Dr. Heather D’Orlando is a professor at Asnuntuck Community College and an advisor for Asnuntuck Community College’s (ACC) Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK). She and the club’s other advisors always remind students of the leadership and financial benefits available to students who are accepted into the honor society. Laura Mutti-Montigny is a current ACC student, and PTK member, that just got accepted to the Francis Perkins Program at Mount Holyoke with a full scholarship,” said D’Orlando. “She has a wonderful story, as she is a non-traditional student that will now be joining her two daughters at the school in the Fall.”

Both of Laura’s daughters have taken advantage of educational opportunities at Asnuntuck. High School Partnership is a program that local students can participate in for free, during junior and senior years of high school. Laura explained, “I guess part of my decision to go to ACC was when I saw what the girls were doing for work.  It wasn’t easy by any means, but I was intrigued with some of the class work they shared with me.” She explained, “I was by no means a model student when I was growing up.  I have always wanted to be a teacher or work with children in some capacity, but both of my parents had trade jobs and that is what my 4 older siblings did so I did as well and went to cosmetology school right out of high school.”

 Laura was fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom after having her children and decided to drive a school bus when her oldest daughter, Laurissa, was in first grade.  “I learned that parents who are drivers have priority on driving for their children’s field trips and school events.  I have never missed a field trip, field hockey game or tennis match that the girls have participated in.”

Laura started her post-secondary education at Asnuntuck. Her daughters’ participation in Asnuntuck’s High School Partnership gave her some insight into what the college had to offer.

“Laurissa is my oldest and she took classes at Asnuntuck as part of the High School Partnership program. She graduated Enfield High in 2018,” said Laura.

“Jayonna is my youngest and graduated in 2020 from Enfield High and was part of the High School Partnership program as well.” She continued, “She took a gap year after graduating because they cancelled field hockey (due to COVID) and she wants to be able to play all 4 years. She is currently taking a couple classes at Asnuntuck to keep her brain active academically.”

Laurissa was the first to explore Mt. Holyoke College (MHC) as an option. A field hockey player in high school, she wanted to continue to play the sport in college. A 4.0 honor society student, who had some college level coursework behind her thanks to ACC’s High School Partnership program, she applied early decision to Mt. Holyoke after meeting with the college’s field hockey coach and was accepted.

Jayonna, who was selected as Enfield High’s 2020 Female Scholar athlete, visited Mt. Holyoke for a prospective athlete overnight event.  Her mother was the one to sign her up for the weekend, “I thought it would be a fun opportunity for her to spend the weekend with her sister.” Laura said, “I never thought she would come home and say to me, “Mom, Mt. Holyoke is where I see myself for the next 4 years.  The team treats me like family and I’m not even on the team!”, but she did come home and say that!  She began the application process and kept it a secret from Laurissa that she had applied.  Jayonna decided to surprise Laurissa on Christmas Day with the news that she had been accepted Early Decision.  Laurissa said it was the best Christmas present ever because she has wanted Jayonna at Mt. Holyoke since the beginning!”

Asnuntuck and Mt. Holyoke have both been options for Laura due to financial assistance and continuing to work. “I was able to apply for some grants and it has all worked out.” She explained, “I still continue to drive the bus even though both girls have graduated.  I love driving the bus because I get to be around children, and I have a few hours in between to focus on my schoolwork.”

Laura credits her Asnuntuck instructors with her good experience at the college. “I have had so many wonderful professors at ACC.  Psychology is my favorite because my end goal is to work with children that have experienced trauma.”

She named a few of the instructors who have made an impact on her. “Heather D’Orlando has been an amazing inspiration to me and I am in awe of her accomplishments. She added, “During my interview for MHC I was asked who I would choose to have lunch with…both someone that was dead and someone that was alive… and my answer for alive was Professor D’Orlando!  I could sit and talk to her for hours.  I love the way she makes my brain think!”

She added, “Carol LaLiberte has been very influential in my college journey as well.  Carol is so straight forward in an encouraging way and helped me weigh out pros and cons along the way.”

Laura added, “I was fortunate enough to have in person classes with Jaclyn Valley for Early Childhood for a few months before COVID hit last year. She reminded us so much about the importance of self-care… and she had no idea how important that lesson would be once COVID hit.”     

She continued, “I took sociology with Laurie Chancey and even though we did not agree on much, we respectfully challenged each other, and I love that she engaged with me on that level.” Continuing she included, “John Sheirer and Joe Finckel were challenging professors to have, but have really made me step up my game as a public speaker and writer.  Their feedback at times was hard to read, but once I realized they were critiquing me because they care, and they want to see me do better, I changed my attitude and learned so much from them.”

She was also very appreciative of the support she received from Kate Polga in the tutoring center. “Kate is not only an amazing tutor, but also a wonderful person.  She is so knowledgeable and willing to take the time to help students succeed.  Even though Kate is the tutor I have worked with the most, all the tutors in the tutoring center at ACC are wonderful and I strongly encourage every student to take advantage of this free resource the college offers.”

Another important part of her experience was making friends with a peer in her classes. “Last year I was in class with a woman who has become one of my closest friends.  Michelle Siniscalchi and I were in Early Childhood class together and maybe it was because we had so much in common that we connected;  our children are older and in college, we are both studying ECE, we are experiencing “going back to school” for the first time as adults, or that we are both scared we are not going to get our degrees because of that darn math requirement!

Mount Holyoke’s Frances Perkins program is very competitive. This year only 20 women were chosen out of hundreds of applicants.  Candidates 25 years and older, veterans, active military, and those under the age of 25 with dependents who have experienced an interruption in their education and do not hold a bachelor’s degree, are eligible to apply.  Most Frances Perkins scholars matriculate with between 40-65 transferrable credits.  

Laurissa, who is going to be considered a second semester junior at MHC this fall — after taking a semester off last fall when field hockey was cancelled (due to COVID)– is proud of her mother. “The opportunity for my mom to fulfill her dream of earning a college degree is so amazing.  My mom has so much to offer the world when it comes to working with children and not having a degree is the only thing that has held her back from being able to do that.”

Jayonna said,  “My mom has touched the lives of so many children already and getting a degree from MHC is going to open a whole new set of opportunities for her and I’m thankful that my sister and I get to witness her success.”

Photo cutline: Laura Mutti-Montigny (far left) and daughters Laurissa (far right) and Javonna (center) have all taken classes at Asnuntuck and they all will be attending Mt. Holyoke College (MHC) in the fall. Laura is a recipient of MHC’s Frances Perkins Scholarships and her daughters are both on the college’s field hockey team.