Staff Literacy Program congratulates first graduates

Emerging readers completed 131 books during 18-month program

Spring is graduation season, and the first-ever graduates of the Notre Dame Workplace Literacy Program celebrated on Thursday, May 7, with a ceremony of their own.

Balloons and streamers lined the walls of the Mason Service Center training room as the first 13 participants in the program proudly accepted their certificates and read original compositions to a standing room-only audience of friends, family and colleagues.

Launched in 2013, the literacy program helps Notre Dame staff overcome workplace challenges by improving reading and writing skills. While the program has enabled some non-native participants to read and write in English as a second language, others are native English speakers who have discovered reading and writing skills they didn’t know they had.

Custodian Cathy Nickens (known as “Hey Girl” among her classmates) is especially proud of her achievement. One evening last year when her husband asked what she was doing, Nickens told him she was reading a novel. “When he said, ‘but you don’t read,’ I told him ‘I do now!’” Nickens has since finished reading 18 books.

To get credit for a book, readers must pass a quiz on each book they read. Collectively, the participants read 131 books — more than four million words — over 18 months. Program manager Mary Jo Ogren attributes their rate of accomplishment — dramatically higher than the national average — to the participants’ sheer desire to learn.

“This class has totally changed my life,” says custodian Dora Calvillo. “I have more confidence in all areas of my life, from working at Notre Dame to talking to my children.” For more information about the Notre Dame Workplace Literacy Program, contact Linda Costas, director, talent and engagement at

This story was originally published in NDWorks.