Writing a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement for U.S. Universities

Samah Damanhoori

A personal statement or a statement of purpose is a key part of your application to a university in the United States. Your statement helps distinguish you from other candidates and paints a portrait of you as a person. Most U.S. universities evaluate candidates as a whole. They ask not only for test scores and grades, but also for information about you. They want your statement to reflect your academic career, your personal experiences, and your motivation for studying the major you are applying for.

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose

There is a difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. For undergraduate applicants, universities usually ask for a personal statement where you can write about individual experiences, such as the influence that a relative had on you, or a particular set of events that shaped you. A personal statement can be highly individual, and it can be an opportunity to think about and discuss the surroundings and circumstances that formed your interests. You can talk about challenges that you have faced, how you were able to overcome them, and what you have learned from them.

The statement of purpose is usually for graduate programs, where reviewers aren’t as concerned about personal matters. They are more interested in your reasons for choosing the major you are applying for and your experience in that field. In a statement of purpose, you should avoid mentioning experiences that are not related to your choice of major. You can also discuss the reasons you want to get a degree in higher education and what motivates you. Also, you should include information about why you are applying to this particular university and program and which professors you would like to study with.

A key question for a statement of purpose is: Why do you want to study in the program you applied for? You need to have a clear answer to this and to be confident about your response.

Do’s and Don’ts of a Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose


  • Be yourself. Don’t exaggerate.
  • Apply for the major that you really want.
  • Be honest; tell the truth about your interests.
  • Make a case for yourself. Why should this university should pick you?
  • Highlight what is unique about you.
  • Read your statement out loud. It will help you find grammatical mistakes and errors in logic.
  • Have a second reader. Ask your teacher at school or someone who is familiar with these types of essays to read it.


  • Make up information—stick to the facts
  • Copy anyone else’s personal statement—plagiarism is wrong and plagiarism detection software is commonly in use
  • List your scores or your grades already covered elsewhere on the application
  • Be dramatic just in order to be remembered—universities are interested in your academics skills and what you have done to acquire those skills
  • Copy and paste the same personal statement to all the universities you are applying for—each university has its own questions, prompts, or requirements

Case Study of a Personal Statement

Female applicant from Saudi Arabia
Successful applicant for a master’s degree program in economics

“Writing a personal statement did not come easy to me. The very idea of it scared me. I went to an English-language school in my country to talk to a teacher and asked if she would help me with the editing.To write a first draft of the statement, I watched a lot of videos on YouTube and read several articles on the subject. The most difficult part for me was to show the ways in which I am unique. I wasn’t sure whether my accomplishments were important or impressive enough to be distinctive. But I knew that I had worked hard to prepare for this program, and that gave me the confidence to write the statement.

“First I composed a collection of paragraphs. Then I took what I had written to the teacher and asked her to cross out sentences that were either not as well written or didn’t fit the topic.

“If I had to do it over, I would start writing earlier. I would have done better and I would have had time to do more revisions. I would suggest seeking help from classmates and instructors who can give you feedback on how to edit your drafts.”

Samah Damanhoori is a second-year master’s degree student in the English Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is also an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department. Samah is working on various writing projects, and a short story she wrote is being made into an animated short movie.

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page. Information on international students at NDNU is here.

For International Students: Choosing a University in the United States

Applying for universities in North America can be confusing. There are hundreds of higher education institutions in the United States. When searching for a university in the U.S., here you might want to keep several factors in mind.

  • Leave time to complete your application
Samah photo

Samah Damanhoori

Applying for a U.S. university is a long process that begins with finding the right school, advice getting accepted, and starting your classes. Usually for universities in the United States., it takes three to four months to apply, take the required tests, and submit your application. For example, when I was applying for my master’s degree, I started looking for schools six months before the spring semester when I began classes. If you are applying for admission as a first-year student for a bachelor’s degree, you will typically want to start the process at least a year in advance.

  • Search for programs and topics of interest

To search for universities that are a good fit for you, look for ones that offer the subject you want to study. What was your favorite class at school? What are your career goals? For instance, when I was searching for programs that offered a master’s degree in English, I was also looking for a program that offered creative writing as a minor.

