The Academy of Notre Dame de Namur is a Catholic, independent, college prepatory school for young women in grades 6 through 12.

A Catholic, Independent, College Preparatory School for Young Women, Grades 6 through 12

Academy of Notre Dame de Namur: Inspiring Young Women Since 1956

Alumnae Educator Spotlight

Alumnae Educator Spotlight

Teaching is a lifelong career for the vast majority of individuals who are called to the profession, and in these times, teachers are not only taking on more, but the ways in which they are delivering content are ever-changing. Dr. Laura Hotchkiss, Head of School, shares, “In these times, educators are being asked to do more to serve our young people. For teachers who already see teaching as a calling, they are eager and excited to support the learning and well-being of their students. There is so much joy in our classrooms, on the stage, in the hallways, and on the field and an authentic desire to build relationships and community. At Notre Dame, the teachers go above and beyond to provide care and attention to the girls. They show up, they listen, they nurture, and they challenge - all while juggling the many demands of their own lives.”

Whether due to the influence or inspiration of a particular Notre Dame teacher, a passion for working with young people, or a combination of those elements, a significant number of graduates of the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur become educators after they leave the Gates. The Visions staff recognizes and dedicates this piece to the many alumnae working in education today, including the ND graduates who are currently serving as faculty and staff at Notre Dame. Read some of their stories, highlighting why they decided to enter the field of education, the individuals who had an influence on their career path, and what they enjoy most about working with students, below. 


Gina Henry ’81

Teacher, HS2 Academy
Former Special Education Specialist, San Jose Unified School District 

BA, University of Pennsylvania
JD, University of Virginia Law School
MEd, College of William & Mary
PhD, University of Michigan

For Gina Henry, it’s all about connections–connecting passions with career choices and ideas across disciplines. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in English Literature, Gina chose to pursue a law degree to capitalize on her verbal strengths.

“I started out pre-med but had difficulties with math, making it impossible to continue.  “So, I went to my other strength: language,” she shares. “I read my first novel in first grade: Jubilee by Margaret Walker. By high school, it was obvious that language was my greatest talent.” Gina credits Sister Mary with recognizing her talent. “She really encouraged me.”

A high point of Gina’s love for language occurred when Gina was awarded a place in Penn’s study abroad program. She studied English Literature at King’s College, University of London. Her next step was UVA Law, where she discovered that about a third of her law school professors were also PhDs or MDs who studied the overlap of law with sociology, medicine, or economics. “After I finished law school, I took six months off, went home, sat in Penn’s library and asked myself what really mattered to me. I remembered that I had enjoyed reading to the other kids in my kindergarten class since my mother had taught me to read when I was three, so it was obvious: education. I’m a person who believes that just about everything impacts just about everything else. That’s what my brain does–it looks for connections,” she explains. “So, the idea of studying how law affects education–something that has always been important to me–was appealing.

Gina started a master’s at Penn's Graduate School of Education, receiving a fellowship to work for Marilyn Cochran-Smith. Then Gina moved to Virginia to be closer to her younger sister who was an undergraduate and transferred to The College of William & Mary. Gina shares, “My father recommended going into special ed because he said, ‘you’ll never want for a job.’”

After finishing her Master’s in Education, Gina studied for and passed the Pennsylvania bar exam. She began a PhD in 1992, focusing on the overlap of law and education as it relates to students with special needs and exit exams. “Some states proposed depriving students of a high school diploma if they could not pass a standardized exit exam,” Gina explains. “The federal statutory rights of special education students supported my position in my dissertation that it could be problematic for states to implement exit exams. Case law makes it clear that a state would have to prove that a student, including a student in special education classes, has received 'three exposures' to the tested material before a diploma could be withheld from that student based on an exit exam.”

After completing classes and laying the foundation for her dissertation, Gina began her teaching career in Oakland County, Michigan in 1995 at a school that was “the last stop before juvenile detention.” She then decided to return to the San Francisco Bay Area, which she had first visited while completing her master’s, when she learned, just by picking up the phone, that San Jose needed a special education teacher. Gina taught with the San Jose Unified School District for 13 years, winning multiple awards for service before retiring in 2011. Since 2011, Gina has worked for HS2 Academy, an after-school private school founded by Harvard graduate Ann Lee, whose idea was to recruit Ivy League graduates to educate and guide students through the college application process. At HS2, Gina has taught everything from test prep courses and essay writing to time management, study skills, and public speaking. Gina explains, “With a teaching degree and 13 years of experience, I wound up being the backbone of this exciting organization here in CA.”

