Family Sense

BY ABBY CARNEVALE // MAY 12, 2016 //

Watching freshman Angela Johns play defense with her Curry lacrosse teammates is a sight to see. However, it’s something her mother, Shelley, has yet to experience.

Shelley Johns was born blind, the result of her own mother acquiring a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis while pregnant with her. The toxoplasma parasite is often found in cat feces and contaminated food; Shelley’s mothers got it from changing a cat litter box. Fortunately, toxoplasmosis is not genetic. Shelley is the only individual in her family who is blind.

Angela Johns and her mother, Shelley Johns.
Angela Johns and her mother, Shelley Johns.

But the disability rarely held her back. Throughout her life she has used a cane and guide dogs to get around. As a teen Shelley worked at Pizza Hut and was on her high school’s cheerleading squad. Her instructors would stand in the cheering positions, Shelley would feel the way they were standing, and then mimic it. Shelley went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in music at Capitol University in Columbia, Ohio, plays piano and the French horn, and has even released a song.

Johns’s parents got divorced when she was in the first grade. She lived with Shelley in Ohio for a number of years, but moved in with her biological father in Burrillville, R.I., for high school. When Johns was 17 years old, her mother moved to New Jersey with a friend to be closer to the family. Johns has two older brothers, and one younger sister.

Johns says she and her siblings are extremely close, due to the many years working together to fulfill their mother’s needs. But Shelley also took care of their needs as well. For example, she routinely made healthy, home-cooked meals, and washed and dried the family’s laundry.

“Somehow she manages to separate the lights from the darks,” says Johns with a laugh. “I don’t know how, and I don’t ask.”

Johns says there were a few drawbacks from having a blind mother.

“It’s difficult to accept compliments,” Johns states. She says she has a hard time believing certain praise because her mother constantly told her while growing up that she was pretty. But “I don’t make ugly kids,” Shelley says with a laugh.

Another downside is that Johns had to repeat the first grade because she didn’t know how to read. Newly divorced, Shelley signed Johns and her siblings up for the local Big Brother, Big Sister program in Ohio, and they spent countless hours at the library learning how.

Shelley also lists that as one of her regrets. Others include her inability to see her daughters’ prom dresses, or the drawings her children worked so hard on coloring when they were younger. But on the big stuff, the things that truly matter in the life of a family, things simply worked.f3fdjesm0pqhhy4l

Johns and her family did loads of activities together—they just did it with a twist. Whether they were all going for a bike ride or going rollerblading, Shelley was right by their side participating. On rollerblades, she would simply hold onto Johns’s belt loop and rollerblade with her kids. And Johns and her siblings would crush soda cans and place them on the back of their tires so their mother could follow the sound.

In fact, Johns credits her mother for much of her own character and success. Because of the outsized responsibilities Johns had at such a young age, she says she matured a lot faster than her peers. From writing checks in the fourth grade, to walking to school by herself, Johns wanted to do everything she could to assist her mom.

Such maturity and hard work continues to be on display. Johns, a biology major, is a freshman walk-on on the Curry lacrosse team and saw playing time this season after a starter got injured. She played in seven games, and started two. But whether she was sprinting to a ground ball at practice or marking up on her player to prevent a goal, Johns always gave it her all.

And throughout her lacrosse career, she was always proud to see her mother in the stands cheering her on with the other parents. Shelley would often bring a friend—who was also blind—to “watch” her daughter play and share in the experience. Shelley says her favorite part about going to her kids’ games was hearing their names announced on the PA system.

When Johns was younger, she says she didn’t have to learn about or adapt to her mother’s blindness. It was simply normal to her; it’s all she ever knew. It wasn’t unusual that Shelley put bells on her kids’ shoes when they were young so she could know where they were. Or that Johns likes to lovingly tease her mom, like removing the straw from her mother’s drink. Theirs is a special bond unlike many.

“Anyone can have children,” says Johns, “but not everyone can raise them.”


Health Services Wants You To Avoid the Flu

BY COLIN MURPHY // NOV. 10, 2015 // 

In October, a total of 147 flu shots were given to Curry students during Health Services’ flu shot clinics. Flu season starts in October and reaches its peak between December and February. Getting a flu shot is the best way to avoid contracting the flu.

The number of shots provided by the Health Services’ flu shot clinics increased this year. Last year, 125 shots were given.

