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John McNeil '14SCE

Class of 2014: Lives of Meaning and Purpose

Unemployment leads to a college degree and a new career for John P. McNeil ’14SCE

When John P. McNeil ’14SCE lost his job as a mortgage account executive for Wachovia Bank in 2010, his wife, Christina Myers McNeil ’99, knew what he had to do.

Christina, who then was at home with their three daughters, ages 3 months, 18 months, and 10 years, said she would return to her job as an elementary school teacher in Providence. Her husband, in turn, would become an at-home dad while also attending college to pursue a bachelor’s degree in history, a subject he had always loved.

Beginning in the summer 2011, McNeil, who lives in North Providence, enrolled in Providence College’s School of Continuing Education (SCE). During the fall and spring semesters, he took at least five courses at a time. In the summers, he took six, some online. He earned an A in 35 classes and an A-minus in one. He will graduate May 18 with a grade point average of 3.99. 

Along the way, McNeil also earned his teaching certification. He’s been working as a long-term substitute history teacher at Cumberland High School, a position that he hopes will become permanent in the fall.

“My wife knew I had a passion for history and that I had wanted to be a history teacher,” said McNeil, who was accepted to PC after high school but for financial reasons entered the Air Force instead. “I always thought it to be a vocation for me, something I was meant to do.”

“Outstanding student” and peer mentor 

Dr. Janet Castleman, dean of the School of Continuing Education, nominated McNeil for the Continuing Education Student Award from the University Professional & Continuing Education Association.

She said McNeil is always among the first to volunteer for SCE events and programs. He has been a peer mentor, led campus tours during SCE orientations, and helped organize a community service project, back-to-school barbecue, and the graduation and recognition dinner, among others.

“John has brought his wife and three children to campus for several events, and we have been told by his wife that being a student at SCE has changed his life in so many positive ways,” Castleman said. “He is an outstanding student who contributes greatly to the community.”

McNeil said he worked hard to be a role model to his oldest daughter Catie, now 13, who attends St. Pius V Elementary School near PC. He took classes Monday through Thursday nights and did his homework on the weekends. They often studied together at PC’s Phillips Memorial Library.

“I wanted to show her what hard work can do, and that there aren’t any excuses,” said McNeil.

His professors “pretty much changed my life,” McNeil said. He cited Donald E. Kilguss ’90, special lecturer in history; Alexander DiPippo, special lecturer in philosophy; Helene Gemma ’93G, Marcia Harrop, and Denise Boule, special lecturers in education; and Richard F. Kless ’74, ’78G, & ’82SCE, special lecturer in theology, along with Dr. Robert J. Barry, assistant professor of theology and director of the Graduate Program in Theology.   

Student aid was easy to come by

When his wife suggested that he pursue a bachelor’s degree, “I didn’t know if it was a good idea or not. I didn’t know how feasible it would be,” McNeil said.

Through unemployment benefits, he could have attended any Rhode Island state college for free. But those campus tours didn’t suggest the sense of community and guidance he felt at PC. He felt drawn to his wife’s alma mater and its Dominican tradition.

Until he heard a presentation by Madeleine A. Metzler, SCE associate dean, “I didn’t know how easy it was to get a loan” by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), said McNeil. “I didn’t realize you don’t have to pay for everything up front. I did wind up getting a scholarship every semester from SCE and a Pell Grant, so I paid 50 percent for tuition each semester.”

With a job in education, it will be easy to pay back the student loans, McNeil said. And he has other plans, too. He wants to earn a master’s degree through PC’s Graduate Program in History.

“I may be back in the fall,” McNeil said. “I’ve already put in my application.”

— Vicki-Ann Downing

Read more about Commencement 2014.
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