“We needed to come up with revamped courses and new teaching methods that also included training and support for our teachers.”
Like in many high schools across the U.S., Notre Dame offered students several required science courses and a senior-year elective for college prep. However, in 2016, Notre Dame did not have a comprehensive STEM curriculum and no engineering courses at all.
“The curriculum we had was outdated and we were teaching it in old-fashioned ways”, admits Ms. Katie Saxon, VP for Academic Affairs at Notre Dame. That situation, however, was out of alignment with Notre Dame’s core value of making sure that every student is able to pursue academic excellence. Ms. Saxon remembers how the school’s leadership felt at the time: “While the education environment was changing from ‘sage on the stage’ teaching to a more hands-on approach in which students create and teachers facilitate, we watched our science curricula become increasingly outdated and, frankly, boring. We faced the reality of the moment and started looking for solutions that would also exceed our students’ and educators’ expectations.”
Notre Dame realized that they needed their science classes to provide students not only with the knowledge but also with a realistic exposure to the day-to-day life of engineering professionals.
There were mandates from students and parents to change Notre Dame’s curriculum and course offerings to better match student interests and career goals. “We knew we had to move our curriculum forward and give our students the opportunity to learn and practice 21st-century skills. We needed to redefine success from what it meant five to twenty-five years ago and make sure our students are successful in five to ten years.
The real challenge, however, was to carve out the resources needed to respond with action. “There was not enough time in our days to write an engineering curriculum. We did not have the expertise to write the kind of comprehensive, cohesive curriculum we envisioned for our students. Decreasing student enrollment and the decreased financial aid rate did not help, either. We accepted that we would have to get smart with the budget we had” said Ms. Saxon.