From Stonehill College to ESTEEM

Author: Gene Stowe

2017 Stonehill 1

Stonehill College, a Catholic institution with 2,500 students founded in 1948 in Easton, Mass., is sometimes called Notre Dame of the East because of similar architecture, shared traditions like priests in the residence halls, and shared names like Notre Dame du Lac and Cushing. When Stonehill undergrads Emily Tokarowski, Matt Brooks, and Brendan Hughes came to the University of Notre Dame for ESTEEM, they found differences in scale and common ground in culture.

“It’s a way bigger school,” Brooks says. “The classes more rigorous, far more interesting. It’s a real-world feel. You spend less time in class, more study on your own time. It does feel more professional. It’s much more focused. I can surround myself with people who are like me." "The atmosphere is kind of the same, the pride for the school,” says Tokarowski, noting the vastly larger number of activities and people. “It’s almost overwhelming to me.” On the other hand, she feels the same commitment from instructors: “I received a lot of help from my old faculty, and I’m seeing that now with ESTEEM. Our advisors are fantastic at doing these checkups with us. They do these one-on-one sessions and see how we’re acclimating to the classes. They want us to succeed. They’re very good at keeping tabs on us. ”

“The feel of the dedication of the teachers is very much the same,” Hughes agrees. “They really want to help teach you. Even though the classes are bigger, they have that one-on-one connection that Stonehill prides itself on. Obviously, the football games are crazy.”

Brooks, a computer science major who started creating productivity software when he was an undergraduate, decided he wants to start a software company. At his ESTEEM interview, he admitted, “I’ve always thought of entrepreneurship as something you just do. Why would you go to school for that? We all had a good laugh.”

Now he’s conducting a Founders Project, using his own idea, for his capstone thesis, the basis of a Synapse software company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to organize a user’s desktop automatically using semantics for easy retrieval. “I didn’t know anything about accounting, nothing about finances, economics, how to run a business, the structure of a business, marketing, presentation, being able to communicate with people effectively,” he says. “I said, ‘why don’t I take a year out of my life to get those skills up to par? Then I’ll have some success when I try to bring these solutions to the masses.’”

Tokarowski, who earned degrees in environmental studies and communication, grew up in an entrepreneurial family where her father was a materials engineer.  She is working with the Notre Dame Global Application Initiative (ND GAIN) to explore establishing a for-profit application that would provide up-to-date climate change data to government officials, policymakers, and others. “I’m trying to see what I can do with all of the business classes and marketing strategies and whatnot to see what new ideas or innovations can be implemented in the environmental field to help our society and our population keep our people and our planet healthy and sustainable for future generations,” she says.

Hughes, who earned a minor in entrepreneurship with his major in biology, plans to go to dental school in 2017 – a combination that prepared him for ESTEEM’s demands. “Being on top of deadlines and the amount of projects we had to do are skills that carried over to this program,” he says. “The competitive atmosphere also prepared me for this program – the workload and how you handle the stress of being in the professional world. It’s a lot more fine tuning. In this program, you’re looking in depth on the business side, not just business in general but business for technology companies.”