As Brandon Dunham ’13 listened to the University of Notre Dame dean talk about transferring to the university, one comment stood out.

“She said it’s normal for your GPA to drop when you transfer there,” he says. But rather than unnerving him, it inspired him. “I took it as a challenge.” And he ultimately ended his Notre Dame career with a higher GPA than at Stonehill.

The Stonehill chemistry major was one of five students in the Class of 2013 preparing to attend the university through the Notre Dame Dual-Degree Engineering program. Many students have followed the same path and currently 46 freshmen, sophomores and juniors have declared engineering as their major. The five-year program lets students earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, computer science, environmental science or physics from Stonehill, and then earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Notre Dame. The students spend their first three years at Stonehill then transfer to Notre Dame for their final two years. They even get to return to Stonehill after their first year at Notre Dame to walk across the graduation stage with their Stonehill class.

Five Years, Two Degrees

The program was originally launched in the mid 1970s and now boasts well over 100 active participants and alumni. After a brief hiatus in the mid 1990s, the program was relaunched for computer engineers, and recently expanded for students to study aerospace, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, environmental or mechanical engineering. It is now more popular than ever. For the incoming class of 2018 there were 272 applications, making it the fourth most popular major behind Business, Biology and Education, and last fall Stonehill welcomed a class of 30 engineers. Brandon’s class – the first since the program was again expanded to have access to a broadened range of concentrations – graduated from Notre Dame in May.

The 3+2 program has always been demanding. To remain eligible to apply to Notre Dame junior year, Stonehill students must maintain a strong GPA, earn enough transferrable credit hours, and receive a recommendation from the relevant program director.

Cathy Pieronek, associate dean for Academic Affairs at Notre Dame’s College of Engineering, says she makes her GPA comment only to prepare students for the changes that can accompany their transfer. “Sometimes there are bumps in the road, but every Stonehill student who has come to Notre Dame has graduated,” she says. “For some, this is an excellent way to transfer to a larger institution – at Stonehill they develop the confidence and skills to succeed here.”

Hannah Fitch ’15, currently in her first year at Notre Dame, agrees. “It would have been more difficult going straight to Notre Dame, with large numbers of students, right off the bat,” she says.

Complementary Curricula

Among students seeking a well-rounded science education, the 3+2 program has much to offer.

“It’s the best of both worlds: a first class New England college and a top research university,” says Stonehill Professor and 3+2 Program Director Ralph Bravaco, chair of the computer science and math departments. “With this combination, students are in a position to compete for positions at top companies in many industries.”

Students say they find Stonehill’s liberal arts focus a good balance to Notre Dame’s more technical emphasis. “It’s a great outlet to have religion, philosophy and literature classes,” says Brandon, now pursuing a PhD at UMass Amherst. “They teach you critical thinking and how to present information.”

For Eliseo Miranda ’13, the program allowed him to pursue two passions: physics and engineering. “I got to take deep intellectual science courses, then go on to do practical engineering,” he says. Eliseo is now working in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ engineering leadership development program; the company is also paying for him to earn a master’s at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Though students in the program uniformly mention Notre Dame’s academic rigor, they find that Stonehill offers solid preparation for the world-renowned university’s competitive environment.

While at ND, computer engineering major George Georgaklis ’14 and fellow Stonehill student, Nikita Amelchenko ’14, even won a mobile app-creation contest through their joint Notre Dame course. “I was worried about keeping up, but Stonehill prepared me well,” adds Georgaklis, who went on to launch his career at Fidelity investments, working as an associate software engineer.

George Georgaklis and Hannah Fitch pass the Word of Life Mural on the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame.
Nikita Amelchenko '14 at the University of Notre Dame
George Georgaklis, studied computer engineering at the university.

New Social Frontiers

Stonehill students also find that the move to Notre Dame’s Midwest campus, where fall football is a way of life and political philosophies diverse, enhances their perspectives beyond an East Coast point of view.

“As an engineer, you need to work with people from different backgrounds,” says Eliseo. “This gets you out of your bubble to learn more about the world.”

Although the move often brings some culture shock, students find their initial concerns over being able to keep up, fit in and join activities like sports are unfounded. George even earned a spot on the Notre Dame track team.

In some cases, students see more common ground than uncommon. “Both schools have that catholic identity, and it interests me how similar the personalities of its students are,” says Katie Bernazzani ’13, whose father Robert ’83 is also an alumnus of the Stonehill/Notre Dame program.

Dual Degree Sets Students Apart

Recent graduates of the program have found employers and graduate schools interested in their enhanced educational backgrounds. In addition to Eliseo’s position at Chrysler and Katie’s new role at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Volpe Center, alumni from last year’s class found positions at Meditech and Nestlé Waters North America – and one even started a consultancy.

“This program sets our students apart – they can view complex situations from a variety of perspectives based on the range of courses they’ve taken,” says Stonehill Career Services Director Heather Heerman.

Stonehill Trustee Patrick Burke ’84 leveraged the program into a career outside of engineering. A partner in Pennsylvania-based firm Waverly Partners, which invests in manufacturing businesses, Patrick says his dual degree has been an advantage.

“It prepared me for so much more than engineering” he says. “Program alumni have been very successful not only as engineers but also as patent attorneys, researchers, business consultants and many as entrepreneurs.”