Sometimes when we’re feeling lost in life we look for something, anything, to help point us in the right direction. And often, if our eyes are open and our hearts ready, we find it just when we need it – a sign that hints at where our path could lead next, if we’re brave enough to follow it. For Marissa Mansolillo ‘18SCE of North Providence, RI, that sign came in such a mundane, everyday way that it would’ve been easy to miss. But her reaction on that one day will make all the difference in each of her tomorrows, and perhaps those of others as well.
“At the time I had just lost a great full-time job with Sprint Nextel that I’d had for seven years. They laid off 1,400 people and I was one of them,” Mansolillo says. “I’d been bartending on the side and I took on more hours doing that to make ends meet, but I didn’t feel like I really had a purpose in life. I was feeling pretty lost and I knew I had to rethink my future plan.”
Then one day something completely unremarkable happened – the mail was delivered – and everything changed.
Mansolillo explains, “I got a mailer from PC’s School of Continuing Education promoting this new Leadership Development program. I remember thinking I couldn’t really pinpoint what sort of job a degree like that would lead to, but it just sounded so different and interesting. I had never even considered going back to school but I don’t know, I got that mailer and just felt like it was my year. I called right then and there, spoke with an advisor, applied and got in. It was kind of crazy how fast it all happened but it just felt like it was meant to be, like almost a spiritual or fate kind of thing.”
As strong and swift as Mansolillo’s reaction was, she still had her reservations.
“At 33 years old, I felt like I was a bit on the older side to be going back to school,” Mansolillo says. “And the expense was a concern, and figuring out how I was going to fit it into my schedule while working, and feeling overwhelmed about how long it was going to take to get to the 120 credits I need to graduate when I’m taking just two classes each semester.”
But, she says, it turned out that following through on the decision to get started was actually the hardest part.
“I was welcomed with such an open and accepting attitude from every single person on that faculty and staff. I probably got in touch with my advisor Jennifer Andrews a million times and she never showed any annoyance, she just said ‘That’s my job, that’s what I’m here for, to help.’ It’s a very calming and supportive environment and so even though you’re nervous you realize everything’s going to be OK. And honestly once you’re there, it goes by so quickly. You blink your eyes and it’s over. Now I actually think to myself, I don’t want to rush this experience.”
Mansolillo says she was also relieved and surprised to find that she was far from the oldest person in her classes.
“I’ve been enrolled at SCE for four years now and I feel like a baby now, actually! There’s a class I’m taking this semester with a gentleman in his sixties. He already has a degree from PC but is taking classes to keep his mind active and offset dementia. There was a 95 year-old student that graduated last year! I didn’t realize what an awesome community of people I’d find here – all ages, all walks of life. I have since become like a spokesperson for going to school later in life. When you go when you’re younger you’re not always really into it. It costs you a lot of money and you’re just doing it to appease expectations. I think when you’re going to school when it’s your choice, to study something you’re passionate about, you get so much more out of it.”
As far as the expense, Mansolillo says she was pleasantly surprised on that count as well and has also adopted a unique perspective on paying for her education.
“I was surprised how affordable SCE actually was. And for me, I have no kids, no spouse and no mortgage yet, so I just look at my student loans like a mortgage. The difference is you can lose your house if you hit hard times, but nobody can take my education away from me. I’ll always have that now.”
Regarding pinning down just what she wants to do with that education and the new Leadership Development degree once she graduates, Mansolillo has found that next step in her path as well.
“I’ve always felt like I wanted to be a servant to people somehow and a leader, I wanted to help people. I think that’s why the Leadership Development program was so appealing to me. Over the last few years in my studies I’ve decided I want to help veterans who have PTSD by helping them assimilate back into civilian life. After I get my BA I’m going to go for my Master’s in Social Work and then my plan is to open up my own life coach practice focused on serving veterans.”
Mansolillo says the Leadership Development program and the influence of some of her professors were key in discovering that calling for her life.
“Dr. Matthew Eriksen, he developed the Leadership Development program and I have learned more about myself and about the world around me from that man. He was hard and encouraging and he really pushed our boundaries. When he knew how determined I was to work with veterans he approached me and said he thought I’d benefit from a class he was teaching in the MBA program on leadership coaching. I wasn’t eligible for Master’s credits, but I did get three undergrad credits and the class was everything I needed to round out the leadership program. He was so impactful.”
“Richard Kless, who is a Theology professor, has also been amazing to be around and to learn from. He is a man who loves his maker and makes it known. He’s a wonderful soul and cares so much about the SCE community. He gets so impassioned, it’s like a cathartic experience and he really makes his students feel that,” Mansolillo says.
With a year or so left to go before she graduates, Mansolillo is already putting her new passion and skill for leadership and coaching to work, as Chair of SCE’s Student Success Group.
“We show new adult students the ropes. It’s perfect for the life coach in me. I want to make everybody feel comfortable and I’m so passionate about PC. I think it’s important for [the new students] not to be nervous, because it’s a wonderful experience.”
Mansolillo’s also got a little coaching and advice for those adults who have thought about going back to school but maybe haven’t yet had that “aha moment” where they’ve seen a sign that it’s time and acted upon it.
“I would tell them that if they’ve already made it a point to even consider it, then they’ve already made that first big step. You should just apply and take that first class, and I can guarantee you you’ll want to continue. For me, it transformed my life, made me more well rounded and made me appreciate myself more. It is such a gift to honor yourself with an education and this is an opportunity to attend an elite school for an extremely affordable price. Don’t overthink it, just do it. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished so much and you’ll get what you put into it one-hundred-fold.”
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