October 2020 In Her Own Words: An Unintentional Pioneer

by Marcy Pavlik '73

It has been my observation that most people who forged a path not yet followed do so without intention of it being transformational or unique.  Rather, they are just following a desire and passion that leads them somewhere unexpected but delightful.

I was a child who loved the outdoors and the feeling of being one with nature.  My favorite activity in kindergarten was to collect colorful little river rocks on our playground.  Who knew that this would be an indicator of my future profession and the start of a journey that led me to Notre Dame.

Attending the parish grade school and then an all-female high school was a given for most Catholic families when I was young, so deciding to go to St. Mary’s College was a natural progression in my education. I was excited that the University of Notre Dame would be “just across the road,” as I looked forward to attending football games and social gatherings.  At the time I was unaware of any plans to merge the two schools, thus I never dreamed that it was possible to be a student at Notre Dame.

I entered St. Mary’s as a math major, but my enjoyment of the subject withered as I delved deeper into the complication of higher calculus. My first year, I also took a German language class on the Notre Dame campus, thinking that I might want to participate in a European exchange program.  One day, with the desperation of finding a new major now always in the back of my mind, I spotted an interesting looking science book titled GEOLOGY on the desk of a student sitting across from me in German class. I borrowed his book, and as I turned the pages showing rocks, minerals, streams and glaciers, I was thrilled that this type of science could be a legitimate major.  The student suggested that I speak with his Geology 101 Professor, Dr. Archie MacAlpin. 

Professor Archie McAlpin (all photos courtesy Marcy Pavlik)

Dr. MacAlpin was delightful. Having four daughters, the youngest my age, and not having had the opportunity to teach “a girl,” he enthusiastically encouraged me to enroll in his Geology 101 class the next semester.

Sophomore year I jumped in with both feet, taking as many classes as possible to catch up on requirements to graduate as a science major.  I remember walking into the auditorium-sized lecture hall for my first Notre Dame science class, feeling all eyes on me, and wondering where all the other women were.  I had expected that there would certainly be several other female students who would want to enjoy this experience.

Conversations with Dr. MacAlpin quickly fueled my desire to create a path for myself as a Geology major.  At the time, however, this path was not clear.  Enrolled as a student at St. Mary’s, but taking classes almost exclusively at Notre Dame meant that graduating in my major rested entirely on a successful merger between the two schools.  Not willing to accept an uncertain outcome, and determined not to be sidetracked from my new-found passion, I appealed to Robert Gordon, Associate Dean of the Notre Dame College of Science. In May of 1971, at the end of my sophomore year, he wrote:

According to the latest plans all SMC students would be assimilated into UND by September 1972. By September 1971, all SMC students who plan to graduate in 1973 will begin their major programs according to UND requirements.  Hence, it would appear that you will have no problems in pursuing a major in Geology.

He ended by saying, “May your first diamond find be a large one!” I was so relieved at the first part of his letter, that I think the double meaning of his final statement went right over my head!

During junior year, I was fully immersed in a Notre Dame geology schedule.  I loved every bit of my major, even obtaining employment filing maps as a Geology department librarian.  I started to feel more at ease as a female student in a traditionally male-oriented major, as my geology friends became like family. 

Daily life presented a few challenges.  I was living in the dorm at St. Mary’s, but I spent the days and evenings at Notre Dame for classes and late-night studying, which was logistically inconvenient at times. Daily life could also feel lonely, as my female friends consisted almost exclusively of my roommates because I spent so little time on the St. Mary’s campus.  But even though it could feel overwhelming to be one of a handful of women on a large college campus, my resolve to move forward in Geology did not waver.  I would find myself stopping daily in front of the Golden Dome or the Grotto between classes, thinking how amazing it was to be a part of this magnificent university.  It had never been in my dreams that this could be possible and yet, somehow, there I was. 

Marcy in front of the Geology Department, 1973

A most memorable class of junior year was “Geology Colloquium,” taught by the department chair Father Murphy (ed note: Rev. Michael J. Murphy, C.S.C.).  Each student had to prepare and present a one-hour lecture on a topic of their choice to the rest of the class, and wear “professional attire,” which was difficult for any student.  I survived my talk without any issue on content, but the professor wrote the following in his evaluation: “be careful about drawing on the board while wearing a short dress … bluntly, your slip showed occasionally.”  The anonymous comment forms filled out by the other students also focused on my appearance, which was quite mortifying, but good practice for the future!

In November 1971, Notre Dame’s merger talks with Saint Mary’s broke down.  This created stress during my junior year, because I was not a part of any St. Mary’s program. I then turned my energy toward gaining admission to Notre Dame on my own merit, paying regular visits to John Goldrick, Director of Admissions, who was sympathetic to my situation, but unable to take any action until Fr. Hesburgh decided to admit women starting the fall of 1972.  I was overjoyed to receive a letter in March 1972 informing me that my application for admission to the College of Science had been approved.  I was finally a formal student at Notre Dame and felt so fortunate that life had brought me here. 

My senior year, the six other geology majors and I each had our own drafting table in a large room in the Geology Building basement. Occasionally, department chair Father Murphy would step into the room while giving guests a grand tour.  He would point me out and proudly say, “and that is our female”!  I would try to manage a smile, now becoming more acquainted with my position as “a first.”

Second semester senior year brought the Geology spring field trip. This was a carefully planned eight-day, no-frills bus tour of the Midwest. In southeast Missouri, we stopped at a shaft mine where galena, the mineral mined for lead ore, was extracted.  Professor Ray Gutschick had arranged for us to descend the mine so that we could observe the veins of ore.  Upon our arrival, there was just one holdup: women were not allowed in underground mines, as it was considered bad luck.  I don’t know what conversation ensued between Dr. Gutschick and the mine managers, but eventually they relented, and agreed to allow me in the mine.  I ended up with the best of prizes from this little expedition, as the mine workers decided  -- correctly so -- that I would appreciate their largest and most beautiful samples of the ore. I still have my cache of galena adorning my bookshelves.

Graduation day was a momentous occasion.  The first few women stood for special acknowledgment during the ceremony, even though I know our presence was still controversial.  I look back with pride and fondness for my fellow classmates, professors, and the University.  At the close of this part of my adult life, I felt satisfaction at successfully fulfilling my intention to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. It was unintentional, however, that I would become a pioneer as an undergraduate coed in Notre Dame’s College of Science.  This was a result of following a passion.  At this time, I was unaware of the many more hurdles ahead of me as I continued through my Geology career.  It was the beginning of my journey as an unintentional pioneer.

Marcy, second from left, on graduation day

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