Erin Simmons, the Director of Campus Health Services said, “The shots are a great service to the community… You are not only protecting yourself, but you are protecting the people around you.”


Individual students getting their flu shots is extremely beneficial to everyone else on campus, including those who do not get their annual flu shot.

Common reasons for people not getting a flu shot include the dislike or fear of needles, the myth that the shots can make people sick with the flu and underestimating the shot’s importance.

Simmons said that increasing advertising and explaining misconceptions are the best ways to raise awareness of how important the flu shot is.

Simmons said that Health Services has the goal of reaching “herd immunity” on campus. Having “heard immunity” to the flu would mean that everyone on campus would be immune.

First-year student Roberto Roca got his flu shot from a doctor prior to arriving on campus. Roca said, “It was my time to receive it.”

There are 2,100 traditional undergrad students at Curry and only 147 flu shots were given to students. It is likely that many students, like Roca, received their flu vaccination off-campus from a family doctor or a pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where or how you get vaccinated, just as long as you do so.

Simmons encouraged all students and faculty to get their flu shots to reduce the likelihood of illness and to learn more about the flu vaccine. More knowledge will lead to an increased chance of a fully flu-protected campus.

Using Her Head

BY TAYLOR EVANS // MAY 8, 2015 //

Abbey Sadlers was the kind of soccer player opposing teams hated going against. She played all out, nonstop, and was a physical presence well beyond her 5-foot-2 frame.

But that style of play came at a cost.

Sadlers, of Somerset, Mass., was unable to finish her sophomore season at Curry this past fall because of the countless concussions she has faced throughout her athletic career.

“I’m sure I’ve had more than six,” she says, noting that only six have been documented. Her first diagnosed concussion happened while playing soccer her junior year of high school. “I hate being hurt. I don’t like showing any vulnerability.”ozno7ml0rech941z

Perhaps ironically, Sadlers says she didn’t come to Curry to play soccer. Instead, it was because she wants to work in health care.

“I knew from the start I wanted to go to either Curry of UMass Dartmouth because of their nursing programs,” says Sadlers. “I loved Curry’s campus and already had friends here because I had visited and met a lot of people through my older brother, Devin.”

Devin graduated in 2013, and was both a standout soccer player and a nursing major at Curry. He was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association Division III All-New England team in 2011, and was a first-team All-CCC selection his senior year. He is pursuing a master’s degree in nursing at Rhode Island College this fall.

Jason Tassinari has been the head coach of the Curry women’s soccer team for three years now. His office is covered with pictures—of his college days, the teams he has coached, his newborn daughter. But mostly there are pictures of his team here at Curry. A white board on his wall is filled with scribbles of formation ideas, the names of incoming recruits, and current players’ GPA’s. His passion for women’s soccer runs deep. And as any coach will tell you, a big part of the job is overseeing players’ health and wellness.

“Some concussions you see happen,” says Tassinari. “Others…it’s not so easy to tell and recognize.”

Tassinari took a second to collect his thoughts, followed by a deep breath.

“In Abbey’s case, I didn’t notice the first one, and she didn’t tell anyone,” he continues. “That went largely undetected and unnoticed because that is the type of competitor and player she is. She wanted to play and didn’t want anyone to know.

“As much as I appreciate her competitive fire, her health and wellbeing is something that comes first.”

Salders’s mother, Robbin, says it is often challenging to know when a sports-related injury requires extra attention.

“Abbey has always been a tough kid and played through many injuries, so when she complained about a constant headache we knew we had to seek a deeper diagnosis,” says Robbin.

PHOTO BY STEVEN DEPOLO, creative commons
PHOTO BY STEVEN DEPOLO, creative commons

“I have a lot to say about this issue,” she later adds.

The issue of concussions has received widespread attention in recent years as the consequences have become better understood. In 2012, American semi-professional soccer player Patrick Grange died at age 29. He suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as C.T.E. Two years earlier, a group of parents and players filed a lawsuit in California against FIFA. The lawsuit claimed that in 2010 alone, approximately 50,000 high school soccer players had suffered concussions. That is more than the number of concussions in basketball, baseball, softball, and wrestling combined, they reported.

Soccer is the most common sport with concussion risk for females—and third overall, behind football and ice hockey, according to a study by a company called High School R.I.O. The Sports Concussion Institute reports that some studies show female athletes are far more likely to get a concussion than male athletes are, but it’s somewhat unclear why.