HS2 is its own type of “special education.” For many students, English is their second or third language, and they often experience tremendous pressure to excel academically. Gina says, “In addition to listing all the classes I teach to prepare students for various tests, my business card also lists ‘special needs.’ That’s a broad enough term because everyone has special needs; I like to be aware of everyone’s special needs and build on them. The Bay Area has taught me that accommodation is an important thing. I see it in how the post office, for example, has an employee who can speak the language of anyone who steps up for service. That’s the way I feel education should be. If you need to take a one semester calculus class over two semesters, like I did at Penn, it should be provided to you. With attentive care, all students can improve.” During her high school days at NDA, Sister Mary noticed that Gina was having a tough time. Gina explains, “Sister Mary was very sympathetic. She came to me and said, ‘I hate to see you this way, what can I do?’ Sometimes that’s all it takes–someone to be attentive. That seed was planted in me, it grew, and I have planted the seeds in others.”

Dr. Alison Pack ’84
Professor of Neurology, Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Chief, Epilepsy and Sleep Division, Columbia University Irving Medical Center 

BA, University of Pennsylvania
MD, University of Pennsylvania
MPH, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

The importance of community and giving back are at the core of Alison Pack’s college and career choices, two life lessons she credits Notre Dame with instilling in her that she still carries with her today.

Alison showed an interest in science at an early age. In addition, Alison shares that she was particularly drawn to “connecting with others and helping people. My experiences at ND, through the emphasis on community service, fostered the importance of these experiences. Medicine provides me opportunities on a daily basis to connect with and make a difference in the lives of others. I realized early in my career the importance of my teachers, professors, and mentors. Throughout my training, I was given multiple opportunities to teach students and trainees. When I was finishing my own training and choosing a path, I wanted teaching to be an integral part of my career.”

Alison received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in the Biological Basis of Behavior, now called the Neuroscience program, laying the foundation for her decision to become a neurologist. She also received her MD from UPenn and did her postgraduate training at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Alison then did fellowship training at Columbia University, and she received an MPH from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia.

Alison is now a Professor of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center and Chief of the Epilepsy Division. She says, “I was fortunate to get the opportunity to be an academic neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center where I have multiple teaching responsibilities. I teach medical students both in the classroom and clinic setting. I mentor neurology residents and epilepsy fellows. I began a nationally accredited Epilepsy Fellowship at Columbia.”

“I owe a debt of gratitude to the ND community for providing a strong foundation. I left ND with a sense that if I worked hard I could accomplish my goals. I also left with a broad understanding of the importance of multiple aspects of life including the value of education, community, and service.”

Alison’s decision to work in both medicine and education was influenced by a number of teachers, classmates, and family members. Her parents both worked in medicine - her father is a physician and her mother is a nurse. She fondly remembers ND teachers, including Sr. Patricia Kaupus, Sr. Mary Augusta, Mrs. Vera Suppa, Mrs. Cooper, Mrs. Charlotte Hyer, who “all brought a unique energy to the classroom and instilled a joy of learning … an ND education provides you with an outstanding foundation, a thirst for learning, and understanding of the importance of community. Classroom discussion pushed us beyond the facts.”

This push to discover truth “beyond the facts” is a helpful tool in Alison’s toolbox, particularly in her clinical work of treating patients with seizures, “from the young person with their first seizure to the woman with epilepsy who is considering having a child to the person who has been suffering with uncontrolled seizures for years.” In her educational work, Alison is able to do the same for her own students while teaching them about “the presentation and care of patients with epilepsy.”

About her work with students, Alison says, “I love sharing what I have learned from my own education and experiences. In addition, being an educator is a reciprocal experience. I learn so much from students through their questions and different perspectives.”

In her role, Alison shares, “I am constantly given the opportunity to meet with trainees as they are making life-changing decisions. Over the years, I find myself focusing on pushing people to follow their passions.” She shares the following advice with current Notre Dame students, “Be open to new experiences. Choose classes and eventually a career that you enjoy and allows you to constantly learn and push yourself. Surround yourself with people, whether it be classmates, colleagues, or teachers, who you like and bring out the best in you.”