  • Narrow your search

Class size

At large universities, classrooms can hold as many as a thousand students.  The advantages of big schools are that students can learn how to thrive in a competitive atmosphere and have exposure to more people with varying ideas and backgrounds. Larger universities also offer more courses of study and more classes.

At smaller universities, on the other hand, students have more opportunities to ask questions, contribute to discussions, and get to know their professors. In my experience, I preferred smaller class sizes because I wanted more attention and focus from my professors, since writing was my passion and writing requires this kind of attention.


The location of the university is another important criterion to narrow your search.  Do you plan to go back to your home country often? How close is the university to an international airport, and to your home country? How is the weather where the university is located? Is it too hot or cold? How do you feel about snow?

You might want to consider if the university is in an urban or a rural area. Is it near a city? Is there is a beach close by? Or hiking areas? When I was searching for universities, I was looking for colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. I liked that the Bay Area’s weather is nice year-round, and it doesn’t snow in winter. The Bay Area has two major cities, San Francisco and San Jose. The school I applied to, Notre Dame de Namur University, is only half an hour commute to both cities, as the university is in the middle. The campus is also near three international airports. I like hiking and going to the beach, so it appealed to me that the university is close to scenic trails and the ocean.

For other students or applicants, location might not be as important as a particular area of study. For example, if you wanted to study veterinary medicine, you would probably select a school based on whether they offered this major: location might be a less important factor.

Safety and the community

The question of safety is another way to narrow your search, and it can be an important factor in choosing a university for international students. In a time like this, you might want to look for universities and communities that are welcoming to international students. When searching for a university, make sure that the university has a significant community of international students. Certain cities and states in the United States are more diverse and have larger populations of international students.

Find out about the international student community on campus

Contact the university admissions office. U.S. universities are very fast in replying via email or phone, and are usually very professional. In my country, Saudi Arabia, it is customary to make an initial contact with the campus in person rather than contacting them through email or calls, but in the U.S., it is the opposite. You can email the admissions office with questions like these:

  • Can I connect with one of the international students on campus?
  • How many international students does the university have?
  • Is there public transportation that is convenient to campus?

Visit the campus

Visiting the campus is another way to experience the vibe and the students’ life. Many universities have ways you can stay overnight and shadow a student to get a close-up look at the university. Visiting a campus also provides an opportunity to interview in person, which could improve your chances of admission. However, most universities do not require in-person interviews for international students.


After the process of narrowing down your choices, you will probably be left with only a few U.S. universities that you are seriously considering. Once you’ve picked the universities you want to apply to, you are ready to fill out the applications. I hope to discuss this in my next blog.

Samah Damanhoori is a second-year master’s student in the English Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is also an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department. Samah is working on various writing projects, and a short story she wrote is being made into an animated short movie.

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page. Information on international students at NDNU is here.

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality in the Classroom: NDNU’s New STEAM 3D Virtual Learning Lab

Billy and teacher

Professor Barry (right) demonstrating the Microsoft HoloLens to Palo Alto elementary school teacher Katelyn Black.

Robot surgeons, information pills driverless cars, troche the Internet of Things, pilule holographic computing, cyber and drone warfare, nanotechnology, and the initial preparations for human habitation of the moon and Mars: these are no longer science fiction. The future is here. Students now must learn to be effective, ethical and responsible stewards in the new reality of digitally mediated worlds.

Toward this end, Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) has created one of the most technologically advanced immersive learning labs in the U.S.A. for a university of our size. The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) 3D Virtual Learning Lab, housed in the university’s high-spirited Student Success Center, features some the world’s most advanced learning technologies. These include virtual reality headsets and hands by Oculus Rift and VIVE, mixed reality using zSpace specialized computers, holographic computing with the Microsoft HoloLens, and Double Robotics and Swivl telepresence robots. NDNU students now have access to a world-class level of technology. They can study the anatomy of the human heart in three dimensions, inside and out, for example, while actually seeing and feeling the heartbeat at rest and during exercise in real time.

