For 20 years, Jeannie Montagano enjoyed her career as a school psychologist. Part of her job was to supervise and mentor interns. At age 54, she had an epiphany and realized that she could play to her strengths even more by influencing students to become practitioners if she taught at the university level. This was the part of her job that she loved the most and so the quest to earn her PhD began.
The Stigma of the South Paw
It’s important to take you back a bit farther to explain what initiated Jeannie’s passion for education and student advocacy. Growing up, Jeannie had an archaic teacher in grade school who believed (as many did at the time) that left handed kids were not good. It shows you how far we have come in our pedagogical views because Jeannie was actually singled out by this teacher who encouraged the other children in the class to point at and chastise Jeannie for using her left hand to write.
The peer pressure was unbearable and Jeannie was forced to try and change her dominant functions to her right hand. Luckily, Jeannie’s mom spoke with the principal who intervened. At the end of that year the teacher retired and Jeannie has been happily left-hand dominant ever since. We can only hope that this teacher would have felt differently after reading about Dr. Alan Searleman of St. Lawrence University in New York and his study that found left-handers can be considerably more intellectually gifted.
From that point on, Jeannie was committed to defending the underdog and was drawn to studying social work in college because she wanted to help people.
It’s Not the Destination but the Journey
At age 23, Jeannie remembered boldly applying for her ideal position as a school psychologist with the ink barely dry on her undergraduate diploma in social work. The search committee was encouraging but shared the news that an advanced degree was required. So Jeannie set out on a mission to earn her Masters of Science in School Psychology to empower herself for this dream career path.
The journey to earn the Master’s degree was not fast as Jeannie and her husband were busy following the promotions, moving six times in seven years. But in 1980 she minted the degree and took on the role of school psychologist at Chattanooga Public Schools. That same year, her first son, Michael was born so Jeannie was a busy woman to say the least.
As Jeannie raised her kids and grew her career, her husband continued to earn promotions and new career opportunities. As the family moved geographically and grew, with the addition of her second son, Christopher, Jeannie took on new roles in private practice and later as a school psychologist in northeastern Indiana.
A lifelong learner who craves intellectual stimulation, Jeannie noticed that her interns were talking about brain functions and other cutting edge industry disciplines that she found compelling. This also inspired her to consider the PhD. Jeannie is goal oriented and knew the next degree would open up additional opportunities to take her to a new career level.
A firm believer in the power of mentorship, Jeannie is thankful for the great advisors in her life who have inspired and counseled her along the way. She was ready to take this leap and enroll in the doctoral program but the closest university offering a degree in her field was an hour away at Andrews University in Michigan.
Jeannie had the full support of her husband and two sons who applauded her decision. Since they were in college and high school at the time, and more independent, it was a good time to transition to a new endeavor that would require even more of her professional time.
With a no roadblocks mindset, Jeannie was off and running towards earning the PhD. Her two sons have absorbed her passion and work ethic in their lives and careers and the energy in the Montagano family is palpable.
The Power of Stubbornness
Work/life integration was a challenge but Jeannie is proud that she never missed a single tennis match her son played during the time she was pursuing her PhD course work. She continued to work part-time as a school psychologist and took two classes each semester over a three year period. With the hour long commute each way, she had class from 6:30-9:30 pm, twice a week.
We talked about life balance and Jeannie shared her “just do it” attitude and pure stubbornness as part of her drive towards achieving a goal. She was happy to share that she never missed out on anything during this time because she took control over what she chose to do. Jeannie also believes that you must put your oxygen mask on first before you help your child, just like the airplane flight attendant’s spiel because you must carve out time for yourself to rejuvenate, re-energize, and focus on what you need most, especially if you are a caregiver.
Was it easy – no way – was it worth it, absolutely!
As any PhD holder will attest, the course work is demanding but writing the dissertation is herculean. The next four years were spent writing the dissertation and during the combined almost decade of course work and document writing, Jeannie recalls high school and college graduations, law school graduation, her son’s US congressional campaign and a wedding! While Jeannie admits that her quest was sometimes slowed down so she could participate in these important life events, it was never discarded.
She recalled walking in over 31 parades during her son’s congressional campaign and would not have traded a minute of it to earn the PhD any faster. Jeannie has mastered the art of realistic expectations and designed a life that is flexible so she can do what she wants to without sacrificing her personal goals.
Her Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Psychology was minted in 2010 and Dr. Montagano has made over 14 presentations to conferences including the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the International Association of Psychologists at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland in her first year as a PhD holder. Her research interest focuses on the nature of math anxiety, test anxiety, and social anxiety in elementary students.
Jeannie is now an associate professor at Andrews University and influencing young minds and accomplishing things that she had never imagined.
How to Live an Effective Life
Jeannie has long subscribed to Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory which postulates what we do, think and feel reflect our efforts to meet the basic psychological needs of love/belonging, fun, freedom, recognition, and faith. But, at times the behaviors we choose to meet those needs are not very helpful – and, may even sabotage our happiness! Over 10 years ago, with a longtime girlfriend, Jeannie came up with the idea to offer getaway weekends for women who were facing challenging transitions in life, teach them how to get these needs met, and remain balanced and happy throughout the process.
The business is now about to be rejuvenated with weekend events planned for Chicago, St. Petersburg, and Philadelphia to provide these much needed resources for women in transition. These relaxing retreats will provide a supportive and energizing environment for women to come together in community and learn from each other. They are designed to teach women how to live happier lives. The concept is simple – take them out of their routine, teach some simple strategies, shop a little, sip a little, and laugh a little. The company name is Insync and the website is being designed and will launch in the coming months.
I’m not Done
When Jeannie was a child, she had a wonderful teeter-totter in the backyard that she spent hours riding with her older sister and sometimes, alone. When flying solo, she would place bricks on the other side of the teeter-totter and patiently adjust the fulcrum, until it was balanced.
“I always view my life as a teeter-totter, all my to-do things are on one side and I am on the other. When I find myself higher than the other side, then I know I have to adjust the fulcrum, otherwise I feel vulnerable, and well, high and dry! So, I return to those basic needs and take a quick inventory of how I am neglecting or meeting each one.”
This is a perfect illustration of how Jeannie has integrated her personal and professional life – by adjusting the fulcrum. Balance is a relative state and she has achieved so much in her life by adjusting to each scenario accordingly.
With a passion to pay-it-forward to a younger generation in her new role as a professor, and to women in transition in her business venture, Jeannie is not done with her career growth. She wants to continue to contribute to the world as an advocate and a mentor and will always focus on satisfying her basic needs of fun, love, freedom, recognition, and faith.
A true artist designing her future, Jeannie Montagano is an inspiration for career reinvention. I’m eager to see where her journey takes her next.
Jeannie’s Advice and Action Steps:
- Tap into the power of great mentors and assemble your resource team.
- See yourself as timeless so you can embrace each new phase of your life as a new beginning.
- Life is never easy but it is manageable if you know what you want.
- Adjust your fulcrum to create balance.
Bloom where you are planted! - Bishop of Geneva, St. Francis de sales
Insync2.com – website forthcoming – please stay tuned!
Andrews University http://www.andrews.edu/