Nancy McAdams Retiring from her ESS post

January 24, 2012William Schmitt

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Nancy McAdams, an educator who has helped to give countless young people transformative experiences of learning and teaching, will retire as associate director of Notre Dame’s Education, Schooling, and Society (ESS) minor program, effective Feb. 14, 2012.

Nancy’s eight years in her crucial role with ESS—neither her first nor last term of service in education—have included teaching, advising, and otherwise assisting Notre Dame undergraduates who pursued the popular, interdisciplinary minor housed in the Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI).

“My best experiences have been with the students, talking with them about their classes and their goals for the future,” Nancy recalls. Among the approximately 100 enrolled in the minor, about 40 go into teaching after graduation, and she watches the entire group become “very knowledgeable and passionate about education.”

ESS was only about a year old, with about 12 students enrolled, when Rev. Timothy Scully, director of the IEI, invited Nancy to help administer the program and to enhance the already close contacts with undergraduates.  “The minor has really grown in these years, thanks to Father Scully,” says Nancy, noting the extra faculty support and other resources made available through the IEI.

Stuart Greene, associate professor of English, and Julie Turner, associate professor of psychology, had established the minor in 2002, and Greene has served as director of the program in recent years.

Now approaching its tenth birthday, ESS is poised for a major transition. Notre Dame psychologist and IEI Fellow Nicole McNeill will take the helm as director in the next academic year, with plans to build on the strong base.

Nancy’s successor as associate director will be Julie Dallavis, a former teacher in and M. Ed. graduate of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). She recently served as managing editor of ACE Press.

Nancy credits Greene and Turner with having established a tradition of strong ties to students in the minor. With leaders focused on giving the students wide-ranging insights and experiences—including a capstone independent research project—ESS has grown to be one of the largest minors offered in the College of Arts and Letters.

Enrollment typically includes students who are majoring in business and science, Nancy says. Graduates often find ways to incorporate their education-related skills and perspectives in career paths other than teaching. One past ESS student who was an engineering major has gone on to design educational software.

Degrees and careers in education are a frequent path for ESS graduates because their five-course curriculum helps them explore “where schools fit into society.” Nancy estimates that 10 of the graduates enter the ACE program in a typical year.  By the way, Nancy’s own daughter was an ACE teacher and married an ACE teacher. They are Jackie and Brett Guy, both ACE 12.

For many of her ESS years, Nancy taught the program’s internship course. This provided a “student observation experience” answering the question, “What’s life like in the classroom these days?” The internship, part of the fruit of ESS’s excellent relations with educators in the South Bend area, “helped students to discern whether they wanted to go into teaching.”

Nancy’s valued ability to help in this discernment process comes partly from the experiences she had before coming to ESS. She was a life sciences major at University of California, Berkeley who also earned a teaching certificate for elementary education and biology. Years later, she added an M.S. in education degree to her credentials.

While a newbie elementary school teacher in the San Francisco Bay area, she met the man who would become her husband—A. James McAdams, a political scientist who now holds the Dr. Scholl Chair in International Relations and directs Notre Dame’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies.

As a married couple, they lived in several places, including West Berlin (before Germany’s reunification) and Princeton, N.J., until Prof. McAdams took a tenured position at Notre Dame. Before and during that latest career step, Nancy was continuing to teach in public and Catholic schools even as the McAdamses built a family.

Now, with daughter Jackie expecting a baby, Nancy eagerly anticipates becoming a grandmother soon after her retirement from ESS.  “I’m really looking forward to my new role,” she says.

But she adds that she hopes to volunteer in local schools in coming years, and she is sure to be maintaining close ties to Notre Dame through her husband’s academic pursuits and through the ESS program.

She says she will cherish memories from her years of service to ESS, particularly the collaborations “making a program that we’re all proud of.”