In a screen age defined by artificial intelligence, the nature of work is continually changing. Whatever technology a campus provides, the truth is that no university can directly train students for many of the jobs of the future because these positions currently do not exist. What universities can do, however, is to educate students to be resilient, caring, ethical, creative thinkers and problems solvers. The goal is for our students to be willing to learn new knowledge, skills, and ways to perceive the world. The STEAM 3D Virtual Learning Lab offers NDNU students the unique opportunity to interact with cutting-edge and emerging technologies to improve short- and long-term memory retention and enrich the depth and breadth of learning and knowledge application in fields ranging from physics to art.

ZSpace AnatomyWe are pioneers at NDNU in using mixed reality, a combination of virtual and augmented reality, in our support of pedagogy and assessment of student learning. Students of innovative NDNU instructors are using mixed reality to create a holistic understanding of the human body, showing students in three-dimensions how the muscles of the arm help move the bones of the hand, for instance.

Many other NDNU classes can make use of the technology in the STEAM Lab. In a course I created and teach, The Philosophy of Emerging Technologies, students are working in the Lab to explore and assess virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and holographic technology to seek pragmatic solutions to the ethical challenges of living in a digitally mediated world. Students in history courses can now place themselves virtually in historical eras and events, such as in the trenches in World War I, to develop understandings that resonate more deeply. Art students can draw, paint, and sculpt in virtual environments that expand creativity and innovation. Students in graduate clinical psychology and the PhD program in art therapy can explore the potential of using VR/AR and holographic computing in working with clients.

The use of mixed reality to improve pedagogy and learning has profound implications for how and what we teach students to be successful in the 21st century. In keeping with our location in Silicon Valley, NDNU is emerging as a leading innovator of digitally mediated learning support. We hope to add to the latest technology the depth and experience offered by the university’s enduring hallmark values.

Professor William Barry is an assistant professor of philosophy at Notre Dame de Namur University.

For information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University, please visit the Admissions page.

Open Book Project Welcomes Elementary School Students to NDNU Campus to Choose Books and Learn about College

Each semester Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) is delighted to see the smiling faces of scores of elementary school students who come to our campus as part of the Open Book Project. Since 2010, price students in the Community Psychology class have raised funds to provide children’s books for kids who lack the resources to buy books for themselves. The project focuses on the importance of reading and how it can “open the world” for children.

NDNU Open Book Project Photo#1

Student choosing a book at Open Book Project event

This week marked the eighth year of the Open Book Project.  NDNU Community Psychology students visit elementary school students multiple times at their campuses and then invite the students to our Belmont campus. This year’s group were 65 first graders from Roosevelt Elementary in Redwood City, visit this site California, a school where nearly three-quarters of the students qualify for the National School Lunch Program. The students spent most of the day at NDNU on April 19, 2017, taking part in a scavenger hunt, art activities, and selecting the book of their choice to take home. In addition to reading with the children, Community Psychology students talked with the first graders about going to college and future career plans. Transportation and refreshments were provided.

NDNU Open Book Project Photo#2

NDNU students helping elementary school kids select books

The Open Book Project was designed with three main goals in mind:

  • To thank NDNU’s community partners for mentoring and providing opportunities for our students to participate in community engagement.
  • To provide an opportunity for different NDNU departments to work together on a meaningful and engaging project. The School of Education and Psychology, NDNU’s Library, and NDNU’s Art Therapy Program collaborate each year on this Project.
  • To choose and work collaboratively with a community partner to design a project that would address its needs.

Since the Open Book Project began in 2010, NDNU students have raised approximately $6,000 for book purchases. The elementary school students who have participated have ranged from first to fourth graders. They have visited from the Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District, the Redwood City Elementary School District, and the San Bruno Park School District. In addition to books for individual reading, the books purchased include classroom resources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works. Additional funds ($250–$500) are also given to each elementary school to purchase books for its school library.

Gretchen Wehrle is a Professor in the Department of Psychology and Sociology at Notre Dame de Namur University. She is also the Director of the Sr. Dorothy Stang Faculty Scholars Program at the Sr. Dorothy Stang Center for Social Justice and Community Engagement.

Find out more about NDNU’s programs Psychology and Sociology

Demand for Teachers is Increasing in California

If you want a career in teaching, website like this now is the time!

