Seizing the opportunity

I am grateful to the Frances Perkins program at Mount Holyoke, and for the professors who truly understood my trying circumstances, and for the wealth of knowledge I have gained during my time on campus.

Hometown: West Hartford, Connecticut


Academics: politics major


Proudest accomplishment at Mount Holyoke: Sometimes crossing the finish line is the prize. But for me the greater reward comes in truly comprehending what it has meant to persevere — to show up at school and at home in the greatest capacity I could muster, week after week, for three months at a time. It has taken me a full four years to recognize the sheer achievement of graduating with honors.

When I came to Mount Holyoke, I wasn’t able to fully visualize what a four-year commitment would look like. I just saw the opportunity and seized it. My life ahead of enrolling consisted of carpools, PTO meetings, and the nightly dinner grind, as I was a stay-at-home mother whose husband worked long hours. My role as a mother was not alleviated in any way once I started school. I have driven countless hours up and down I-91, sat down in class with seconds to spare, and raced back to my car to show up for soccer games and parent-teacher conferences. It’s just what I did, what I had to do, and I got used to it.

It was my sister, Jennifer Grow ’94, who originally prompted me to apply as a Frances Perkins Scholar. She gave me the most poignant advice when I began this journey: “Three months at a time, and then you get a break. You can do anything for just three months.” She was right. One spring semester I had 74 pages to write in two weeks for three classes, and I thought I’d just crumple under the weight of it all, but I didn’t. I called in reinforcements to help with the kids, hunkered down in a friend’s house, and flipped through stacks of books gathering facts and quotes. I wrote one page at time until everything was completed.

A place or an experience you will miss at Mount Holyoke: I will miss the library. Because I’m so far from campus and my time was often cut short by other obligations, I definitely did not get to spend enough hours in the library. But when I did — oh! To be surrounded by so many books. It was always a comfort to sit in the blue velour chairs of the reading room surrounded by the learning of scholars that have come before and the learning of scholars in the making.

How a close connection with a faculty member has shaped you: I have had the great privilege to study under and work with Preston Smith, the chair of Africana studies and a politics professor, during each of my four years at Mount Holyoke. It is no secret to him that his American Politics class in my first semester inspired my entire academic path during my time on campus. He challenged me to take an independent study in my second semester, which culminated in a research paper on the policies around paid family leave. I followed him into classrooms that taught me about the Black metropolis, urban policy and social housing.

This last class translated to another independent study, and the opportunity to become a community-based mentor for two semesters, where I worked alongside him to guide my fellow students in their own research projects within western Massachusetts.

Besides inspiring me in an intellectual capacity, Preston has become a friend with whom I can share the trials and tribulations that come with being an adult student who tends to a full house of three sons back home in Connecticut. We have shared our curiosity about the world, and paused often to consider how the work we have done on affordable housing may ultimately impact cultural notions of low-income Americans, and translate into legislative success. I will miss dearly our weekly meetings and robust discussions, as well as simply settling into my chair in Shattuck as Preston uses his lessons, his platform and his voice to inspire the students in his classroom.

Course that surprised you, or that you thought you might not like: In my first semester at Mount Holyoke, I registered for classes that piqued some curiosity within me. I surprised myself by choosing Introduction to Neuroscience and Behavior. After I bought my textbooks I slowly flipped through the heavy book for this class and felt a pit in my stomach. The chapters and headings and photographs proved that it was much more science-related than I had originally anticipated. I didn’t fancy myself a scientist and was concerned about the technical aspects of the course, as well as the lab requirement.

However, not only did I surpass my own academic expectations, but I walked away with a profound understanding of the power of the human brain, knowledge that has continued to inform the way I think about human behavior and emotion. I attribute much of my success in the class to my amazing professor, Ken Colodner in the Neuroscience and Behavior program, and learned so much more about myself as a student and what I was capable of achieving. This class inspired me to take other courses that I didn’t feel altogether comfortable in and in areas I had not previously considered.

Best takeaway from internship or research experiences: For two semesters I was involved in research in the South Amherst community on the effects of affordable housing. I took Social Housing, a community-based learning class taught by Preston Smith in spring 2018, which continued for two more semesters as a small-group practicum. We have produced a report that we plan to write and publish in the coming year. My biggest takeaway is that we all deserve a safe home that does not burden us financially, where we don’t have to choose between eating healthy food, keeping the lights on or paying rent.

How Mount Holyoke has shaped your outlook: It is important to note the generational impact of my education. My three sons have certainly been witness to the stress and anxiety that has been their mother juggling their lives and her own for the last four years, but the more poignant result is that I have brought them into my world. I have shared my learning and curiosity with them. I have involved them in assignments and discussions that push them to think outside themselves, that push them to consider things like race and politics and privilege. I hope the information that I share with them translates into finding their own curiosities of learning. Influencing the perspectives of my children is paramount in my life as a parent.

Future plans: I am considering a master’s degree in social work, with the goal to become a therapist for children and families who experience medical illness, especially Lyme disease and pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS). This path is inspired by the journey my own family has taken with one of my sons and by my desire to have an impact on the world through close, safe and personal connection.

However, this goal could change. I am flexible. I am keenly aware of how important it is to take the opportunities that present themselves. To be brave. To ask the world to meet you halfway. To throw your heart in the ring despite how impossible it sometimes feels. So, in short, my future plans are not definite, but will always include this one thing: gratitude. I am grateful to the Frances Perkins program at Mount Holyoke, and for the professors who truly understood my trying circumstances, and for the wealth of knowledge I have gained during my time on campus.