“It’s a good day.”
Ordinarily, that would be one of those off-hand remarks like “nice weather,” but it’s clear that in Katrina LaChance’s world a “good day” means a lot more.
Katrina’s first encounter with Goodwin College began in 2002 when she was newly single and the mother of a two-year-old son. She earned associate degrees in Medical Assisting and Billing & Coding and enjoyed the school community so much that she often logged extra hours as a student volunteer.
Katrina believed she was perfectly positioned to start a new career in the healthcare field, but life circumstances derailed her plans when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. In addition, she was dealing with financial difficulties, depression, and the effects of domestic violence. In the ensuing years, Katrina realized that the hard-earned knowledge from her two degrees was not enough and that her career goals were moving farther into the distance.
At the same time, Katrina began to notice a significant and troubling change in her son. “His mannerisms began to change,” she explains, “and he was depressed and anxious. He barely was able to attend school. I watched him go from being an A student to getting Cs and Ds.” It got to the point that he could not go into his school without experiencing full-on panic attacks.
Katrina turned to their hometown school system for help in finding out what was happening to her son and to put together a plan of action. “Despite the extreme things that were going on with him,” she says, “the people we were asking for help had him written off as just being truant, without even trying to understand what was actually wrong with him.”
Katrina felt that she had to take matters into her own hands. Her first decision was to homeschool her son.
After visiting many different doctors, she learned that her son suffers from social anxiety. Her next step was to learn all she could about the condition. “I needed to know what rights parents have,” she says. “How do they effectively advocate for their kids’ education?”
Katrina took a local Parents Educating Parents course and got involved with the Parent Leadership Training Institute, part of the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors. She reached out to government leaders like Connecticut State Representative Jason Rojas for guidance, organizations like Child Plan, and any educational resource that was available — and free.
As Katrina amassed an impressive working knowledge on advocating for children with social anxiety, she realized, “Effecting real change meant education, and that meant a degree — and that meant sacrifice. But I wanted to do something for all children and parents seeking help, not just for my son and me.”
Still caring for her son and dealing with her own increasing physical challenges, Katrina turned to prayer to help her figure out a path forward. She asked for some sign and, in less time that she imagined, she received one: a television commercial for Goodwin College reminded her where her educational journey had started and where she might turn now, some 10 years later, for support.
With the new goal of earning a degree in Human Services, she visited Goodwin and met her old friend Mary Henderson at the Welcome Center Desk. She also reconnected with Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Danielle Wilken, who recalls, “When you have taught for many years, some students truly stand out, like Katrina. She always has a kind word and never complains about the challenges of balancing school and home. It was amazing to call her name at Commencement this year for her bachelor’s degree.”
In the Human Services department, Katrina found much-needed support and understanding among her professors. “There was not one faculty member who did not go above and beyond in their support of me,” she says.
And if they were a source of comfort to Katrina, she was an inspiration to them. “Katrina is an enthusiastic, passionate Human Services professional,” says Karen Carey, Interim Program Director. “She was typically the first person in the classroom, eagerly anticipating the lesson of the day.”
Katrina has become a hero to herself and her family and a role model for other students.
One experience that was particularly central to Katrina’s growth at Goodwin has been working as a research assistant to Dr. Diana LaRocco, department chair for Social and Educational Sciences at Goodwin, who was preparing a paper entitled, “Social Justice and Ordinary Lives for Children with Disabilities: Mothers’ Reflections on Advocacy and Leadership.” Katrina’s duties included reviewing the interviews of 12 mothers of children with developmental disabilities and making sure the text accurately reflects the participants’ intentions. Not only did Katrina’s work involve her ongoing fascination with research, the profiles that she read through spoke to her in ways that touched her heart.
“Every transcript I read was my story,” she shares. “Another person’s name, another person’s face, but my story.”
“As a research assistant, Katrina is gaining first-hand experience in the process of conducting a qualitative interview study,” LaRocco shares. “She has long advocated for her own child, so reaching out to mothers in similar situations helps them navigate multi-layered, complex educational and human services systems.”
“The work she’s done on this project was cathartic and affirms her desire to go to graduate school,” she adds.
While far from perfect, things in Katrina’s life are beginning to take a positive turn. Her son earned his GED at just about the same time she received her bachelor’s degree, having been included on the President’s List every semester since her return to Goodwin. She is now finishing up work on her capstone project. Katrina was even selected to represent the College at the state capital by testifying on the importance of funding higher education.
Still, the educational journey is far from over. “I want to earn my doctorate,” she says. “My goal is to go deeper into research on social anxiety and special needs. I’d love to teach and to be an effective advocate in and for my community.”
There are still challenges. There is still an uphill climb. There are good days and bad, but in speaking about her passion for serving others and answering a higher calling, Katrina says, “Today is a good day.”
Click here to learn more about the Human Services program at Goodwin College.