Mount Holyoke is where I was supposed to go

“Every time I make a connection with someone because of Mount Holyoke or stand up for myself, I just think, ‘Yeah, that is where I was supposed to go.’”

Even before coming to Mount Holyoke, Jaia Colognese knew she wanted to study Italian.

“My dad is Italian, and I have Italian citizenship,” Colognese said. “I grew up listening to the language but never speaking it. So I really wanted to go take a class and just try it and learn reading and writing, which I never learned as a kid.”

After her experience in class with her advisor Ombretta Frau and Morena Svaldi of the Italian department, Colognese knew she had found her major.  

“It felt like a family, and they treated me like family and helped me with so many things,” Colognese said. “While I was studying abroad in Italy, I even met one of my Italian professors for coffee just because he was there at the same time.”

During her senior year, Colognese took advantage of the study abroad program at the College and traveled to Bologna, Italy. Being fully immersed in the culture improved her language a lot, she said.

Colognese’s time in Italy also gave her the confidence to imagine a life outside the United States. 

“I want to move to Italy eventually,” she said. “If I hadn’t studied abroad, my whole trajectory would be completely different. I don’t know if I would have the mindset or the ability to make that jump after college.”

Although Colognese knew she wanted to study Italian, she didn’t know how she would apply it to a career and sought to expand her studies. She decided to take a class in entrepreneurship, then made it her minor.

Last summer, Colognese’s Lynk-funded internship in Boston helped to spark ideas for her future plans. She participated in an independent food-styling and recipe-development project focused on editing and developing recipes, along with styling the final plates. At the same time, she was working as an assistant food stylist for Ennis, Inc. where she cooked and plated dishes for commercial photoshoots.

“In the Italian food world, there’s a lot of collaboration between stylists and commercial markets in Italy and the U.S.,” she said.

Colognese had some difficulty adjusting to college life in the beginning. But after a few months, she began to make friends and came to realize what an extraordinary privilege it was to attend a school that is women-centered. She recognized that this might be the first — and last — time in her life when she would get to experience this type of empowering environment, and she decided to make the most of her time here by taking advantage of every opportunity, trying new things and studying abroad. 

“I said, ‘You know what? This is the school, and I’m going to take advantage of all the opportunities here.’ Attending a women’s college is a unique choice and opportunity that will always serve me in unexpected ways throughout my life.”

When comparing notes with friends who were attending other schools, she realized that she was in the right place.

“Every time I’m in a situation where I can use the alum network, make a connection with someone because of Mount Holyoke or stand up for myself because I have this empowering atmosphere behind me, I just think, ‘Yeah, that is where I was supposed to go.’”

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