Inspirational leaders encourage justice, perseverance, compassion and courage during Walk the Walk Week events

Author: Notre Dame News

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As part of Walk the Walk Week, a diverse group of leaders in science, engineering and technology offered words of encouragement to over 250 students, faculty and staff on Wednesday (Jan. 17). The event was part of the University of Notre Dame’s week-long annual commemoration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., featuring a series of events designed to invite reflection on diversity and inclusion at Notre Dame and beyond.

The panel, “Building a Legacy of Opportunity,” was facilitated by Howard Adams, the inaugural executive director of the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science Inc. (GEM), originally headquartered at Notre Dame. The event featured three former GEM fellows and current leaders in higher education and business: Stephanie G. Adams, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Texas at Dallas; Notre Dame alumnus Robert V. Jones, co-founder, president and CEO of PReSafe Technologies; and Sylvia Wilson Thomas, vice president for research and innovation at the University of South Florida.

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“Throughout his career, Howard has helped thousands of talented students from underrepresented backgrounds navigate the higher education system in STEM, and, I imagine, life in general,” University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said in his opening remarks. “Howard’s life should be an example to all of us. Walk the Walk Week calls us not to just talk, but to walk the walk of showing respect for each person seeking justice, equity and inclusion and caring particularly for the most marginalized, as Dr. Martin Luther King taught us.”

Adams opened by reminding the audience that it takes fortitude to be a change agent. “Dr. King talked about courage. It takes courage to do the kind of thing we need to do. (Notre Dame) is one of those places that prepares people to be change-people,” he said.

Adams reflected on his childhood in the segregated South and his experience of trying to access higher educational and professional opportunities. He shared examples of accepting challenges and always leading with compassion, humility, service and a sense of justice, commitments that led to his involvement in GEM, a national consortium that supports underrepresented students looking to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in applied science and engineering. GEM is credited with providing fellowships and internships to over 3,000 students from underrepresented backgrounds to assist them in obtaining advanced degrees in engineering and applied science.

After recounting the origins of GEM and its current successes, Adams concluded his remarks by saying, “I am overjoyed that you are recognizing the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He gave his life not for himself, not for just Black folks. He gave his life for justice for folks … period. This is more than just a holiday.”

Adams went on to engage the panelists in a wide-ranging conversation touching on strategies to support and retain underrepresented students in STEM fields, GEM’s impact on the panelists’ personal development and careers, and their advice for students navigating life, graduate school and careers.

Stephanie Adams reflected on her motivation to pursue higher education and on those who helped her to persevere. She reminded the audience, “Never underestimate the role you play, even if you’re not directly in someone’s sphere. We all need a safe place to go in a storm at some point in time, and you can be that place for others.”

The event ended with questions from the audience, including Tatiana Rosales, a current Notre Dame biophysics doctoral student who is also a current GEM fellow. She thanked the panel for the groundwork they laid for today’s students and asked, “What is your dream for us, the next generation?”

Wilson Thomas responded by saying, “Bring us back together as a people. A people with purpose, a people that cares about each other. Have some compassion for your fellow man.”

Jones added, “Be resilient, be flexible. Compassion also includes sustainability and good character — they have to be part of the solution to make the world a better place.”

The event was moderated by Ron Metoyer, Notre Dame’s vice president and associate provost for teaching and learning.

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Following the dinner, the annual Walk the Walk Week candlelight prayer service was held in the Main Building Rotunda, drawing 350 members of the campus community.

Father Jenkins opened the service with a charge: “May our prayer tonight propel us to serve others; may it motivate us; may it energize us; may it unite us in a commitment to respect, admire and learn from what makes each of us unique, beloved and chosen by You, our loving and merciful God.”

Featuring musical interludes by the Notre Dame Voices of Faith gospel choir, the service was led by Rev. Brian Ching, C.S.C., Basilica of the Sacred Heart rector, and included passages and prayers recited by University students.

Fighting Irish volleyball head coach Salima Rockwell delivered a keynote reflection, citing the importance of service and the impact that individuals can have. Quoting Dr. King, she said, “‘Everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.’”

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Following the prayer service, attendees collected lit candles and walked together to the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue outside of the Main Building to place the candles in a moment of silent prayer.

Recordings of the panel discussion and prayer service are available online. Visit for information on upcoming events.