Alison explains that “Life at ND went beyond the classroom. Community service was not a cliche, something you just did. It was integral to all of our ND experiences. In my career, I appreciate having the opportunity to either educate or treat patients from different backgrounds and, in my own way, give back. As a mother of three boys, I have tried to instill the importance of these values in our family.”

Dr. Ana Smith Iltis ’92 

Carlson Professor of University Studies, Professor of Philosophy, & Director - Center for Bioethics, Health and Society, Wake Forest University
BAH & BA, Villanova University
PhD, Rice University

Ana Iltis ’92 ended up in academia because she chose her passion - exploring ethical issues related to healthcare and biomedical research.

Ana received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a minor in biology with an honors interdisciplinary degree from Villanova University. She then attended Rice University where she earned both her Master’s and her PhD.

Ana is the Director of the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society, and Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University. It was in learning the ropes of how to be employed as a philosopher and mentoring students that she realized how much education mattered to her. “I can't say that I set out to be a teacher, but I am so grateful that teaching found me,” Ana says.

What Ana loves most about teaching and doing research in a university and medical school setting is the energy. She is constantly challenged to think about new problems, revisit old problems in new ways, and connect what is happening in the world to philosophical concepts.

As someone who has mentored a great deal of student research, Ana says she is often part of the joy of a student discovering new passions or the excitement of a student getting to publish or present a paper for the first time.

In collaborating with scholars in her own field and other fields around the world to understand and address a wide range of topics in bioethics, Ana is constantly learning. “I get to be a student for life, but I largely control what I learn and think about. It's the best of all possible worlds,” she says.

Ana shares that her time at Notre Dame gave her an appreciation for the importance of dedicated and passionate teachers. The classes she had helped shape the way she thinks about problems and led her to develop skills that are essential for life in academia.

While at Notre Dame, Ana explains that she was given the space to forge her own path and march to the beat of her own drum. “Knowing how to be creative and do things a bit differently and being confident in making my own way, have been vital to building a meaningful career that combines my interests in science, health, and ethics,” Ana shares.

While she could never name all of the Notre Dame teachers or classmates that had a significant impact on her, Ana says that Sr. Nancy Bonshock changed her life as a writer.

Most of Ana’s career revolves around writing her own research papers, proposals, presentations, and teaching students to write clear and well-organized papers and theses. The constant practice of writing, getting feedback, and writing some more, made college and beyond that much easier for Ana. It was in English class her sophomore year that she understood just how much time and work Mrs. Ellen Lipschutz put into helping each student succeed. “I did not realize during my time at Notre Dame that we were being afforded opportunities that would make us be so well-prepared for college and that would make us stand out,” Iltis said.

During her first year at Villanova, Ana and fellow Notre Dame alumna, Mary Kate Alexander, were both pulled aside by a professor and commended for how well they were taught to write in high school.

Ana wants Notre Dame seniors to not fall to the pressure or idea of having to have everything figured out before they step on campus their freshman year. That it is important to be open to new fields and disciplines. “Your passions and greatest talents might lie in areas you don't even know exist right now,” Ana explains. “Keep an open mind about your interests, your career trajectory, and your path.”

Natalie Malseed Sturgeon ’95
Math Specialist, Far Hills Country Day School

BS, Drew University
EdM, Harvard University Graduate School of Education

To say education was an important part of Natalie Malseed Sturgeon’s upbringing is an understatement. Natalie grew up the daughter of two professors at the University of Pennsylvania and loved spending time in their labs and classrooms and even helped “grade” exams.

Natalie received her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, with a minor in political science, from Drew University. She also has her Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a concentration in mind, brain, and education. During her time at Drew and being in a liberal arts school, Natalie explains, “I was required to take a variety of courses in different disciplines, and I was fascinated by my Intro to Psychology course. I had intended to major in Biology and minor in Chemistry, but I discovered their Neuroscience track was the perfect blend of the fields of biology and psychology. Harvard was just starting their Mind, Brain, and Education program when I was looking to attend graduate school and it seemed like it was the ideal fit for me.”

Natalie is currently working as a Math Specialist at Far Hills Country Day School in New Jersey.

