benefit students and the greater community. 

Q: Why is STEM a critical part of the Academy’s vision for the future?

A: The Academy is a Catholic, independent, all girls’ school in the tradition of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. One of the key educational philosophies of the Sisters is that we teach our young women “what they need to know for life.” STEM interdisciplinary education provides opportunities to develop core competencies such as critical thinking, analytical and deductive reasoning, computing and communication skills – competencies needed by all students in all careers.


Q: What do you most hope your students gain from the Center?

A: Educational spaces should inspire, provide an intellectual energy and an aspiration to push boundaries of learning. In providing a space that integrates faith, reason and experience, the Center attests to our belief that all creation is rooted in the holy and infinite mystery of God. The STEM Center also promotes the dynamic between theory and practice, as project based learning models emphasize the ability of STEM designs and products to heal and to enhance the quality of life throughout the world.

Q: What will the Center feature?

A:  A 30,000 square foot facility, the Center boasts flexible, technology enabled active learning (TEAL) environments that include eight science laboratories, three lab prep rooms, eight mathematics classrooms, a design thinking and entrepreneurship classroom and labs dedicated to design and innovation, robotics and coding. The Center also connects with outdoor teaching/learning space to provide a wider campus experience for environmental science. While the Center reflects the current curriculum offered by our excellent faculty, it provides a more extended, nimble space for research, teaching, collaboration and project based learning.

Q: How is this a path forward for women in STEM?

A:  Women are underrepresented in STEM careers. Recognized corporate leaders in the STEM fields constantly seek female leaders in engineering, coding, biochemistry, aeronautics and other STEM related careers. However, promoting self-confidence in young women starts in the critically formative years of middle and high school. For this reason, the Academy promotes leadership in all disciplines. Notre Dame is a recognized hub of energy, exploration, imagination and innovation that prepares young women for opportunities, challenges and careers that may not yet exist.

Q: How does the Center uniquely position the Academy?

A:  The Center will serve both the immediate Notre Dame community but also provide an important venue for public lectures, joint programming with corporate partners and as summer camp space for young women from throughout the region. The Center demonstrates that the intellectual journey never reaches a set destiny; there is always the next student or faculty member to ask “What if?” That is the privilege – and the fun.

The Academy is hosting an open house for prospective families on Sunday, October 1, from 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.ndapa.org.

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