Sadlers began to notice her symptoms two years ago. She says her studies suffered, as she once had to miss two entire weeks of classes due to a concussion. Sadlers says her nursing professors were very understanding, though, and she was allowed to make up exams in all five of her classes to stay on track.

“Its nerve wracking and frustrating because you spend so much money to go here, and losing one semester [would be] a big thing to me,” she says.

Sadlers’s family is heavily involved in the soccer programs at Curry. They’re the type of people who don’t miss a game, wear Curry gear to campus, and cheer for everyone. They’re the type of parents players want to talk to after a game because they will only have positive things to say. According to Robbin, passion can sometimes be blinding.

“As a parent, one of our ‘jobs’ is to make sure that our children are safe,” says Robbin. “Soccer is no longer safe for Abbey to play. No one knows what the next off-center head ball or intercepted cross will bring. Yes, I love to watch my daughter play soccer. However, her safety and wellbeing far outweigh the enjoyment of watching her play.

“I will admit that I was sad and disappointed to think that she will not play again, but the reality is she should not continue to play,” Robbin adds. “I was being selfish wanting her to continue to play. Shame on me. Her wellbeing and physical health far outweigh playing any sport.”

Tassinari echoes the sentiment.

“As a coach, sometimes you have to protect the player from themselves,” he says.

Like Tassinari’s office, Sadlers’s room is also filled with pictures. Most feature her friends and now former teammates. When asked what it feels like to know she won’t play soccer again, Sadlers gets quiet.

“Soccer has been my life. That’s how I met all my friends. It’s a huge part of my life that’s over,” she says. “It’s kind of hard to grasp that concept, but it’s life and I need to move forward.”

Army of One: Hockey Player to Join New Team

BY ALANA SANTOS // MAY 1, 2015 //

Shane Tracy is not your typical college student. For starters, he’s a 20-year-old freshman. A native of Bow, N.H., Tracy is studying management at Curry, plays on the hockey team, and holds down an on-campus job through the intramurals program.

And unlike many other college students, he has a detailed plan for this future. It involves wearing fatigues.

“I’ve wanted to join the Army since I was about 15,” says Tracy, who currently serves in the ROTC program at Curry, which is run through Boston University. “I don’t know why I wanted to join, to be honest. I feel like it is where I belong and what I’m supposed to do. I guess that I just felt that it is what I would be best at because of my athletic and team-based background.”

Freshman Shane Tracy, with his mom, Tracy. // COURTESY PHOTO
Freshman Shane Tracy, with his mom, Tracy. // COURTESY PHOTO

Tracy, who played junior hockey in New Hampshire before attending Curry, played in 17 games for the Colonels this past year. A midseason broken wrist limited his playing time, but the forward finished with one goal and five assists.

Although Tracy cannot pinpoint his motivation to join the Army, military service certainly runs in his family. Both of Tracy’s grandfathers served in the armed forces, and two of his uncles flew helicopters and planes in the military. His father, Mike, is a pilot for Southwest Airlines.

“Shane has always embraced what we always called the 4 D’s—desire, determination, discipline, dedication—that help people reach their goals,” says Mike Tracy. “He is a focused, very hard-working young man with great character.”

Tracy says he has already learned a lot through the ROTC program, including Army tactics, leading platoons, and the arrangements of soldiers. Cadets learn how to do security patrols, provide medical and first aid treatments, work through navigation and mapping, and are taught Army values and leadership skills. Tracy says he wants to become a commissioned second lieutenant after graduating from Curry.

Because he’s on a sport’s team here, Tracy does not have to attend the required three-day-a-week physical training exercises that non-athletes have to do. Instead, he “only” attends ROTC class for two hours once a week. However, Tracy knows the schedule will become more demanding as he progresses in the program, and that it will become harder to juggle all of his on-campus activities and responsibilities.

“I work as well to help pay for everything, so I have to juggle that too,” Tracy says.

Tracy was awarded an ROTC scholarship this year. He was approached in November of 2014 by one of his ROTC instructors, Captain Jennifer Whittle, who suggested he apply. Based on his involvement with the Ranger Challenge team—a unit that competes against other ROTC programs—his 3.5 GPA in high school, and his standing 4.0 GPA in college, he more than qualified.

