The former College of Notre Dame of Maryland officially became Notre Dame of Maryland University on Sept. 9, a year-long process that staff and students said was a long time coming and well worth the effort.
The university marked its new status with a day of celebration that included a welcome breakfast, a special Mass, ribbon-cutting ceremonies and an indoor picnic, due to rain.
For university officials, it was a day to celebrate the fruits of their labor as much as the new designation.
"For us, it's something that wasn't done lightly," said Notre Dame spokeswoman Nancy Carr. "When the Board of Trustees announced it was considering moving to university status in April 2010, we conducted a survey of faculty, students, alumnae and focus groups to talk about it."
The 800 respondents were overwhelming in favor of becoming a university, Carr said.
"What we found was of those who were hesitant about it, their biggest concern was that we'd lose the small college feel and the personal relationships that they value so much about Notre Dame," Carr said. "We certainly have not and have no intention of changing that campus culture."
But she said, "The challenge (was) to retain our hard-earned reputation, identity and image, while adding university to the name and not being confused with the other Notre Dame's out there."
The 116-year-old institution has had to change everything from its name to its logo.
"We had conducted an exhausted inventory of everywhere our name appears, our logo appears, whether it's on a sign or on a college shuttle or in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, college guides… from security officer uniforms, notifying vendors, signs on podiums, making sure contracts don't need to be changed," Carr said. "This has involved every division of the school."
Carr said changing the name from college to university also offers clarity to the higher education community and to prospective students.
"It better communicates who we are and what we offer," Carr said. "One hundred and sixteen years ago, we were a small Catholic liberal arts college for women. Today we're a university, offering master's (degrees) and doctorates, serving women and men … We've really grown and developed all along the way to serve contemporary needs. We're constantly finding ways to meet needs of today's students."
But she called Notre Dame "a university that still has a women's college. We haven't strayed from that commitment."
Notre Dame President Mary Pat Seurkamp said in an email that the name change marks a milestone in the history of Notre Dame.
"Our move to university status coincides with a time of great innovation. … From our roots as the first Catholic college for women in the U.S., we've grown in to a multi-faceted institution with a diverse student body and complex academic structure," Seurkamp said
Sister Rota Bueche, of northeast Baltimore, a 1965 graduate who studied English and music, called the name change as "one of those things that's necessary."
"It has university status, it might as well have it in name," she said. "As the needs of the population have expanded, so has the university expanded."
She believes being a university will help attract students from outside the U.S., since international students typically associate the name "college" with high school.
"If they begin their studies here, they can pursue it through to the doctorate level," Bueche said.
The development of Notre Dame's schools of nursing and pharmacy is critical, because of the critical need nationwide.
The new university status has also affected how the university markets itself.
Notre Dame graduate Angela Baumler, associate director of admission for the women's college, said having university in the name has "enhanced the reputation and perception (of the school) because nothing has changed in the quality of education. It's a label on something that's always been here," she said, "and there will be more opportunities available because of the higher education community's perception."
Notre Dame graduate Meredith Fell, admissions counselor for the women's college, said the university is also rolling out a whole new image, with its new logo and branding incorporated, while maintaining the university's identity.
The updated logo is a "modernized, colorful" version of the prior logo, according to Baumler. "It was very monochromatic before," she said. "Now, it has a more sophisticated look."
Fall said the changes and new marketing strategies, as well as the publishing of a new book that incorporates black and white photos of students and their past activities on every page, are designed to draw on Notre Dame's history and traditions.
"We want young women to be a part of that," Baumler said. "We want to show how storied the tradition is."
But the new name and logo serve an even greater purpose.
"We're getting a second chance for a first impression," Baumler said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun