Author: Kathleen McCarthy Walsh (BBA '86)
I graduated with a BA in Accounting before there was a Mendoza College of Business, while the University was experimenting with how to guide young women into business, and before the administration had ironed out the wrinkles of how to teach young women. Thirty-plus years ago, navigating the deficiencies and bias in the growth process of both student and school was valuable, since real life carries its own versions of them. Although I experienced enough academic success and acquired experiential skills to land a job in one of what was then the “Big Eight” in the accounting world, the most important business acumen I gained at Notre Dame was a foundation for critical thinking and the Catholic ethos to work to make the world a better place. What I didn’t anticipate at graduation were the benefits I would reap from earning a business degree in a program that would grow to become the best business college in the country.
Reputation is a powerful entity. But I didn’t come to Notre Dame because of its reputation in business. I attended for a complex combination of reasons including size of student body, proximity to my home, tailgate experiences as a teen, academic rigor and lack of internal domination of any single department or college. I was plucked from that year’s wait list, late in June, canceling my other cemented plans, and felt as though Notre Dame had personally picked me, instead of me having picked Notre Dame.
I would find out much later what the school’s reputation would do for me. As the fledgling business college was growing and earning a name for itself, literally and figuratively, I was test-driving three different career paths then leaving the workforce altogether to raise my family. I was almost completely disconnected from business for eleven years, until the Great Recession forced my hand and made it obvious that I needed to bring in income to keep what we had created afloat. I self-taught myself the term and tactic I had missed — digital marketing — rebuilt my resumé, interned at a marketing agency as a crash course in what I’d missed, and went looking for work. As a new job seeker, I was not prepared for (but gratefully welcomed) the weight put on my 22-year-old Notre Dame undergraduate business degree, refurbished in the glowing reputation of the Mendoza College of Business. It was not the only reason my resumé sometimes earned a second look: I worked hard to get heard and to sell and explain the skills I had acquired during my resumé gap years. But the reputation of Mendoza College and the overarching reputation of Notre Dame in business had a significant, positive impact on my ability to restart and continue to grow my career. I have never underappreciated that fact and have intentionally applied the values sparked at Notre Dame in whatever ways I can, in whatever position I hold, to help others and make the world a better place.
From my perspective, the reputation earned by the Mendoza College of Business was not pre-ordained and its growth and success took more than just money. It took leadership and vision and a deep commitment to forging business leaders who see the world through the eyes of those in need and who apply their own gifts and make their own commitment to improving the lives of others.
Whenever I have the opportunity to speak to or in front of prospective Notre Dame students, I focus primarily on young women and their parents and work to assure them of the deep, long-lasting value the Notre Dame experience and degree can have on young women’s lives — in every peak and valley, reboot and re-tooling. Above everything else I gained from Notre Dame, I cherish the overall Notre Dame experience the most – friends, experiments, memories, courage, craziness, growth, awakenings, slumps and streaks, euphoria and heartache and all the spaces in between. But I am also forever grateful for the value of the reputation carried by the business degree from Notre Dame which has enabled me to do what I have done in business and in life.