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Second Chances: Sarah Trembley '01 Journeys from Teenage Motherhood to Veterinary Pathology

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events College Street Journal Vista

WINTER 2004 / VOLUME 9, NUMBER 2

Second Chances

Sarah Trembley '01 Journeys
from Teenage Motherhood to Veterinary Pathology

For Sarah Trembley '01, life looked pretty bleak when, at age 15, she became pregnant and dropped out of high school to raise her baby daughter Jasmine. No one in her family had ever been to college; as a teenage unwed mother, she didn't expect to buck that trend. After the birth of her second child, Savannah, two years later, she realized that if she was to provide a good life for her children, she would need to continue her education.

This year, Trembley is finishing veterinary school at Michigan State University. She not only loves animals, but has a passion for veterinary pathology and plans to do postdoctoral work in that field next year. Veterinary pathology, according to Trembley, has enormous implications for public health worldwide. "Most human diseases are zoonotic, that is, animal based," Trembley said. "Emerging diseases such as SARS, monkey pox, and the flu we usually get, are believed to have been contracted from animals. Bioterrorism also involves the threat of many animal-based diseases."

Trembley might not be where she is today without the support of the Frances Perkins (FP) program at Mount Holyoke. Now in its twenty-fifth year, the program was named for 1902 alumna Frances Perkins, a lifelong champion of women's and children's rights, who became secretary of labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program provides opportunities for nontraditional- age women to attend college later in their lives. After receiving her G.E.D., Trembley attended Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). With a nearly perfect GPA, in 1998 she earned an associate's degree and a host of impressive academic honors. She wanted to transfer to a four-year institution, and one of her STCC professors suggested that she apply to the FP program.

Starting out at Mount Holyoke was not easy, said Trembley. With two young children and a job as a cashier at a gas station in Holyoke, she barely had time to sleep. "First semester was overwhelming," she recalled. "I did horribly. There were no more multiple-choice tests. Writing was really hard for me." She received crucial support from the FP staff, fellow students, and professors. She recalled the words of Mark McMenamin, professor of geology and chair of the earth and environment department: "You can do this! Don't ever let anyone tell you you can't."

Trembley majored in biology and minored in geology. "MHC prepared me well," she said. "I learned to think for myself, look up things on my own. I excelled in the basic science classes at vet school. The College and FP program had to ability to push you slowly. My honors thesis started out as a small, three-credit project. My advisers said, 'Maybe you could turn this into something bigger.' They were supportive; they believed in me."

The MHC community supported not only Trembley's academic work, but also her family. "I was amazed by how everyone welcomed my kids with open arms," Trembley said. "It was wonderful. I am still so thankful for that."

Looking back on her Mount Holyoke experience, Trembley is particularly struck by the College's acceptance of diversity. "When I first got to Mount Holyoke, I was concerned I wouldn't fit in. Pretty soon I realized that no one looked down on me because of my background. There were women from all over, every size, shape, and color. People's expectations of me were the same as for the other students."

FP director Kay Althoff takes great pride in students like Trembley. For her, they represent how dramatically the program affects individual lives. "I hope other young mothers learn about her and realize there is hope," Althoff said.

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