The State of California is currently experiencing a teacher shortage in a variety of areas. With many teachers currently retiring or nearing retirement age, doctor the state needs 20, troche 000 new teachers a year. At the same time, the number of new teaching credentials granted annually in California is roughly 11,500, leading to a critical shortage and many opportunities. (Read more)

Teaching jobs are becoming available again

A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute showed that 75% of California school districts surveyed were experiencing teacher shortages. The vast majority of these districts reported that their shortfall was growing.


What subject areas are in highest demand?

In addition to the number of teachers needed, many school districts have a particularly strong demand for qualified teachers in mathematics, science, bilingual education and special education.

How do I get started?

Only a few universities in California now offer blended programs for undergraduates to complete a bachelor’s and a credential in as little as four years. Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) is one of the few colleges in California with this option, with a strong reputation for excellence in teacher education programs.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree and are interested in a credential, you can start a program as early as May 2017 to complete by fall 2018.

If you are just getting started, an accelerated blended Liberal Studies program offered through NDNU is designed for students to finish a BA and credential in as little as four years. Providing early fieldwork experiences in education, the program’s structured advising allows for successful job placement by graduation.

That saves an additional year or two of classes and gives first-year students an opportunity to gain fieldwork experience right away.

New single-subject credential program in biological sciences

NDNU is about to roll out a new four-year program that leads to a bachelor’s degree and a single-subject teaching credential for biology. The program, offered in conjunction with the San Mateo County Community College District, prepares students for classroom teaching in middle schools or high schools with four years of study. Students can complete the first two years of the curriculum either at NDNU or at a community college, allowing for significant time and cost savings over many other teaching credential programs. NDNU will begin accepting applications for the program in fall 2017, for fall 2018 admission.

Financial aid opportunities

There are special grants and financial aid available for students going into teaching. NDNU admissions and financial aid counselors can help you identify and apply for these funding opportunities.

Teaching as a second career

Many professionals are finding that after a career in business, the military or other sectors, they are looking for a work path that allows them to pass on knowledge and opportunities to the next generation. NDNU’s teaching credential programs are ideal for second-career teachers. Class start times are designed for working adults. The campus is centrally located for San Francisco-Silicon Valley workplaces and/or residences. Classes are small in size, and there is a strong collaborative spirit that supports returning students.

Extensive Alumni Network

Notre Dame de Namur has a long history in the field of teacher education. NDNU alumni work as administrators, principals and teachers throughout the Bay Area and California. This network provides a valuable resource for those seeking teaching jobs and student teacher placements.

Request Information on Notre Dame de Namur University Teaching Credential Programs

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There are special grants and financial aid available for students going into teaching, so make sure to explore these opportunities for assistance in paying for college.

Reflection: Perry Elerts

Perry ElertsPerry Elerts is the 2015-16 Associated Students of NDNU President. He is graduating this May with his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies in Issues of Social Change.

Now that I am about to graduate from NDNU in less than a month, shop I have started reflecting on all the wonderful experiences and opportunities I have had in college. I chose NDNU in the first place because of the small school atmosphere it offered, treatment which allowed me to create very close bonds and connections between staff, faculty, and other students. These bonds became invaluable when it came to asking for letters of recommendation, looking for future job opportunities, and for just having fun. The Cross Country program also was a good fit for me due to their competitiveness and coaching philosophy. I can still remember the nerves I felt the first few weeks of school. It was a crazy transition period and the first time I would be living on my own. However, those nerves quickly faded as I quickly made friends with the cross-country team and was helped out by the RAs and orientation leaders. In those first few weeks I made and met my friends for life. Even though I am more on the shy side the university held a number of fun events like Broom Ball, which allowed me to get to know my fellow freshman. Thanks to the helpfulness of the upperclassmen I was well prepared for the first day of classes. Classes went well and all the professors were extremely nice, understanding, and really willing to work with me. Luckily for me the professors stayed that way as school went on and the work became more demanding.

I have numerous memorable experiences being here, but some of the best times came from just relaxing after class and joking around with the roommates. I will never forget the Bonner hangouts when we would go to the beach at night for games and self-reflection. So many great memories have been made. Yet, NDNU was able to prepare me for my future so I could go out and continue to pursue my dreams and create new memorable experiences. The academic classes and extracurricular opportunities have prepared me and allowed me to be accepted into law school. I plan on attending Santa Clara School of Law in the fall and study specifically environmental law. In a way I will be continuing the work and legacy of Sister Dorothy Stang who I learned about the very first day of classes here at NDNU. I feel confident in going forward and am excited to see what the future holds. NDNU has been a great experience and has opened many doors for me. It has also allowed me to discover my passion, dreams, and true self.

