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Notre Dame Preparatory School to dedicate new STEAM wing preparing young women for science, technology and math careers

Notre Dame Preparatory School's new Jane Kroh Satterfield Innovation Wing, for which the Towson private school raised $10 million to build, finished construction in January, but the formal dedication will be held in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Notre Dame Preparatory School's new Jane Kroh Satterfield Innovation Wing, for which the Towson private school raised $10 million to build, finished construction in January, but the formal dedication will be held in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy of Notre Dame Prepatory / Baltimore Sun)

Growing up with an aptitude for math and family members who work in the health care field, 17-year-old Clarisse Dapul had a sense early on that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine or engineering.

She admires that health care workers dedicate themselves to helping others and loves “the logic and the patterns” of mathematics and engineering, she said. “It’s like a puzzle, it’s just really beautiful the way everything connects.”

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That’s why when as a middle school student she heard about the STEAM program — that is, science, technology, engineering, art and math — at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, she felt the historic Catholic girls' prep school was a natural fit for her to explore both her passions, the high school senior said.

Due to rising coronavirus cases, Notre Dame rescheduled a private dedication ceremony originally set for Nov. 21 to spring 2021 for its new Jane Kroh Satterfield Innovation Wing, a 23,500-square foot, two-story addition that adds a recording studio, fabrication lab, media arts center, classrooms, plus new industry-standard tools for STEAM enrollees and an anatomage, a virtual human dissection table, the first one in any Maryland grade school, said Mary Sheridan, STEAM program director.

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The wing is named in honor of a Notre Dame alumna who graduated in 1960 and went on to start Care Rehab, bringing health care services to children with special needs in their homes and schools.

Satterfield also earned the Kendall Award, a Maryland honor for physical therapy. She died in May, before the building could be formally dedicated. Her family will attend the private ceremony at the school.

The dedication comes on the heels of the school’s recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School, one of just 10 Maryland schools to earn the honor given by the U.S. Department of Education to top-performing schools across the nation.

Jacksonville Elementary School in northern Baltimore County also was named a National Blue Ribbon School.

The “innovative techniques and the interdisciplinary offerings,” like the STEAM program, drive Notre Dame, Sheridan said. The school earned the coveted Blue Ribbon designation twice before, most recently in 2012.

The new innovation wing, which the private school raised $10 million to build, complements the “experiential learning experience” that already was being emphasized within the STEAM program Notre Dame has been building since around 2011, when the school began offering elective engineering classes, Sheridan said.

“We wanted to really give our girls the opportunity to dive in deeper in these professions where women are typically underrepresented,” said Notre Dame headmistress Sister Patricia McCarron.

Despite women having earned 57% of all bachelor’s degrees and half of all science and engineering degrees since the 1990s, according to the National Science Foundation, only 28% of them are working in science and engineering careers dominated by men.

Women, who tend to lean more toward careers in life sciences, earned more than half of undergraduate biological science degrees in 2015, but just 18% of degrees in computer science, 20% in engineering 39% in physical sciences and 43% in mathematics. Representation of women of color is even lower.

Notre Dame prides itself on developing an evolving, contemporary curriculum that responds to the needs of the times while staying connected to its traditional roots, McCarron said. The school was founded in Baltimore in 1873 by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, a German teaching order.

Bolstering a more specialized science and technology curriculum fit with that vision, McCarron said. The formal STEAM program began in 2015, and engineering remains at its heart, Sheridan said.

Creativity and problem-solving are at the core of science and technology fields, she added — hence the added emphasis on those skills within the curriculum.

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Now, students also can enroll in classes in architecture and design, infectious diseases, sports management — even medical illustration, in which a student may be tasked with sketching dissected rats, Dapul said, or a computer science class that tests students’ hacking skills using a Cisco router.

While the school has pivoted to the virtual setting, Sheridan said many of those hands-on classes have been easily adapted to distanced learning.

For instance, students can view on their laptops science experiments performed by their teacher in classrooms with a digital microscope. Dapul, while disappointed that she couldn’t help build the set for the school’s fall theater production, instead was asked to build a small-scale model set of her choosing at home.

For Dapul, one of the most valuable experiences she’s had are internships at the Johns Hopkins University and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., institutions that partner with the school through the STEAM program.

Seniors who complete enough courses in the specialized curriculum earn STEAM certificates upon graduation. Dapul is on her way to earning one in engineering.

Last year, the school awarded 48 certificates — about 36% of the graduating class, Sheridan said. Initially, certificates were awarded to just 18 studentsd.

Of the 48 certified students, 80% indicated they intended to enroll in STEAM majors, Sheridan said. The Sparks-based Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland in 2018 named Notre Dame, the only school recognized, among its 2018 Champions of Manufacturing in the Emerging Leaders category for the program.

For Dapul’s part, she has applied to five schools and intends to pursue a career in biomedical engineering, balancing her love for engineering and public service.

Notre Dame’s STEAM program helped push her out of her comfort zone toward more hands-on learning and connected her with valuable work experience, she said.

“Getting to have that experience in high school … I wouldn’t give it for the world,” she said.

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