From a young age, Natalie coached basketball summer leagues and camps and found that the teaching aspect of coaching is what resonated with her. After interning in a research lab one summer in college, she realized that the human interaction aspect was the favorite part of her job.

While there are numerous aspects of teaching that Natalie enjoys, the moments when a student finally understands something they have been struggling with are her favorite.

Given her work being in the mathematics field, Natalie says there are many students who do not see themselves as “math people” and feel they never will be. “Helping them understand how the brain works and how capable it is of learning new things, and then watching them develop into confident mathematical thinkers is one of the greatest things I witness,” Natalie says. Some of her favorite aspects of teaching are those “A-ha!” moments, “when students finally understand something they’ve been struggling with for some time,” Natalie shares.

Natalie shares that she learned many valuable lessons during her time at Notre Dame. Like the value of hard work, resilience, and being true to yourself. “The wonderful teachers I had over my four years at Notre Dame definitely have been an inspiration to me and helped to shape who I am and how I teach,” she says.

Natalie credits her parents for lighting the education spark of interest in her life but also notes the incredible teachers she had in her formative years. Mrs. Sajeski and Ms. Monck greatly impacted Natalie’s math and science education, while Mrs. Suppa and Mr. Small sparked her love of literature. She also fondly recalls French class with Mmes Alexander, O’Grady, and Napier while her decision to minor in political science stemmed from classes with Mrs. Connor and Sr. Nancy. “Knowing what strong influences teachers have had on my life makes me acutely aware of how important each and every interaction with a student is,” Natalie shares.

On her toughest days at work, Natalie finds herself going back to religion class with Mrs. Shelvin who spoke about sacramental moments; moments of grace that happen if you are open to them. “I think we can get so caught up in our work that we forget that there is a higher calling. That idea has helped ground me once again in what truly matters,” Natalie explains.

As for her favorite Notre Dame traditions, Natalie recalls the Halloween skits and Kairos retreats which will remain with her for life.

Natalie encourages Notre Dame seniors to not close any doors too soon or get too locked into what they think they might want. “Keep an open mind, never stop wanting to learn, and seek out opportunities to try things whenever possible. I’m so grateful for an internship that helped me realize what I did NOT want to do with my life,” Sturgeon said.

Jennifer Burns Leonard ’97 

Chief Innovation Officer & Executive Director, Future of the Profession Initiative, University of Pennsylvania Law School; Lecturer in Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School
BA, Pennsylvania State University
JD, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Jen Leonard has held a number of positions during her eight years at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, including her current roles: Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of Future of the Profession Initiative. She also practiced law for over 10 years but admits that she pursued a law degree “without knowing much about what lawyers really do. I didn’t have lawyers in my family, so my main exposure was from watching Law & Order and studying To Kill a Mockingbird in Mr. Small’s American Literature class. Popular culture always portrayed lawyers as seeking the truth, advocating for justice. These are all admirable dimensions of legal work, and I had the privilege of working with many lawyers who embodied the ideal lawyer.”

However, when Jen takes a good look at her family, she sees “that education was the throughline all along. My Dad was a Philadelphia public school teacher for 40 years, my Mom spent her career working at Bryn Mawr College, and my aunt was the director of a childcare center. When I was a kid, I would invite Amy Lazor Miguel ’97 to my parents’ house to turn their basement into a classroom and pretend to be schoolteachers.”

Being surrounded by educators her whole life, Jen discovered that her true passion is “helping developing learners—whether they are three years old or 30 years old—find their path and grow their skills.” In addition to her CIO and Executive Director positions, Jen also teaches a handful of courses at Penn Law, including “Innovation in Practice: Design Thinking for Lawyers” and “Lawyer Well-Being as Ethical Obligation.” She shares, “The incredible educators who helped shape me during my ND years continue to inspire my work as an educator … Every Notre Dame teacher I had the privilege to know was exceptional. When I assumed the enormous responsibility of educating others, I reflected on what made them so effective. From project-based learning to individualized learning plans to scaffolded learning environments where we felt challenged and supported, I draw from their example every day. I can only hope to become as skilled as my teachers were one day.”

Jen received her BA from Pennsylvania State University and her JD from Penn Law School. As an undergrad, she studied Political Science and Spanish and had a particularly strong foundation for her Spanish studies from her time in the ND classrooms of Senoras Guarino and Lopez. “In fact,” Jen says, “My Spanish was so advanced by the time I reached college that the professor suggested I drop his class and enroll in a much more advanced course after the first session.”

