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Patricia Calandra was planning a party when she heard the news that Medaille University was closing.

She had been taking consecutive seven-week courses for four years toward her bachelor’s degree through a special program at Medaille, and wanted to thank the countless people who had helped her achieve a dream she had had since she was in high school. But when the school announced it was closing in August, her first thought was “How am I going to have this party if I don’t graduate?”

Calandra was no stranger to adversity. After her mother passed away, leaving behind five young children, Calandra’s father remarried a woman who was a mother of five, as well. When she was 15, Calandra left home to live with her sister. The apartment they shared on Seneca Street in South Buffalo was on a bus route, so she was able to take public buses to attend her classes at West Seneca East High School.

After graduating in 1982 and earning certification as a nursing assistant from BOCES, Calandra worked at St. Francis Hospital in Buffalo until her first son was born. For the last 25 years, she has been employed as a clerk/aide at Casey Middle School in the Williamsville School District while she raised her two boys.

In early 2019, Calandra learned of a program Medaille was starting for parents of students who had never gone to college. The program would provide a scholarship covering the tuition necessary to earn an associate’s degree. Calandra, whose son, Nicholas, was a 2011 graduate of Medaille, contacted the school to apply for the program. The next day, she received a call telling her that the scholarship was hers.

Calandra worked with an academic advisor who helped her select courses, which she took every seven weeks. While her initial focus was obtaining an associate’s degree in liberal arts, Calandra’s curriculum began to include more courses in business, and she ultimately declared a business major. After earning her associate’s degree, her advisor noted that she had earned six extra credits and that the scholarship would be extended so she could continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

She was about a year away from achieving that goal when Medaille announced that it was going to close.

“I knew that some kind of change was coming,” Calandra said, noting that she had heard about another local school planning to purchase Medaille, “but I didn’t think it was this change. I was devastated.”

The day after the announcement, Calandra registered for an additional class and began figuring out her next move. A number of Western New York schools had reached out to help the Medaille students, including Niagara University, who was hosting a session on the Medaille campus that day to discuss what options were available. 

At the session, she met Dr. Bridget Niland, Niagara’s dean of the College of Hospitality, Sport, and Tourism Management, and heard from Dr. Timothy Ireland, NU’s provost and vice president of academic affairs. She still gets emotional when she remembers looking around the room and seeing the students, and their parents, who were being affected by the closing and didn’t know what to do.

Niagara offered to provide a seamless transition for any Medaille student who wanted to transfer, but Calandra had already decided to enroll at a university close to her home. She had been assured that the school would accommodate her scholarship and accept her credits, but at the end of  June, Calandra learned that they would not be able to offer her a scholarship, because she was a part-time student, and that fewer than half of her credits would transfer. 

“I stood there and said, ‘Oh my God, my educational journey is over,’” she recalled. Then she remembered the card Dr. Niland had given her in May.

Although it was the Friday afternoon before the 4th of July holiday, Calandra called Dr. Niland, who gave her the name of an admissions counselor. By Monday, that counselor had already reached out to Calandra and they started the process of transferring her to Niagara. Two weeks later, her credits were accepted and her scholarship was honored. By the end of August, she was back in the classroom and working toward her bachelor’s degree, which she expects to earn by next summer.

“I couldn’t be happier,” she said, “and I’m not taking this opportunity lightly. I’m the first one of my five siblings to earn a degree, and there are countless people who helped me out of the kindness of their hearts.”

With her goal in sight, and Niagara’s support, Calandra just might host that party, after all.

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