So thank you NDNU,

Perry Elerts

Making Your Application Shine

Girl writing in notebook while on computerOk. You’ve narrowed down your college list to a manageable number and it’s time to begin the application process. Now what?!

  1. Make a list of the schools you’re planning to apply to. Include deadlines, case any additional application requirements, any information you can find regarding average SAT/ACT scores and average GPA of admitted students, and some of the features that you like best about each school. You’ll refer to this list later, and not just to make sure you’re not missing any deadlines!
  2. Draft your personal statement. Most schools you’re applying to will require a personal statement. Some schools have specific prompts and the Common Application has several prompts to choose from (read the Common App essay prompts). A good strategy is to select a broad prompt from the Common Application and then use that draft to build from in crafting more specific essays. Share a draft of your personal statement with your College Counselor, teacher, or a relative who has gone through the college application process. Your parents might be able to help, but most likely your parents are going to love anything you write. You need an unbiased opinion!
  3. Assemble your “resume.” Make a list of your accomplishments, your activities, volunteer work, and any leadership positions you held. Don’t participate in activities just to build your resume. Most college applicants participate in some to a lot of activities. You’ll stand out if you have deeper and/or sustained involvement. If your involvement is limited by personal circumstances (health, family, work obligations), you should explain this to the committee.
  4. Start working on the application. Take your time, answer the questions, and check your spelling. You don’t want to be the applicant who spells her mother’s name wrong!
  5. Finish your essay. When it comes time to add your essay to the application, re-read the essay prompt to make sure your essay answers the question. At this point, you’ll want to add some statements to your essay for each school you are applying to. Give an example (from your list of features that you created first) of why that particular school is a good fit. Make it clear that you’ve thought about this question. It could be that the school has a perfect location for internships in your field of interest, or that the size of the student body or average class size is a good fit for your learning style. If you’ve visited campus, you might mention that your visit confirmed your interest. Whatever you do, take a few moments to let the admissions committee know that you have given this issue some thought. And, whatever you do, make sure you do not write in your application to University X that you really, really can see yourself as a student at University Y.
  6. Submit. And breathe!
  7. If you are really serious about a school, you should try to visit. Take a campus tour and meet with an admissions counselor. Eat in the cafeteria. If your finances make this impossible, keep in touch with your admissions counselor with questions or updates on the progress of your application or with updates on your academic progress. Demonstrating a genuine interest in the school may help sway the admissions committee decision your way!

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is a school out there for everyone. If you do your research you’ll have a list of appropriate schools where you will be happy and successful. If a school doesn’t accept you, it likely means that you weren’t really a fit for that school. Don’t get discouraged. Every year hundreds of thousands of college freshmen apply to, get accepted to, and enroll at thousands of schools around the country. With some good planning and careful submission of your applications, you will soon be joining them!

At Notre Dame de Namur University, we want you to have an application that shines. We want to be able to admit you to our community. We’re happy to answer any questions you have about the application process or the application itself. And we want to hear from you as you go through the process. Don’t be shy! One of the benefits of going to a smaller school is that the faculty and staff will get to know you and want to support you!

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6 Helpful Hints for Submitting Your FAFSA

Money in pocketAt NDNU we want to make sure that you achieve your academic and career goals by attaining your desired degree. To get you to the finish line, dosage it is vitally important that you organize your financial future in a positive way. For most NDNU students this financial planning begins with the financial aid process, which in turn begins with the FAFSA. It is easy as a busy student to forget about this process. Don’t! See the helpful tips below to better understand why the completion of the FAFSA is so important.

