Mother follows daughter to Smith College

  • Laura Martin, left, and her daughter, Emma Martin, of Florence, walk at Smith College, Saturday. Emma just earned her degree from Smith and Laura will start her education there in September. —JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laura Martin, left, and her daughter, Emma Martin, of Florence, walk at Smith College, Saturday. Emma just earned her degree from Smith and Laura will start her education there in September. —JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laura Martin, left, and her daughter, Emma Martin, of Florence, talk at Smith College, Saturday. Emma Martin just earned her degree from Smith and Laura Martin will start her education there in September. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laura Martin, left, and her daughter, Emma Martin, of Florence, walk at Smith College, Saturday. Emma just earned her degree from Smith and Laura will start her education there in September. —JERREY ROBERTS

@amandadrane
Published: 5/21/2016 11:21:42 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A lot of daughters follow in their mothers’ footsteps, but the opposite is true for Laura and Emma Martin.

Emma Martin graduated from Smith College on May 15 with a bachelor’s degree in education and child study, and now her mother has been accepted to the Ada Comstock Scholars Program for fall 2016.

“You’re an undergraduate?” Laura Martin asks her daughter incredulously. “But you graduated.”

“With an undergraduate degree,” Emma Martin says patiently to her mother.

“So much to learn,” says Laura Martin, smiling during an interview Saturday.

Laura Martin was out of academia for more than 20 years before she recently began taking refresher classes at Holyoke Community College, where she received her associate’s degree in 1991.

“I always knew I wanted to go back,” she said, adding that as a single mom she decided to wait until her daughter was grown before returning to school.

“And now I’m following in my daughter’s footsteps,” she says, beaming at her progeny.

The Martins got a taste of their future by visiting Laura’s mother, Nancy Martin, during the 20 years she spent doing custodial work at Smith College.

Money was tight

Life wasn’t always so golden for the Martins.

After Emma’s dad left for Japan and “decided he did not want to be a parent,” Laura Martin says she didn’t know how she was going to make it work. His departure, however, was probably a good thing.

“I don’t think he would have made a good parent,” she says. “It was a blessing in disguise.”

Because Emma Martin never met her father, she says, it never really felt like anything was missing.

“I never really thought about it,” she says of growing up without a dad. “He did give us the gift of being totally not there.”

Still, money was always tight. Laura Martin, who now works as a cashier at Big Y, took odd jobs as she could — from telemarketing to housecleaning and driving a public school van — but the depression she had fought back since she was a child made it difficult to hold jobs.

Being a parent, Laura Martin says, gave her the confidence and trust in herself she needed to persevere. Now, she sees her condition as “an opportunity to give a strong voice to those with mental illness.”

She plans to study psychology as an Ada Comstock Scholar — a program for women of nontraditional college age — and says she will continue to fight back the stigma that surrounds depression and other disabilities.

Tech help

As Laura Martin, 51, moves into this next phase of her life, it’s a good thing she has the support of her millennial daughter.

“She’s my IT person,” she says, looking toward Emma.

Laura Martin took an honors colloquium at HCC this past semester and relied on her daughter to show her the technological ropes — Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and file conversion, says the younger Martin, were all part of her teaching.

“I get a lot of different late-night phone calls,” says Emma Martin.

And that’s good practice for Emma Martin, who plans a teaching career. In the fall, she will start graduate studies at Mount Holyoke College, aiming for a master of arts in teaching Grades 1 to 6 and special education. She will also launch into work as a teacher’s assistant at Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School in Easthampton, where she went to second and third grades.

The Northampton natives are proud of their geographical devotion.

“We really do keep things local, don’t we?” Laura Martin says, looking at Emma and laughing.

“Source local!” says her daughter, with an affirming tone. They laugh.

The Martins say they owe Smith a debt of gratitude for being such a positive influence in their lives. Emma Martin says she found her calling at the college, which she says is to help inspire a “STEM identity” in youngsters, referring to the acronym for a curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math.

“It’s just amazing how many women say they can’t do science,” says Emma Martin, saying she’s eager to help foster an appreciation for math and science as a teacher. “It’s all around you — you can’t escape math and science.”

Emma says that because money was so tight when she was applying to colleges, she was ready to face some hard truths about her higher education.

“We sort of had to face the reality it was going to be very much a numbers game,” she says.

But “Smith was very generous,” she says, as it offered significant scholarships on top of the 50 percent discount it gives to first-year students from Northampton High School.

“I’m very grateful for what they’ve done for my daughter,” Laura Martin says. “I want to give back to Smith someday, somehow. Because they’ve just given us so much.”

Welcome rap

Stressing the more affordable opportunities available at local community colleges, Laura Martin says her recent experiences at HCC have been invaluable in readying her for the next step.

Laura says she volunteered to do a rap song during an HCC outreach event for teens. The lyrics she wrote, she says, focused on welcoming and encouraging the teens to commit to higher education.

Standing in front of them, she says, provided a sobering moment. “I’m a living example of what I’m telling them,” she remembers thinking.

Before long, she began to stumble.

“I’m a 50-year-old white woman doing this rap,” she says she told them. “You just saw me mess up. No matter what you do in life — succeed or fail — it doesn’t matter, if you grow.”

Laura Martin dreams of creating a therapeutic model that combines classic counseling methods with improvisation. Improv classes, she says, have helped quiet creeping negative thoughts.

“A lot of the things you learn in improv are the things you learn in order to have a happy life,” she says.

Laura Martin says thanks to her daughter, she’s ready to receive the Smithie torch.

“I was very shy before I had Emma,” she says, and she lacked the courage to “explore” life’s offerings. “I’m a different person than I was back then, and I think a lot of that had to do with becoming a parent.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettnet.com.




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