“Obtaining a three-and-a-half-year scholarship is very difficult,” says Tracy of the Line’s Scholarship. The scholarship grants him a full-time active duty spot for a minimum of four years after he graduates from college, and helps pay for his college tuition and other expenses.

Ranger Challenge teams consist of the top cadets from each ROTC program. Tracy explains the competitions as physically and mentally demanding challenges that often requires cadets to be on their feet for about 15 miles with 45 pounds of gear on their back as they do obstacle courses and other physical challenges, like a log carry and a Humvee push.

On Feb. 13, Tracy was at the center of attention during Boston University hockey game. He and four other cadets walked onto the bench during a period intermission and were officially sworn into the Army as they raised their right hands and recited the soldier’s oath.

“Shane has always made me very proud,” says his dad. “He always works hard, whether it be school, athletics, or work…he always strives to be the best. The future is no different. We are proud he has chosen to serve his country and that he worked very hard to achieve an ROTC scholarship from the Army.

“Shane loves being part of a team,” Mark adds. “And what greater team is there than a military unit. He enjoys the camaraderie and challenge of being a teammate, and thrives in those situations. There is a parallel to what he has done his whole life with hockey.”

From Jordan, with Love and Purpose

BY COLBY CALISI // DEC. 17, 2014 //

Dr. Susan LaRocco is working from off campus this academic year. Way, way off campus.

The longtime Curry Nursing Department professor is living, learning and working in Amman, Jordan on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Dr. Susan LaRocco
Dr. Susan LaRocco

The Fulbright Scholarship is awarded to 8,000 U.S. students and scholars each year to work, study and research at foreign institutions. In order to receive the honor one must have a strong academic track record, as well as a proposal that promotes the “critical relationship between educational exchange and international understanding.” The award is one of the nation’s highest scholarly honors—LaRocco’s came through the core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, which provides 800 teaching or research grants each year—and is administered by the U.S. State Department.

LaRocco’s project proposal was “Promoting Patient Safety Through Nursing Education,” and she is working at the University of Jordan, in Amman.

LaRocco, who was interviewed for this article via Skype, said she has been plenty busy since arriving in Jordan this past summer. She is teaching doctoral students there about qualitative research methods, and is actively assisting students and faculty in thesis preparation and dissertation work. She is also helping students studying advanced cardiac life support. In addition, LaRocco, who has been documenting her experiences through a blog, has been working with a dean on a smoking cessation program.

Dr. Susan LaRocco at the University of Jordan. // COURTESY PHOTO
Dr. Susan LaRocco at the University of Jordan. // COURTESY PHOTO

Although Arabic is the national language of Jordan, many of the students at the university have been learning English since they were in grade school. Textbooks, instructions and Powerpoint presentations are all in English, said LaRocco.

“Sometimes there will be quick bursts in Arabic for better translation, and I will even find myself correcting some of the students’ written English,” she said.

LaRocco is also busy raising funds for the Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) Honor Society for Nursing. She is on the advisory committee working to launch the honor society in Amman. LaRocca said helping start the society in the Middle East has been among her favorite activities.

“There’s an Arabic term here called ‘Wasa,’ which translates to giving and receiving favors,” said LaRocco. “Hopefully next semester I’ll be able to gain full access to places like the King Hussein Cancer Center, clinical facilities, and more guest lectures as a result of all my hard work.”

LaRocco joined Curry in 2003. She has served as the college’s coordinator of the traditional, accelerated and master’s nursing programs. LaRocco holds degrees from Boston University, UMass Boston and New York University, and is a Certified Nursing Leader.

Doctoral students in the nursing program at the University of Jordan. // PHOTO BY SUSAN LAROCCO
Doctoral students in the nursing program at the University of Jordan. // PHOTO BY SUSAN LAROCCO

She said she has been struck by both the differences and similarities between the nursing programs. Students in Amman are limited to important nursing equipment only, as well as simulation labs, similar to those at Curry. It is also rare to see student-professor relationships and open communication outside of classroom hours, LaRocco said. In addition, the University of Jordan doesn’t offer student housing, sports teams, or student clubs.

“There truly is less student involvement and not much fun for students here,” she said.

However, students and faculty in Jordan are driven by the same social purpose as their U.S. counterparts: to help those in need, to make their communities and the world a better place.

Said LaRocco: “They are traits all my students have.”