  1. File early! You may qualify for more financial aid if you submit your FAFSA early. Funds for some federal programs like Federal Work Study and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant — not to mention some institutional scholarships — may already be awarded if you wait too long!
  2. Haven’t filed your taxes yet? No problem! You (or your parents) do not have to file your taxes before submitting your FAFSA. You can complete your FAFSA based on last year’s taxes and then update later. As long as nothing has dramatically changed, it shouldn’t impact your award too much.
  3. Look out for state deadlines. If you don’t submit by state-specific deadlines, you could miss out on certain awards. Those eligible for Cal Grant should submit by March 2; you might qualify for close to $9,000 in grant money from the state.
  4. FAFSA wants to know about your parents, too. If you are considered a dependent student for purposes of the FAFSA, you must provide your parents’ income information, even if your parents are not helping you pay for college. If your parents are divorced, you must provide the information of the parent (and step-parent, if applicable) with whom you primarily reside.
  5. It doesn’t hurt to submit your FAFSA. 97% of NDNU undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid.
  6. Ask for help! Don’t be embarrassed to give us a call and ask for help. Filing your FAFSA correctly on the first attempt saves you work, frustration, and avoids errors, so we are happy to help. If you are confused, make an appointment to come in to meet with a Financial Aid Counselor. We would be happy to sit down and help you and your parents make sense of the FAFSA.

Contact Us!

Office of Financial Aid
1-800-263-0545 or 650-508-3741
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Human Services: It’s not just about social work anymore.

There is a growing need for people in a variety of helping professions.

Students talking with professorIndividuals who recognize the importance of working with people, visit this serving them and meeting their needs are often drawn to human services to enhance their abilities to help others, viagra 40mg take management roles in organizations or even start their own nonprofit. Although many jobs are in the nonprofit sector, generic often in well-paid positions, employee and human services positions in private and government organizations are also in demand.

Did you know that social and human services are among the most rapidly growing occupations?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for social and human service employees are expected to grow much faster than average for all occupations, particularly for applicants with appropriate postsecondary education. The number of social and human service assistants is projected to grow by nearly 23% for all occupations between 2008 and 2018. Approximately 80,000 new jobs are expected to be created during the next decade. Many additional job opportunities will arise from the need to replace workers who advance into new positions, retire, or leave the workforce for other reasons. Employment in private agencies will grow as state and local governments continue to contract out services to the private sector in an effort to cut costs. Demand for social services will expand with the growing elderly population, who are more likely to need these services.

What can I do with a Human Services Degree?

The leadership skills developed makes Human Services graduates valuable contributors in non-profit organizations, government agencies, and corporations.

Examples include careers in:

  • counseling and social work
  • human resources or employee relations (profit and nonprofit)
  • health care
  • gerontology
  • community advocacy
  • law enforcement and other public safety fields
  • employee relations

These jobs include working with:

  • children and families
  • the elderly
  • people with disabilities
  • people with addictions
  • veterans
  • people with mental illnesses
  • immigrants
  • homeless and displaced people

What does a Human Services degree offer?

As one of the more versatile degrees, a Bachelor of Science in Human Services prepares you for work in a variety of fields and settings depending on your interests. Prerequisites for this degree generally require introductory knowledge of psychology and sociology.

Students often learn to develop skills in communication, advanced professional writing and how to apply and demonstrate problem-solving techniques to areas in Financial Management, Social Responsibility and Ethics.  At Notre Dame de Namur University, students often enhance their career goals by focusing on one of three specialized areas:

  • Administration
  • Counseling
  • Gerontology

A Bachelor’s of Science in Human Services can be a stepping-stone to a post graduate degree for professionals to advance their careers in management; many students continue their studies with a master’s in public administration, business administration, social services or psychology.

“Being in this program has truly changed my life as an individual, as a student, and as an employee. It has helped me gain better understanding of others in a realistic way and has inspired me even more to help and make a difference. The support of the advisers and teachers within the program makes an extreme difference. It is not easy to come back to school, but they are very supportive. They aren’t just there assisting in class, but are available to help at your convenience and sometimes where it is convenient for you. I can’t think of anywhere else in my education where I have had that much support and encouragement.” Read more student feedback.

Learn more about our accelerated evening Bachelor’s of Science in Human Services.

