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Q&A: Psy.D. graduate on juggling motherhood and her studies

Stories | 10.20.23

Rawan LaFemina, Psy.D., was in her second year of the Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology program on Adler University’s Chicago Campus when she learned of some lifechanging news — she was expecting her first child.

Her daughter, Emily, was born in April of 2019. It was a given that juggling motherhood and a demanding graduate program would require some extensive support and creative solutions.

Emily became a familiar face for Dr. LaFemina’s classmates and professors, as she accompanied her mother to classes, lectures, and seminars. Early during the Covid-19 pandemic, Emily was only slightly off-screen during virtual classes.

“It’s only appropriate that I celebrate commencement with her,” said Dr. LaFemina, who welcomed her second child, Noah, in 2021.

When Dr. LaFemina walks across the stage of the Chicago Theatre during the 2023 Chicago and Online Commencement Ceremony, 4-year-old Emily will be in the audience also donning a cap and gown.

“She more than deserves her own honorary Psy.D. degree,” Dr. LaFemina said, laughing. “She was with me every step of the way.”

With commencement only days away, Dr. LaFemina is sharing how being a young mother made for a unique graduate school experience, how the Adler community — classmates, faculty, and staff — rallied around her, and how she plans to celebrate the big event with both Emily and Noah.

What led you to Adler and pursuing a career in mental health?

So, my mom is a psychologist. I didn’t think it would be something I’d be interested in but after I took a psychology class during my undergrad, I just fell in love with it. I chose Adler because I really liked their focus on social justice, and the emphasis they had on equity and diversity. That was very important for me and made the University stand out.

How did pregnancy and having your daughter impact your graduate school experience?

I had Emily during my second year, which is often considered the most intense year for my program. She also came in April, right before finals week. I was able to do my papers and other assignments ahead of time, but I obviously couldn’t take my finals. A few weeks after having her, I met with my professors at local coffeeshops and libraries to complete the exams. They were so sweet and accommodating.

What kind of support did the Adler community provide that helped you complete the program?

I need to emphasize that I had so many supportive professors, especially Janna Henning, Psy.D., Steven Migalski, Psy.D., Jerry Westermeyer, Ph.D., and Catherine McNeilly, Psy.D. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the program.

They were so accommodating and extremely helpful when I needed it, especially early in the pandemic when Emily and I were both locked up in our one-bedroom condo just getting through virtual classes. During the pandemic, there was no taking her to day care. So, my daughter was there with me while taking classes and making presentations.

My classmates were also super supportive. If they knew I was having a hard time, they would offer so much support and accommodated my availability.

Who else helped you in your Adler journey?

I have an extremely supportive husband and family. If I knew I had long days in class or had practicum, it would be them who would watch Emily and Noah. Everybody had a day.

You are walking during the fall commencement. What will that moment mean to you?

I really wanted Emily to walk with me because she attended so many of my classes that she should just be an honorary doctorate at this point. I might have caused trauma because every time she sees a laptop, she slams it shut. But I’m glad she was with me in this journey.

What’s next for you after Adler?

I’m currently doing my post-doc. I do want to work in a hospital setting, but I also like the private practice that I’m at.

Lastly, how will you and your family celebrate?

Everybody will be there at commencement. I might still have my daughter wear a cap and gown so when they call my name, she can stand up too. Afterwards, we’ll probably go back to my mom’s house and have a nice dinner as a family.

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