Penny Scanlon '76

Penny M. Scanlon

Penny M. Scanlon, a Boston native, arrived at Mount Holyoke intent on becoming a psychiatrist. She majored in psychology and took pre-med courses. Her career plans changed, she says, when she “passed calculus by the skin of my teeth.” That inspired a switch to what she calls her back- up plan: becoming a clinical psychologist.

As a sophomore, Scanlon took advantage of a Winter Term opportunity to work with troubled juvenile boys in Boonville, California. She fell in love with California and upon graduation, returned there to work in a group home. That led her to pursue another back-up plan; she became a social worker.

A few years later, Scanlon realized that her future wasn’t in social work. She entered law school in Berkeley and became an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office in the San Francisco Bay area. “Being a lawyer had never been a back-up plan,” she said. “But I worked there for 24 years. Despite my fear of speaking in public—I rarely spoke up in class here or in law school—I was a trial lawyer.”

In 2005, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Scanlon to the bench. Through that, she feels she has come full circle: “currently I have a juvenile court assignment.”

Scanlon says she owes much to MHC and the psychology department. “I continue to use the analytical skills and the research skills that I honed with Bob Shilkret, Ellie Reese, Judy Gromet and Dave Kostansek. I also use the human operative behavior techniques I developed with my pigeon, Emma, and my rat, Duke.”

She adds, “My best friends at MHC are still my best friends! Although I would have rolled my eyes in derision had someone told me as a student that one never knows what life has in store, it is true. MHC prepared me to seize the opportunities that arose in my life.”