Once she discovered her desire to become an educator, Jen started pursuing a Master’s degree in Education at night while working as a lawyer during the day. Jen shared that, prior to the position opening at Penn Law, she’d actually completed some of her fieldwork for that program at Notre Dame.

Jen is inspired daily by her students, the great work they’re doing, and the changes that are taking place in legal. She explains, “Our students are absolutely brilliant, eager to change the world for good, and excited about the many ways the legal profession is changing to be healthier, more innovative, and inclusive. On days when I feel tired or not at my best, 10 minutes with a student over coffee or after class will lift my spirits and push me to be even better.”

Penn Law has also addressed these changes in the legal world with the Future of the Profession Initiative (FPI). The FPI recognizes that the legal profession—like most industries—is in the midst of tremendous change. “We believe a leading law school has both an opportunity and an obligation to understand that change, educate our students about navigating a shifting landscape, lead conversations that focus on innovation, and develop projects that improve civil legal services,” says Jen. “Our team teaches classes on changing conditions in the legal landscape, equips future lawyers with new skills they will need to thrive, and advocates for changes to regulatory and other systemic impediments to innovation.”

Education is also always growing and changing, but at its core, the values and dynamics will always remain the same, especially at all-girls’ schools like Notre Dame. At a recent gathering, Jen shares, “We were talking about the virtues of attending an all-girls’ school. I recalled that, when I got to college, one of my female professors encouraged the women in the class to participate in equal measure with the men. The comment stayed with me because it never occurred to me until that moment not to participate equally. Notre Dame recognized that the world is complex and presents young women with many challenges. But the educational philosophy Notre Dame promotes helped us grow stronger to meet those challenges head-on instead of lowering our hands and quieting our voices.”

Kelly Phelan Ciminera ’06
Principal, Ss Colman-John Neumann School

BS, Mount St. Mary’s University
Elementary Administrators Development Program, Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Pursuing Master’s Degree at Immaculata University

Some people just know, from a very young age, that they were destined to work in education - whether it’s a love of working with children, a passion for learning, or someone recognizing a unique gift within. For Kelly Phelan Ciminera ’06, it was all of those things and more. “I have wanted to be a teacher ever since I was seven years old. I loved my first and second grade teacher, Mrs. Judge, and I always wanted to be just like her. I absolutely love kids and I love to help them learn and succeed.”

Kelly has had a number of role models who have encouraged her to pursue that voice inside telling her that the classroom was where she was meant to be. “While I was a student at Notre Dame, I knew I wanted to be in education. My teachers continued to help my love of education flourish. They gave me opportunities to visit an elementary school on Career Day; they helped me to find a college that was known for a wonderful education program. ND always believed in me.”

After graduating from Notre Dame in 2006, Kelly attended Mount St. Mary’s, where she received her BS in elementary and special education. She later completed the Elementary Administrators Development Program with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and is pursuing a Master’s degree at Immaculata University.

Kelly taught 2nd grade for four years and 1st grade for six years at Sacred Heart in Manoa. During her second year of teaching, a mom of one of her students told her that one day she would be a principal. “Quite frankly, I thought she was crazy! But,” Kelly shares, “It was something that never left my mind or my heart. As my career continued, it was something that deep down I had always wanted to achieve.”

Kelly’s transition from teacher to principal took place during one of the most tumultuous moments in history. “I became the principal at Ss. Colman John Neumann School on July 1, 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic!” However, despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and navigating the safe opening of school during the 2020-2021 school year, Kelly says, “It was one of the best years of my life. My favorite part of being a principal is that I get to have an impact on hundreds of students and families.”

Catholic education has been a part of Kelly’s life since she was six years old. “I have been in Catholic Education since I was in Kindergarten,” Kelly says. “It is so near and dear to my heart. Watching students succeed and love coming to school is the greatest gift in the world.”

Thanks in part due to her time at Notre Dame, Kelly felt well prepared for college, career, and beyond. “ND prepared me for life more than I could have imagined or expected. I was so prepared for college that it was evident in all of my classes,” Kelly shares. “The teachers at ND were amazing; they helped me realize that education was where I was meant to be. I had some very special teachers – from Mr. Small to Mrs. Suppa to Mrs. Sajeski to Madame Alexander. Each one inspired me and gave me ideas to bring to my own classroom. The teachers and classmates became like family. They truly cared about each and every girl and that made a huge impact.”

