"When I was looking to go back to school, the first college I thought of was Simmons."
- Rita Shah, 44
"I became more interested in [my mom's] goal, and I decided to find out more about Simmons."
- Neha Shah, 20
Dix Scholar Rita Shah, 44, first arrived at Simmons in 2005 when her eldest daughter, then in high school, began looking at colleges. Since Simmons didn't offer a radiation therapy program, her daughter ultimately chose another school, but Rita never stopped thinking about Simmons. She remembers, "I was impressed with the faculty and the facility. I liked the school very much."
In 2009, when her younger daughter, Neha, 20, began looking at colleges, Rita realized the time was right for her, too, to begin thinking about returning to school. Rita recalls, "Simmons was fresh in my mind...it was the first college I thought of." And so she began researching, and discovered Simmons offered the Dix Scholars program for adult women. At first, Neha was surprised. "When I first saw that my mom was going back to college to study to get her bachelor's degree," she remembers, "I was very surprised at the fact that someone would willingly go back to school to study when they are doing perfectly fine with their life."
Rita's enthusiasm for Simmons soon became infectious though. "I became more interested in [my mom's] goal," Neha says, "[and] I decided to find out more about Simmons for myself." Like her mom, Neha recognized that Simmons would be a place where she could excel. Neha recalls, "When I came for a tour of the College...what I really liked was that everyone there was really nice and had a great personality..." And so, Neha applied--early action--for the physical therapy program. Not long after her daughter had applied, Rita received her acceptance to begin at Simmons in January 2010. Ultimately it was Rita's positive experience in her first semester that influenced Neha to choose Simmons over another school. She began at Simmons in the fall of 2010.
Rita brings to Simmons a wealth of personal and professional experiences. At 16, Rita came to the United States, never before having left her hometown in India. Rita arrived at JFK Airport in New York City, barely able to understand English. She remembers struggling to get across New York City from JFK to LaGuardia Airport to catch her flight to Boston, and then crying the whole hour-long flight.
Despite the language and cultural barriers, Rita worked hard in high school and excelled in the technology field. Her 10th place finish in a national computer competition brought with it an offer to work part-time at the New England Life Insurance Company, where she continued to work after graduating high school in 1984. Rita sometimes worked three jobs to support herself and her sister, who joined her from India after Rita's high school graduation.
Rita went on to get married and to start a family. She decided to leave her job to raise her daughters, but she soon became restless. To keep herself busy "while [her] kids took their naps," she started her own travel agency out of her home. As her daughters grew older though, Rita felt the call to return to school. She took a certificate course in network engineering, and went on to work in the field for many years, while also becoming increasingly involved in giving back to the Indian community through her volunteer work, which she found "enriching and satisfying."
Because of her dedication and leadership abilities, she went on to serve as the both the President of the India Association of Greater Boston, and the Director of SAHELI, South Asian Women's Network. And just like her daughters' college search, SAHELI also brought Rita to Simmons! She remembers attending multiple trainings offered at Simmons' School of Social Work, and feeling inspired by the Simmons women she encountered.
Among her initiatives, Rita provided cultural awareness training to local police departments. Due to her success with the Burlington and Billerica Police Departments, the Domestic Violence Service Network requested she provide this training to officers from 10 other North Shore police departments. For all of her efforts, Rita was nominated twice for "the women of the year award" by India New England News -- in both 2007 and 2010.
Coming to Simmons
Rita remembers the Simmons application process being both quick and easy, "I applied and was accepted within four weeks," but still she remembers being uneasy about starting classes. "What I most feared about returning to school," she says, "is that I might not be able to fit in with the younger crowd." At Simmons, she found just the opposite. "I was shocked to see how many women were back in school."
Rita was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome she received. She recalls, "Students and faculty made me feel like part of the family." Part of Rita's "Simmons family" has been her support system: Terry Muller, director of the Writing Center and facilitator of the Credit for Prior Learning Program, her advisor Professor Valerie Leiter, and all of her "excellent professors." While her experience returning to Simmons has been a positive one, the adjustment has been challenging at times--especially "all the reading and writing," she says. "I was not used to reading fifty-plus pages a night and writing lots of papers." But she has taken advantage of all of the resources the college offers, noting, "The writing center has been a blessing."
When asked what her most powerful Simmons experience has been so far, she recalls sharing her experience working with domestic violence victims of the South Asian community with her social justice class. Like other Dix Scholars, her life experiences, have made her a truly valued member in all of her classes.
Rita's Simmons journey continues--as a graduate student now! Before receiving her bachelor's degree in May 2012, Rita was able to take two graduate courses at the School of Social Work, one of the five graduate schools at Simmons. The graduate courses she took further excited her about a career as a licensed social worker, and saved her both time and money. Rita will begin pursuing her MSW at the Simmons School of Social Work in September 2012 with Neha continuing to cheer her on!