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Helping Student Parents

Dr. Ja’Bette Lozupone

Title: Director of Student Affairs, Montgomery College

Age: 41

Education: B.A., communications, Hood College; MBA, Hood College; and D.O.L., organizational leadership, Hood College

Career mentors: Dr. Olivia White, Hood College, and Margaret Latimer, Montgomery College

Words of wisdom/advice for new faculty members: “One thing that has been incredibly valuable to me has been deep trust in myself. Trusting my intuition, whether it was what I thought was my capacity, [or] what I knew my dreams were. It’s believing what you know deep down about what you’re capable of and making the commitment to pursue it with fervor.”

Dr. Ja’Bette Lozupone had always been a star at school. She skipped two grades and enrolled in Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, when she was 16. But Lozupone wasn’t ready for the responsibility of being a college student.

“I had a one-point-something GPA,” she said.

But everything changed when Lozupone became pregnant during winter break of her freshman year.

“I got very serious about my studies basically overnight,” she said. “It was like, I have to get my education. I couldn’t frame it this way, [but] I wanted to avoid intergenerational poverty. I had big dreams for myself.”

But Lozupone couldn’t continue at Hood because there was no family housing. She decided to further her studies at Montgomery College, her local community college. So began a period in which Lozupone attended school full-time, worked full-time, and parented on her own.

Lozupone studied with her daughter on her bed alongside her textbooks and papers. She worked at a furniture store and an accounting firm, and as a baker, art school model, and restaurant hostess. She also experienced homelessness for a short period.

“Honestly, a lot of it was a blur,” said Lozupone. “I was just in survival mode. I was just in the grind of, try to take as many classes as you possibly can, try and get the best grades that you can, get to work, pay your bills, and make sure that your kid is cared for, loved, and safe.”

Lozupone’s journey was eased by several professors who allowed her to bring her daughter to class and nurse her in the back of the room. She was eventually able to return to Hood, but she kept her status as a mother secret, when possible.

“I never really wanted anyone to know I was struggling because I was embarrassed. But anytime there was an event with free food, I was stuffing my face and trying to take food home,” she said. “I wish people would’ve asked more questions.”

Lozupone eventually graduated from Hood with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She followed that with an MBA and a doctorate in organizational leadership. She now works at Montgomery College as director of student affairs, where, among other things, she tries to ensure that the 15% to 20% of the student body that are parents have access to more resources than she did.

As founding director of the ASCEND Parent Initiative Task Force at Montgomery, Lozupone led efforts to identify student parents and understand their needs. A student parent alliance dedicated to advocacy and peer mentoring developed. The college recently added 58 additional baby-changing stations to bathrooms across its campuses and is increasing parking spaces for pregnant women and parents, as well as highchairs in cafeterias. Montgomery is also making resources for student parents easier to find. The school’s website has a landing page for student parents, and maps that show where aids for parents, like lactation rooms, are on campus. Training is planned for faculty to help them be more empathetic and compassionate towards the parenting students in their classes. Recently, a donor was so impressed by ASCEND’s work that she decided to make an estate gift of $1 million specifically for student parents.

Although Lozupone works full-time at Montgomery, her impact is more widespread. She also gives back to Hood, volunteering recently to support a program offering leadership development to 50 residents of Frederick.

“There is really no reason for her to come back and provide all the support and give all the time, but she is about service,” said Dr. Nisha Manikoth, director of the doctoral program in organizational leadership at Hood. “She volunteered to [share her story], which is bravery. That gave the participants a sense for how much can be achieved because she showed them what she went through.”

Although Lozupone’s path has been more than challenging, it has given her the motivation and the insight to help students in similar positions.

“We know student parents aren’t having a singular experience, aren’t a monolith,” said Lozupone. “But in terms of connecting with that student body, the passion is there because I have an intimate understanding of what that journey is like.”

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