“After I had my daughter, I wanted to find my purpose,” said Sara Bagner ’21. She wanted to get an education to set an example for her daughter. She also wanted a career where she could contribute to other people’s lives, so she decided to research health care professions. She looked at respiratory therapy, but none of the schools near her home in Trenton, New Jersey offered this program. She determined that Immaculata’s allied health program with various clinical specialties was the best option for her.
The hour-and-15-minute commute was tough at first, “but I made it work,” Sara said. “Knowing I would travel that far just to get an education—this is something I was meant to do. I felt like this was my purpose. Immaculata definitely watered that seed that was planted in me.”
Sara’s sense of purpose held firm even when she realized that respiratory therapy wasn’t a good fit and switched to the pre-pharmacy track of IU’s allied health major. Though she could have looked for similar programs closer to home, she said, “Immaculata made me feel so comfortable, I didn’t want to leave. I really enjoyed my first semester, so I thought, ‘Why go anywhere else?’”
Kate Kearney, assistant director of Immaculata’s College of Adult Professional Studies, served as Sara’s academic advisor. “Sometimes it’s hard, being a mom and being a student. And she empathized with me, and she really tried to help. I’m not the type of person who reaches out, so I appreciated that she opened that door.”
In previous years, Sara brought her children—a daughter and son, ages 6 and 4—to Immaculata’s family fall fest, where they enjoyed pumpkin painting, eating in the dining hall and meeting the mascot, Mac. “My son has always been afraid of people in those suits, but he liked Mac,” Sara noted. “I call my daughter ‘Mini Mac.’ I hope she chooses Immaculata in her future.”
Sara enjoyed studying in the Gabriele Library on campus—it was a peaceful place to work where she could look out at the view of Great Valley. And, she joked, she didn’t have to hear “Mom!” 70 times. “Being in there, I kind of got a sense of who I was,” she reflected. She realized her commitment to her education and her career in pharmacy.
That’s not to say she didn’t face challenges. “Organic chemistry was a thorn in my side!” she exclaimed. But chemistry professor James K. Murray, Ph.D., worked with her to make sure she succeeded in the course, since it was a prerequisite for pharmacy school. “One way or another, we’re going to get you over this hurdle,” he told her. He provided plenty of extra help, Sara said—before, during and after class, in the hallways and over email. One night, Sara remembers, Dr. Murray stayed on Google Meet until 11:30 p.m., reviewing the material with her. “You could tell he really loved his job,” Sara observed.
Sara also received abundant support from math professor M.E. Jones, Ph.D., who offered to be her “cheerleader” in calculus. “Some students had calc in high school, and I’ve been out of high school 17 years now,” Sara said. “I’ve had times where I felt defeated, intimidated and overwhelmed. But [Dr. Jones] woke up at 7 a.m. sometimes to go over things with me.” And she didn’t mind if Sara’s kids were being loud in the background. Referring to both Dr. Jones and Dr. Murray, Sara said, “They stuck it out with me—they were real troopers.”
Sara remembers how she felt when the allied health program director, Anne Marie McCauley, D.H.Ed., told her they needed to start working on her pharmacy school application. “This is real,” Sara thought. “This is what I want to do, and I can do it.” Although she had sometimes felt intimidated as an adult among the younger students in the program, Sara said Dr. McCauley confirmed that she belonged because she had worked hard to progress through the program.
For her pharmacy school admissions essay, Sara wrote about how being a mom would help her to be a compassionate professional. “Family responsibilities have prepared me for a career that is focused on helping others,” she wrote. “Life’s responsibilities have taught me that being patient and persistent in working toward your goals can make them achievable.” Dr. McCauley wrote Sara a recommendation letter and gave her tips on what to wear to her interview with the school.
When Jefferson College of Pharmacy notified Sara that she had not only been accepted, but also awarded a dean’s scholarship, she felt validated. “I knew I did something right,” she reflected. “I felt like they saw something in me. They believe that I can make it through the program.” She started her first semester as a Doctor of Pharmacy student this fall.
“I never really saw myself doing this,” Sara acknowledged. “For a while, I thought, ‘There’s no way, not me.’” Although it hasn’t been easy, “I can honestly say I’ve worked hard and I’m proud of where I am,” she said. “School is doable. You have to be committed. I’m glad I did it.”