Alexa Rutkowska is a testament to letting nothing get in the way your dreams.
A dedicated single mom to a six-year-old daughter, Alexa is completing her St. Francis College journey with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, earning a master's degree in psychology.
During her tenure at the College, Alexa pursued her passion for research, serving as a research assistant in the Psychology Department for two projects, and also assisting a practicing clinical psychologist in Brooklyn Heights. She worked as a teaching assistant and academic tutor at St. Francis too, helping her peers succeed at their educations while doing the same for herself.
All this, while holding down a full-time job outside of college.
In recognition of her many achievements in and out of the classroom, St. Francis College selected Alexa as the spring 2020 Co-Valedictorian, sharing the honor with Nursing major Nicole Taliercio.
A Brooklyn native and 2015 graduate of the Secondary School for Journalism in Park Slope, Alexa reflected on her St. Francis College journey and what is next.
How does it feel to be Co-Valedictorian of the Class of 2020 spring graduates?
Overwhelming and exciting to say the least. It's an honor to be nominated for my hard work. It's a great acknowledgement.
You have a young daughter. How did you manage parenting and attending college full-time?
It was demanding. I was also working full-time as a barista – so not related to psychology -- while enrolled full-time as an undergraduate and graduate student. In addition to that, I had other jobs for academic purposes during college.
My day was packed. I was working [at my job] at 6:30 in the morning and then I had school at 11 – different classes -- and extra-curricular gigs after that. Then I had to make sure my daughter's taken care of. It was a juggle for sure. Definitely a juggle.
How did you decide to enroll in St. Francis College?
It was actually the only college I applied to. I wasn't sure I was going to continue with my education at the time [senior year of high school]. I had some life circumstances that didn't necessarily point me in the direction of college, but with family support, I managed to pull through and attend.
What attracted you to the BA/MA program in psychology?
I was always interested in research and I want to be a part of the field and contribute to my own way. So that led me to apply to the program in hopes of continuing further graduate-level work.
Which professors had a big impact on your success at St. Francis College?
I would have to say that there are three and they're all from the psych department.
They're Dr. [Kristy] Biolsi, Dr. [Karen] Wilson and Dr. [Renée] Goodstein. They're awesome. Without their help. I obviously would not have even received the [Valedictorian] nomination.
Those professors were always encouraging and supportive, even for students who are a little over-bearing – because they're academically motivated -- like myself. They shared their own experiences and knowledge of the field. They're seasoned researchers, and that made me want to work with them. They're great.
What's your most important co-curricular experience at the College?
Through an opportunity presented by the College, I was able to work as an intern for a clinical psychologist, Dr. [Warren] Spielberg, where I learned about research tools about how to interpret neurological assessments and write them up into reports. St. Francis was core in developing my theoretical background of psychology, and that experience [my internship] was helpful in adding to my applied knowledge of the field.
Did the Franciscan values of the College resonate with you during your time here?
Yes, St. Francis has the spirit of community. I would not be where I am today without the support of my peers and faculty. All the staff helps students a lot. That spirit of community definitely encourages students to reach their goals.
How did you manage during the COVID pandemic and remote instruction?
It was a change in my dynamics because I was working all the time and all of a sudden everything shut down and I was stuck in the house. I actually had to dedicate myself only to schoolwork for once. That was a pretty interesting opportunity. I prefer to look at the optimistic side of it.
What's next for you?
I'm going to be applying this fall to pursue graduate-level [doctorate] work in clinical psychology in the fall of 2021.I want to work in private practice as well as contribute to research and possibly work in academia as a professor.