ESTEEM program inspires Arts and Letters majors to be innovative entrepreneurs

ESTEEM assistant director Sunny Shah works on a project with students in the business and entrepreneurship-focused master’s program.


Take the skills liberal arts majors already have — analysis, communication, creative collaboration, critical thinking. Now add intensive training in business and entrepreneurship.

That’s a recipe for success, according to College of Arts and Letters alumni who have gone on to Notre Dame’s Engineering, Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Master’s program (ESTEEM).

patrick_rice_300 Patrick Rice

“If I went in to learn a little, I came out with 10 times more than I expected,” said Patrick Rice, a 2014 ESTEEM graduate who studied theology and Arts and Letters pre-health as an undergraduate.

The 11-month professional master’s degree program has primarily trained students with STEM backgrounds in business and entrepreneurship to spur the launch of startup companies. It is now also actively recruiting Arts and Letters majors.

The program culminates with a capstone thesis in which students work alongside faculty mentors and ESTEEM advisors to develop plans to take new products, services or applications from concept to market. More than half of these capstone projects originate from industry sponsors.

While Arts and Letters majors don’t possess the STEM background that many other applicants have, they do have a way of thinking that lines up perfectly with the entrepreneurial spirit of the program.

“Many Arts and Letters students have the critical thinking skills, the quantitative analysis skills, and economic skills to be successful here,” said Rebekah Go DeLine, program coordinator for ESTEEM. “Our students are naturally curious and excited about a lot of different things, and that describes many Arts and Letters students.”

will_mcleod_full Will McLeod, an Arts and Letters and ESTEEM alumnus, was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Manufacturing list in 2016.

For Will McLeod, a 2010 ESTEEM alumnus and 2009 graduate of the College of Arts and Letters/College of Engineering dual-degree program, that diversity of thought was a major reason he pursued the program.

A mechanical engineering and industrial design major, he credits his Arts and Letters background with helping him develop broader visions for his products.

“I realized that being in classes with one type of person, you couldn’t do certain things. You get a lot of things from cross-pollination,” said McLeod, who was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Manufacturing list. “I figured out how to express a vision and how to communicate ideas. It’s a lot of what product design gives you that is lost to pure engineering.”

McLeod co-founded SmarterShade Inc., which makes a type of glass that can automatically switch from clear to opaque, and is now chief of product and co-founder of Keen Home Inc., which makes wirelessly networked heating and cooling systems.

abbey_santanello_300 Abbey Santanello

Abbey Santanello ’15, who majored in economics and Arts and Letters pre-health, is scheduled to complete the ESTEEM program in May. She said being able to create her own path through the program has been rewarding both personally and professionally.

“No matter what you’re interested in doing, this program opens doors,” said Santanello, whose capstone thesis involves the commercialization of a surgical instrument her father invented.

Rice, who is now a valuation analyst for Ernst & Young in Atlanta, said the program has been transformative for him. ESTEEM helped him discover a world of opportunity at the intersection of business and health care.

“If you go into the ESTEEM program with an open mind, if you lean in and say yes to opportunities,” he said, “you’re more likely to succeed and find out what you truly love.”


Originally published by Brian Wallheimer at on March 17, 2016.