Q&A: Academy of Notre Dame de Namur’s Judith Dwyer

The Villanova school’s president reveals her plans for improving an already prestigious curriculum.



Photo by Tessa Marie Images

In the first 18 months of her tenure as president of Villanova’s Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, Dr. Judith A. Dwyer has set her sights high. The Chestnut Hill native—who holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America—has helped roll out a strategic plan for the school. And after years of working in Catholic higher education, she seems primed to achieve those goals. 

MLT: What made you decide to pursue a career in Catholic education?

JD: I attended Catholic school as a child, a high school student and a college student. I had extraordinary teachers—really stellar teaching at every level. That inspired me to want to go into teaching and education. I recall vividly, as a high school sophomore, knowing that I wanted to become a teacher—that I really wanted that opportunity to work with young people and have the experience of intellectual inquiry. 

MLT: What have the first 18 months been like at Notre Dame?

JD: They’ve been exhilarating. We launched a major strategic planning process last year. It yielded an ambitious road map that will take us to 2020 and beyond. It’s our hope for the present and the future. Since then, we’ve moved through a similar process for campus master planning. 

MLT: What projects are you working toward?

JD: We want to move forward as we think about a new STEM facility, a student center, and a center for the liturgy and performing arts, as we restore and renovate our mansion, which is the heart of the campus. We want academic excellence all through the curriculum and a sense of collaborative learning for the students and teachers, state-of-the-art technology, and collaborative models between and among the disciplines. 

MLT: How has modern society changed education? 

JD: The environment in which we’re living today is complex. We live in a world of social media. There are major shifts in the expression of ideologies. We have [to help] our young women understand their roles, and have hope in that type of world. [We have] an opportunity to provide them the context of learning how to be discriminating, respectful and polite, and also understand some of the complexities we’re facing as an international community. 

MLT: How does educating younger students differ from your previous roles at the university level?

JD: One advantage I bring is that I know what’s next for these young women, what’s expected, and how we can best prepare them to do well at a university. 

MLT: How has education changed at this level?

JD: More and more, I see that the opportunities we experienced traditionally at a university level are now a part of the high-school and middle-school environment. Service, internships, international emersion experiences, and interdisciplinary, project-based learning afford our students opportunities that will help them mature, grow and see life differently as more global citizens.

MLT: What’s it like returning to your hometown?

JD: It’s been a delight. I’ve lived in many cities and have loved the opportunity to work throughout the United States and spend some time working in Europe, as well. But being back with my family and having the chance to give back—to some extent—to my hometown is really important to me. 

MLT: What do you hope your legacy will be at Notre Dame?

JD: I do think my deepest hope is that alumnae in the future will continue to find young women of faith and compassion, who are self-confident and poised leaders—women who are energized, who have ideas, who are innovative. As the challenges of education continue, I’m truly hopeful that we can continue to take pride in alumnae who reflect these qualities.

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