At Notre Dame, Kelly says that she learned “the importance of working hard and cherishing friendships. I have the best memories of ND! It’s where I met my best and lifelong friends. The community and connections at Notre Dame are so very special. ND provided a rigorous academic curriculum that truly prepared me for life, but they never forgot how important it is to have fun. Learning should always be fun!”

Elisa Oliver ’11 

Statistics Teacher & 12th Grade Level Chair, KIPP DuBois Charter School; National Curriculum & Assessment Writer, KIPP Foundation 
AP Statistics Reader, The College Board
BA, Duke University
MSEd, Johns Hopkins University School of Education

Like many college freshmen, Elisa Oliver was unsure what she wanted to study. That was until a friend convinced her to take Intro to Public Policy, and from that point on, Oliver was hooked.

Elisa received her bachelor’s degree in public policy with a double minor in education and Spanish from Duke University. She is now a statistics teacher at KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy.

Early in her public policy study days, Elisa was focusing on a case study on public and charter schools and found herself deeply, and emotionally, invested in the work of policy decisions within the public school system. While at Notre Dame, Elisa shares that she was always drawn to the education world. Her interest began with tutoring classmates in the writing center and spending her community service hours teaching CCD at her parish.

What Elisa enjoys most about working in education is that the work is fresh every single day - that each day is dynamic and fluid based on the knowledge and experience her students bring to the classroom.

One of the greatest gifts Elisa was given was an introduction to Zaretta Hammond’s work on Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain. “Creating a classroom that is a community of learners where students bring as much wisdom and insight to the classroom as I do has made my classroom such a dynamic space that I am excited to enter every day,” Elisa explains.

Elisa shares that Notre Dame had an influence on her decision to enter the education field. She explains that at the beginning of each school year, she begins with a hopes and fears activity. The activity gives students the space to share their hopes for the course and classroom environment, while sharing their fears of math and how they overall view themselves as a learner. “Every year when I talk about my hopes for our class I share about the most beautiful classroom environment I have ever been a part of as a student in Mrs. Gleason’s AP Physics class. Every time my own classroom hits that special sauce of rigorous content and deep community, I think of how lucky I was to have experienced that so often at Notre Dame,” Elisa says.

The more Elisa studied education policy, the more she realized that the classrooms she experienced at Notre Dame are not available to most students across the country. She explains that due to unjust funding systems and race and socioeconomic barriers facing families, many American students do not experience a school environment where they feel validated, affirmed, challenged with rigorous coursework, or supported by a safe and joyful learning environment.

Because of her opportunities and experiences at Notre Dame, Elisa said she was able to see the possibilities for her own classroom. “I was often channeling the wisdom and care of my former teachers and the vibrancy of the Notre Dame community as I sought to foster the kind of classroom I would want to be a student in,” Elisa shares.

What has stuck with Elisa since her days at Notre Dame are the faith, optimism, and persistence of St. Julie. “I try to offer those around me (myself included) a reminder that God is good and a better world is possible, in fact, it’s guaranteed as long as we pray with our feet and keep our hearts as wide as the world,” she says.

Understanding the chaotic phase of life seniors are currently going through, Elisa encourages the Class of 2022 to trust their inner voice. “When I was a senior, I was frantic for someone to just tell me the path that would lead to happiness and fulfillment and community. But the truth is nobody can find that path, except for you,” Elisa explained. Whether it is through prayer, meditation, exercise, or listening to God, Elisa says, “the right thing will find its way into your heart and mind.”

Alumnae Educators Return to the Academy

Notre Dame is fortunate to have a number of alumnae serving as faculty and staff members. The five alumnae below reflect on the similarities and differences between Notre Dame today and the ND of the past during their time as students, and they share what they enjoy most about working at their alma mater.

Joan Sammartino Turner ’77, JD, Social Studies Department Chair

“Most notable difference is the size of both the student body and campus buildings. My graduating Class of 1977 had 50 students. Cuvilly only had eight classrooms (no second floor), St. Julie wasn't built yet, nor (obviously!) Connelly or Harron. We did not use North Campus – it was a barn (Religion Center) – but we did use the Bascome-Trexler building (it didn't have that name – we just called it the Math Center) for Art and Math.

