Student, mother of 4 reaches national academic heights

Hilary Smith

A Finger Lakes Community College student and mother of four was honored at the college Wednesday morning after having been selected as a member of the USA Today newspaper’s All-USA Community College Academic First Team.

According to an FLCC spokesperson, it’s the first time since 1992 that an FLCC student has made the list.

Mary Mansfield, a Victor, N.Y., resident, finished her associate's degree in biology last December and has been taking extra classes this semester in anatomy, physiology and microbiology. This fall, she will transfer to the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she’ll pursue a degree in biomedical science. Her ultimate academic goal is to earn a doctorate degree in epidemiology.

Mansfield says she has thrived at FLCC: “What I really like is that it’s small. Because of the size of the school and the classes, you can have a personal relationship with instructors there.”

Her teachers, she says, have always been accommodating to her double-duty needs as a mother of four and student — helping her catch up, for instance, when she had to miss a class or two to stay home with a sick child.

She didn’t start college until Lainey — her youngest, who’s going to be 7 this weekend — started kindergarten. Her oldest, Danny, is now 12; then there are Emily, 10, and Jack, 9. So while she hopes her success at school has demonstrated to her kids the “value of education,” she hopes they have also learned that “family comes first.”

Although it has been a challenge to juggle both school and family, Mansfield says she was surprised when Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society of two-year colleges, selected her as a member of this year’s All-USA team. More than 1,500 students from 849 colleges in all 50 states had applied for the 20 spots.

“It was a little bit surreal,” Mansfield said. It didn’t quite feel real until she received the award at a ceremony in Philadelphia on Monday and saw her picture on the front page of that day’s USA Today. A large picture of Mansfield and Lainey also ran on the inside of Monday’s Life section.

The $2,500 Mansfield received as part of the award went “straight to the bank” to be applied to tuition, she said.

FLCC officials Wednesday presented Mansfield with a pen set and a framed letter of recognition.

“I do not feel that I’m doing anything extraordinary,” said Mansfield, citing other women she has met who juggle even more than she does — full-time school on top of single parenthood, sometimes with a full-time job as well.

“The way I look at it is as an acknowledgment for all women trying to have a career later in life, after having children,” she said.

Contact Daily Messenger writer Hilary Smith at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 343 or at