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Opening Doors: Women in Science

“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, dosage we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, search and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

First Lady Michelle Obama, September 26, 2011

Female student with professor in science labCollege degrees and jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are all the rage right now. The jobs aren’t just exciting; they’re growing as well:

  • STEM grads have a lower unemployment rate than non-STEM grads (see She Geeks infographic)
  • The growth in STEM jobs in the past 10 years was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs (see Edutopia infographic)
  • And that growth isn’t stopping: STEM jobs are projected to grow 17 percent from 2008-2018; non-STEM jobs are only projected to grow 9.8 percent
  • The payoff for STEM jobs is greater: STEM majors who go on to work in STEM jobs earn 20 percent more than non-STEM majors in non-STEM jobs (read report)

But another hot topic is gender inequality in the workplace, and the story is no different in STEM fields. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, while women make up almost half of the workforce in the United States, they have less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, despite the fact that more college-educated women have joined the workforce. However, women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs, and gap between compensation for men and women in STEM fields is less than in other areas.

With all the potential that is available to women in STEM, why aren’t there as many women pursuing STEM careers? In “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap To Innovation,” gender stereotyping and a lack of female role models are cited as a couple of the reasons for the discrepancy.

At Notre Dame de Namur University, there’s no shortage of female role models within our Department of Natural Sciences. We caught up with Natural Sciences faculty Melissa McAlexander, Ph.D., and Rachel Shellabarger, MS, to get their perspective on women in science.

Why did you pursue science?

MM: I was the kid who always loved science – it seemed like fun. My high school biology teacher had a particularly strong influence on me. She really encouraged me, and probably helped me understand for the first time that I could pursue science as a career.

RS: I think the case for myself and a lot of my colleagues was that we found topics we liked and stuck with them because we were passionate about them. As a more general trend, however, I think the scientific process is a way of thinking that works in all realms of life, and perhaps those of us that end up in scientific fields really appreciate that process.

Why is it important for women to work in science?

RS: It’s important for people to go into fields they are interested in and passionate about, regardless of their background/demographic. Science thrives on a range of diverse opinions, and we want the scientific field to be representative of our population as a whole. As with many other fields, there has been a history of excluding women (and other groups) from various parts of science, so we of course want to move toward a future where no group is excluded from a field because of demographics.

MM: In any field, having women as part of the team increases the diversity of ideas and experiences at the table. The process of science benefits when different perspectives are represented in the approaches we take. No gender or ethnicity (or any other way of classifying people) does science “better” than another. But the more we engage the whole of the population in science, the better science gets.

What advice would you give to a student who wants to pursue science?

RS: A career in science requires lots of hard work to understand course material, research protocols/findings, and the broader impact of science on society. Every individual’s background prepares them for scientific inquiry in different ways, and it’s important to understand the skills you bring with you, as well as the skills you need to work to improve.

MM: Go for it, if it is a fit with your interests, skills, and passion. You need to love the process of doing science, of gaining new understandings about the world, and/or of making something beneficial to society. There’s loads of fascinating questions being asked in laboratories in all fields these days – find an area you’re passionate for learning about, and dive in deep. Be ready to be challenged – to try something no one has ever done before, to learn new techniques, and to repeat something challenging until you perfect it.

Science: Where Can You Go and How Do You Get There?

When it comes to science-related job opportunities, the sky’s the limit. There are a number of jobs in clinical or research laboratories that do not necessarily require graduate degrees. Scientists in these positions are trying to answer many different questions that can have a direct impact on our lives. But not all scientists work in the lab — many companies are looking for knowledgeable employees to help with product development or provide technical customer service. These opportunities are available in a variety of fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, health care and environmental science.

You may find working in science education may be more your speed. From university professor to grade school teacher to after-school science programs and museum education programs, there are many ways you can help pass on knowledge to the next generation of inquiring minds. Melissa McAlexander worked at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose before coming to Notre Dame de Namur University. “It was a fabulous way of thinking about how to engage the public with science,” says McAlexander. “And man, was it fun!”

There are a number of scholarships available for women interested in studying science in college; here are a couple of web resources to get you started on your search:

Notre Dame de Namur University offers undergraduate degrees within the natural sciences — biochemistry, biology and kinesiology — as well as minors in biology, biochemistry, chemistry and environmental justice. A Bachelor of Science from NDNU will prepare you for the many exciting opportunities in science.

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