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Motherhood and Education

As she handles the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood, Elizabeth Criscitello ’22 has faced the challenges of adulthood much quicker than many of her classmates at SUNY Potsdam. Engaged at the end of freshman year, married the following year, and then giving birth to her baby, Giovanna, in the spring of 2020, she has continued to balance parenting with her educational goals as she pursues dual degrees in English writing and community health.

“I have enjoyed a lot of my classes here at SUNY Potsdam. My writing professors have really challenged me, and they care a lot about their students and their success.”

-Elizabeth Criscitello ’22

When she realized that she was pregnant, she wondered if she needed to drop out of school. However, conversations with her professors put her at ease. “I was able to have one-on-one meetings with my professors and they were very supportive,” she said. “I was experiencing all these emotions, and kind of figuring out, ‘Am I going to have to drop out of college?’ I thankfully did have support. I had my partner and I had family, but it was still at times a little difficult to navigate. We love our kid of course, and I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to continue college as well.”

Sitting at home, writing a paper for class, Criscitello has more distractions than ever before. As she strings together words on the computer screen—the background noise reaching a crescendo as her daughter tugs at her shirt—she has come to embrace the challenges of being a student and a mother.

 “Some days it looks chaotic, but I care about being a mom a lot. I love school and I love studying. It’s not a burden on my mental space. Compared to having a toddler, school is a break, I just sit back and write a paper. It really is about plowing through sometimes, even when it’s not ideal. We find time for the things we care about,” she said.

One of those things is helping others in need. Even before she had her child, Criscitello had been advocating for women facing difficult decisions after unplanned pregnancies. During a gap year between high school and college, she started volunteering at Viable Options, a non-profit organization in Canton, N.Y. “Their audience really is my generation, so they wanted my perspective there. This organization deals specifically in the decision-making process. Pregnancy is a bigger deal than people think it is, and my own pregnancy has given me an even better perspective to engage with this topic,” she said.

Born and raised in Northern New York, Criscitello was homeschooled throughout high school, and as she looked ahead to college, she was a little nervous about the transition to the classroom. “There was a little bit of hesitancy, but with homeschooling, I had to learn how to manage my time and get work done in a timely fashion,” she said. “It really prepared me for college in a way that I didn’t expect. My mom instilled in us a passion for learning, and I think if you have that, you can do just about anything.”

As she prepared for the transition to college, staying close to home was one of her top priorities. “I wanted to stay local, that was a huge thing. I’ve known Lexi (alumna Alexis Donnelly ’18) for a little bit too and she loved learning here at SUNY Potsdam and she loved the professors. I’ve heard from other friends who have gone here that they just love the writing program and the writing professors, and that was a huge part of why I chose to come here.”

Although she knew that she wanted to pursue a degree in English writing, she attended A Major Affair her freshman year—where students can learn about the 134 programs offered at the College—and she quickly discovered the benefits of adding a second major. After speaking with someone from the Department of Public Health and Human Performance, she realized that the community health program was a perfect fit.  “Almost right then and there I added my second major,’” she said.

Intersecting the two disciplines has allowed her to focus on health issues in the community, while improving her writing skills to positively impact those in need. Two of her professors within the Department of English and Communication, Dr. Jennifer Mitchell and Dr. Jessica Heffner, have significantly impacted her academic growth. “Dr. Mitchell is great at what she does. She really shows that she cares about your success. I love Dr. Heffner’s energy. She really pushes us to become better writers. I’ve learned to write on a very deep level here, that I don’t think I would have otherwise. In community health as well, I’ve really felt like I’m getting good practical skills,” she said.

Criscitello envisions a career in the field of community health where she can implement her writing skills to make a positive impact on the community. “I would love to stay in the non-profit world, that’s where I’m drawn,” she said. “Being a mom is really important to me though, so I think it’s very possible for me to work part-time somewhere, or remotely even, and just keep doing what I’m doing as far as spreading this message about a new perspective on pregnancy decisions, and working for non-profits and helping them thrive.”

Article by Jason Hunter