From Xavier University to ESTEEM

Author: Gene Stowe

Xavier University: Mikaela Saugstad & Austin FryXavier University: Mikaela Saugstad & Austin Fry

For four years, Mikaela Saugstad was majoring in chemistry and minoring in economics at Xavier University while Austin Fry was getting a degree in math and actuarial science major with a minor in finance and computer science. They met after each was accepted into ESTEEM. “I only found out her name because I found out another person had been accepted into the program from Xavier,” Fry said. “We have become friends and then become very good friends in the ESTEEM Program.”


Saugstad, who started in chemistry, added economics because of her passion for sustainability and green chemistry practices. When she heard about ESTEEM, the opportunity to add business acumen to her technical skills promised the best preparation for making a difference. Early months at Notre Dame confirmed her choice.


“I got to do a lot of hands-on projects, and I thought that was really helpful,” she says. “‘Get out of the building’ was their big motto. In my undergrad, I felt I was not as much hands-on in my learning. It was a lot more tests.”


Saugstad enjoys the mission-driven education, faculty and classmate collegiality, and focus on positive change in the world that Notre Dame shares with Xavier. “I really like that Notre Dame is similar to Xavier in that they are focused on educating the person as a whole,” she says. “They are into the spiritual and emotional side of it as well. Know your intent and your ‘why’ have been stressed. That’s like Xavier, too – not just to make money.”


Her capstone – helping commercialize a professor’s technology to recover low-temperature waste heat and convert it to electricity – reflects her interest in sustainability that she hopes to pursue in a consulting or engineering firm. “We believe this app could work really well in power plants,” says Saugstad, whose work includes identifying market segments. “We’re also looking into its application in manufacturing plants. A lot of things I learned in chemistry are applicable to it. I think it helps knowing the technology because when you’re doing customer interviews, you can talk to both sides and bridge that gap.”


Fry, who heard of ESTEEM from alum Ben Kelty, was attracted by the diversity of people and ideas and the opportunity to connect STEM expertise to a host of opportunities. Like classmate Valeria Gonzalez, he is developing his capstone thesis by helping Inovateus Solar of South Bend develop an energy fund to drive its expansion. He was delighted to find the level of freedom and personal responsibility in ESTEEM.


“You make it your own,” he says. “You can take it and drive it through taking different electives, starting different business ventures with friends, try the different career opportunities and the way you can go and highlight yourself and your different skill sets.” Fry also marvels that Notre Dame, while sharing Xavier’s values and close relationships, provides faculty with real-world experience and high-level exposure – he chatted with X Prize CEO Peter Diamandis for 10 minutes after listening to the renowned entrepreneur’s talk at an event on campus. “At least three hours a day for the last 2½ weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to top-tier firms that are excited to come to Notre Dame because they know what impact students that go to this university have,” Fry said recently.  


Saugstad and Fry especially appreciate the inspiration and support of their classmates. “You have 44 high-achieving individuals coming into the same program, taking the same classes,” Saugstad says. “Everyone’s willing to help each other and learn from each other. Certain people have different strengths. (Austin helped with accounting and finance homework.) I can reciprocate that when they have questions with chemistry. It’s been a very collaborative program, and I appreciate that.”


“It was very interesting to understand how many similarities we have and understand each other’s backgrounds,” Fry says, “both coming from STEM and having that background of Xavier.”