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Leigh-Ann Gomes '10 Grateful Western New England Propelled Career in Higher Education

By Kenneth Stratton '19 SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 2019 - 12:00 PM WNE100

Leigh-Ann Gomes ’10 may have moved on from Western New England to join the ranks of regional rival Springfield College, but she’s thankful for the opportunities she gained at Western New England that led to a career in higher education.

“Truth be told, I wanted to go to a school in Boston, any school that had a law program, to live in the city,” Gomes said. But her mom convinced her to visit Western New England, just as a local option, and it was here on campus that Gomes felt “at home.”

So, Gomes became a Golden Bear, with the goal of next becoming a district attorney. The plan was to take advantage of the 3+3 law program offered in conjunction with the School of Law. But she began to have doubts about that career path.

“I quickly realized by the end of my first year, I wanted nothing to do with the criminal justice program,” Gomes said. “Through all the positions I took on, Peer Advising, Academic Progress Monitoring, Orientation Group Leader, First-Year Seminar Assistant, I grew to love witnessing students achieve success,” she explained.

Gomes’ mentor during this time was Theodore Zern, Dean Emeritus and Former Dean of Freshman and Transfer Students. She recalls a life changing conversation she had with him as she was having doubts about her career:

“[Zern asked,] ‘What’s your plan?’ And, I said, ‘I’m not sure. I am doing well in my criminal justice courses, thought about juvenile probation, but I’m not sold on it.’ He said, ‘Take a look at all the things you are doing outside of the classroom. You know, you could do that for a living?’”

It was a revelation that changed the course of her life. After that conversation, Gomes changed her major to psychology with a minor in education, and set her sights on graduate work in higher education.

With Zern’s support, Gomes explored graduate programs across the country, in Ohio, South Carolina and at UCONN. But in her senior year, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Deciding to stay close to home, Gomes attended Springfield College in the fall of 2010, securing a Graduate Fellowship in the Academic Advising Center.

“The Fellowship required me to advise a caseload of undeclared students, serve as an academic coach for first-year students on academic probation or warning, and teach a first-year seminar course,” Gomes said, adding they were all responsibilities she had a taste for during her undergrad at Western New England.

“Nine months into my Graduate Fellowship, the First-Year Success Coordinator took a position at another institution. I was asked to apply for the full-time position and gladly accepted,” Gomes recalled enthusiastically. She held this position for 9 months before another opportunity appeared. “The Transfer Coordinator left on maternity leave in June 2011 and I was asked to take on those responsibilities on the interim, which I did!” Gomes describes holding all of these positions at once as a very rewarding experience.

“Advising is my passion,” Gomes said. “I enjoy putting my counseling skills to use, listening to a student’s story, and helping students reflect on experiences in order to encourage them to make an informed decision where they feel empowered,” she explained.

Earning her Master’s in 2012, but having become so integral to the success of students on campus, Gomes stayed at Springfield College. By 2015, the Western New England alum was promoted to Assistant Director of Academic Advising & First-Year Success Coordinator. Her many responsibilities in this position included coordinating and advising registration sessions, training new advisors and coordinating orientation programs. And from there, Gomes has continued to climb the ladder.

“In April 2019, I accepted the position of Director of Academic Advising,” Gomes explained. In this more administrative role, Gomes is providing leadership and service to the staff. But she’s made a point to continue working with students.

“I am still managing my own caseload of advisees – I like to stay in the weeds of student development and practice a student-centered approach,” Gomes said. In addition – if she weren’t busy enough already – Gomes serves as Department Chair for the Exploratory Studies and General Studies majors. But what she describes as perhaps her largest responsibility, is supporting the College’s efforts to improve retention and increase graduation rates, by way of “a campus-wide advising model focused on an intentional and proactive approach to academic advising.”

There’s no doubt her place at Springfield College is important, but Western New England will always hold a special place in her heart. Of course, it’s where Dean Zern imparted his wisdom upon her. It’s where she made lasting connections with people like Marie Irzyk, Executive Secretary to the President who went from work study supervisor to family friend. It’s where she worked with Professor Chris Hakala, now a colleague at Springfield College. But Western New England is also the place where she fostered the lasting relationship with her husband, Marco.

Gomes and her husband had known each other since elementary school, and by chance attended Western New England together. After spending the first couple of years focused on themselves, their paths crossed again, and soon, they began seriously dating.

“Western New England gave each of us an opportunity to grow, define ourselves, and create a future. Fortunately, for us that meant a future together,” said Gomes. “Western New England will always hold a special place in our hearts – so much so that we had our engagement and wedding photos taken on campus!”

Striving for a balance between work and life, Gomes has been prioritizing more time with her two young daughters. “Springfield College embraces that, and I’m grateful that my experience at Western New England propelled my career in higher education” she said.