Release Date: 
Friday, February 14, 2020

The long road to becoming Dr. Amilivia

HFC alumna Jennifer Amilivia recently earned her doctorate from the University of Kansas.
HFC alumna Jennifer Amilivia recently earned her doctorate from the University of Kansas.

HFC alumna Jennifer Amilivia beat some long odds during her academic career, recently celebrating her doctorate in special education from the University of Kansas.

“I’m exhausted,” said Amilivia after defending her dissertation. She said it with a relieved but happy laugh.

Life-changing work by HFC professors Lanzon and Rodgers

Amilivia wouldn’t have accomplished this milestone without help from HFC. Amilivia called her HFC experiences life-changing, citing Dr. Patricia Lanzon, the Pre-Education Program Director, and Dr. Paul Rodgers, an English professor, as two of her favorite and most influential professors.

“I was a single mom; I had my son at 17. I knew going away for college wasn’t an option, and I knew I wasn’t ready. I chose HFC because it had a good reputation. I enrolled and planned to transfer to a 4-year institution,” said Amilivia. “I really enjoyed my time at HFC. Patricia Lanzon was a great instructor and mentor. Paul Rodgers taught me how to write, because my writing skills weren’t at the college level when I started. They’re both very special people, and I love them dearly.”

From basic literacy to a doctorate

Amilivia worked at the HFC Child Care Center while she was enrolled. She later became Lanzon’s work study student.

“She helped me gain the skills I needed,” said Amilivia. “I remember having difficulty reading and writing in school. Now I have a PhD. She really helped me. She even taught me some things about being a mom. She taught me how to be a good student. She taught me how to be a teacher. She’s an amazing person.”

Lanzon became a close friend and is her daughter’s godmother. “Without her push and encouragement, I wouldn’t have finished,” said Amilivia.

A 2000 graduate of Fordson High School, Amilivia studied pre-education at HFC, and was inspired to pursue higher education all the way to a doctorate. She transferred to the University of Michigan-Dearborn, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and women’s studies in 2009. She earned a second bachelor’s degree, also from UM-Dearborn, in general studies with a focus on children and families in 2012.

She earned her master’s degree in early childhood education and her inclusion certificate from UM-Dearborn in 2014. This year, Amilivia earned her PhD in special education with a concentration in early childhood unified (blending early childhood education and early childhood special education) and her teaching certificate in early childhood education from UK.

Advocating for children with disabilities

Her desire to become an early childhood special education teacher was inspired by her two nephews who have special needs, and the struggle her older sister Amanda had trying to get services for them.

“It was hard for her to advocate for her kids as things were changing in their lives,” said Amilivia. “No parent should have that much trouble trying to obtain services for children with disabilities.”

Currently, Amilivia is a technical assistant at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, CT. There, she assists with teacher preparation research, focusing on system changes in early childhood university programs with doctoral students. She plans to return to Michigan soon to interview for faculty positions at colleges and universities.

A bond beyond teacher and student

Lanzon couldn’t be prouder of her former student.

“As a professor, many students come through your life and make an impact on you. Jennifer was one of those students,” recalled Lanzon. “What began as our teacher-student relationship developed into an employer-employee relationship when she became my work study. Following her transfer to UM-Dearborn, our families became connected, and this relationship has continued over the years. As we got to know each other, we learned we were both single moms with children the same age – only I was much older and had more experience. We helped each other out by taking care of each other’s children. We became each other's family.”

Like Amilivia, Lanzon had been a student at HFC and could relate to the challenges and excitement of starting out at a community college and transferring to a 4-year university.

“I learned from her that young moms could be amazing moms, as well as great students and energetic employees. I saw a young woman balance everything the best she could,” said Lanzon. “Mentoring her over the years has been one of my greatest joys. I have loved watching her develop from an uncertain young college student into the amazing early childhood special education advocate she is today. She is a researcher, a presenter, and overall an amazing professional. When she let me know she passed her dissertation defense, I called her immediately and – truthfully – I cried tears of happiness.

"We have walked the road together earning our PhDs – mentor and mentee – oftentimes interchangeable. There is nothing more rewarding than calling my mentee and my friend, Jennifer Amilivia, ‘Dr. Amilivia.’”