“While buildings change, the thing that remains the same are the students and faculty and the close relationships that are built. I see students in the halls or in my classes who remind me of girls from 40 years ago – not just in looks but in spirit, excitement, and joy! My colleagues have the same care and concern as my teachers did. They are passionate about their subject matter and academic growth, but they also care for the girls' emotional and spiritual growth. They always have the best interest of the students in mind and are available to support their needs.” Joan also shares, “One of the most emotional times is watching the graduates walk down the path to the Mansion patio as so many have done before them.” 

What does Joan enjoy most about working at Notre Dame? “The relationships with the students and colleagues. We care for each other like family.”

Kate Small Rupertus ’93, Art Teacher

“Physically, ND is very different from when I was a student. There was no Harron hallway, no Aimee Willard gym, no Harron library, no Connelly Art center, and no Riley STEM Center. I had my chemistry classes in a lab that is now the backroom to the cafeteria, my art classes were in what is now the facilities center, math was in the cottage that now houses offices, English class was in the mansion dining room and the library is now the religion classrooms. Something that has not changed though is that now, just as then, the classes are taught by individuals who care tremendously about their students and want to do whatever is needed (inside or outside the box!) to make each student’s learning experience a successful one.” 

What does Kate love most about teaching at ND? “Most definitely my students! They are so engaged, passionate, and fun to work with!”

Suzanne Moran ’07, Social Studies Teacher

“When I was here as a student, the Sisters of Notre Dame were a major presence. They lived on campus, some taught classes, and all were active in the life of the school. Going to classes in the Mansion meant entering their home; you could even smell them cooking dinner in the afternoons. Having teachers like Sr Anne MacDonald and Sr Nancy Bonshock left a lasting impression on me. Sr Nancy is actually one of the reasons why I am a teacher; she showed me how powerful this role can be. It was a very different experience having the sisters here, and I miss them. However, some things are very much the same. Many of the faculty that taught me are still here today – Joan [Turner], chair of my department, was my history teacher in Middle School. I still remember her lesson on John Locke vividly; she's one of the reasons I became interested in history as a student. Many departments have at least one faculty member that was one of my teachers, and that's a special connection that I value.

What does Suzanne enjoy most about working at Notre Dame? “I love having so much in common with my students. Although I graduated in 2007, they have a lot of the same teachers, take a lot of the same classes, and engage in the same traditions (like Spirit Day - go yellow class!). Being able to connect with my students over these shared experiences is really valuable.”

Kara Schultheis Brown ’08, Associate Director of Upper School Admissions

“Notre Dame is the same community it was when I was a student. There may be some new faces; however, the energy, spirit, and community are still very much alive within the gates. My ND friends and I always looked forward to going to school, and that same enthusiasm from students is still present. Students are still laughing, skipping up and down hallways, smiling (even behind masks), and being their goofy selves. The faculty and staff are still incredibly supportive, engaged, and motivated to see students succeed. 

“While a lot is still the same, Notre Dame is physically different. The campus is even more beautiful compared to when I was a student, which I didn't think was possible. Another big difference is that there are more opportunities and resources offered to students. Since I was a student, the academic, extracurricular, and athletic opportunities, resources, and offerings have expanded and grown tremendously. Honestly, sometimes I wish I could take some of the classes that are now offered.”

What does Kara love most about working at ND? “The community (Coco included)! This wonderful community is warm, welcoming, supportive, and fun, celebrating each other’s successes and supporting each other through challenges.”

Julia Tully ’08, Director of Campus Ministry

“What stands out to me as feeling the same is the experience the girls are having. While there are updated facilities and new faculty faces, the girls are still getting to know each other, plotting fun Advent Angel surprises, and growing into women who want to make a difference in the world. They know that they're cared for by their teachers, and the feeling of fun and camaraderie in the hallway is the same.”

What does Julia enjoy about working at her alma mater? “I love watching students grow and find a sense of passion! I have gotten to watch students push themselves out of their comfort zones to lead Kairos or speak at Community Prayer, and I love getting to give students a space to share themselves with our school community. When a student comes into my office to chat about a meaningful service experience or an idea for something new, I love to see her energy.”