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Olivia Smolster '24
March 19, 2024


Academics | Alumni Outcomes

Olivia Smelstor ’24 started babysitting as soon as she was old enough. The Bellingham, Massachusetts, native was known in her hometown as a dependable caretaker who was good with children. But when Smelstor met a neighbor with two boys on the autism spectrum, she discovered that her ability to bond with kids was more special than she realized.

While both boys were on the spectrum, their needs differed. Eventually, Smelstor began helping the brothers with their homework, and assisting the older son with life skills, from ordering a pizza to doing his own laundry.

“Their mother told me she thought I had a gift,” Smelstor says. “I didn’t understand what she meant at the time, but she then told me I was able to get her boys to be successful in areas that the professionals could not, because I was able to connect with them.”

Armed with purpose, Smelstor was drawn to Curry in part because of its strong Education Program. Originally enrolled in the special education program, she realized she didn’t want to generally instruct students with special needs, but instead wanted to teach life skills at a professional level. That turned Smelstor’s focus to the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) track. Her clinical instructor at Curry, Kristina Kozak, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in the Canton Public School System, a designation that represents the next level of the RBT track, so Smelstor knew the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) route was what she ultimately wanted to pursue as an undergraduate. After leaving Curry, she will continue working toward her BCBA certification as a graduate student at Western New England University, while working at the New England Center for Children.

Curry’s ABA track was in its fledgling stages, says Professor Joanne Seltzer, but as a sophomore, Smelstor became the first student in the program. Seltzer, the director of Public Schools Pathways at Curry, adds that the ABA track was established to meet the growing demand for behavior specialists in schools.

“Olivia is our first student to go through the track,” Seltzer says. “The intention was to open it for what’s now our current juniors, and she just had this really strong interest, so we escalated the rollout of our specialized courses, and she was our pilot student.”

Curry’s education program offers a variety of pathways for its students to work in school settings, along with preparation for various credentialing and licensing requirements. They include elementary education (grades 1-6), early childhood education (pre-K to grade 2), and special education (pre-K to grade 8). The school also offers minors in special education and education. The early childhood major has a Department of Early Education and Care (DEEC) track for working with children from birth to age five, and is often paired with a concentration in early intervention, preparing students to work with young children who have developmental delays or disabilities. Meanwhile, the ABA track falls under special education, while an education support professionals track falls under elementary education, and is designed for individuals who prefer small-group instruction or need more time before pursuing a teaching credential.

“I have looked at a number of our peer institutions,” Seltzer says, “and while they’re doing this at the graduate level, we seem to be the only one offering the ABA track at the undergraduate level.”

The rigorous credentialing process for teachers in Massachusetts requires passing up to five standardized exams called Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTELs). By offering different tracks within the education major, Curry allows its students to pursue early-career options while taking the MTELs at their own pace. For example, there's a community education major, which focuses on working with children and families in nontraditional educational settings. That major also encourages education students to minor in areas such as psychology, social work, sport and recreation management, or criminal justice.

Ky Nicyper-Meryman ’21 majored in community education with a criminal justice minor, and is now working as a trauma case manager for Liberty Resources out of New York’s Ulster County Department of Social Services. There her role includes working with at-risk youth, but extends into parent education and family advocacy. Nicyper-Meryman was pleased to discover the many career possibilities as an education major at Curry, and found that the community-based program aligned best with her goals.

The community education major, notes Professor Seltzer, is somewhat entrepreneurial in nature, and lets students like Nicyper-Meryman, who know they want to work with children and families, explore other areas of interest. Nicyper-Meryman picked criminal justice as her minor because she knew that at-risk youth sometimes interact with the justice system. Having the background knowledge, she reasoned, would help her better understand their circumstances.

“I didn’t know how many pathways you could use a community education degree in,” says Nicyper-Meryman, who plans to pursue a master’s in social work. “For me, it’s about taking that teaching ability and bringing it to the community. It isn’t like you got your degree in this specific thing and now this is what your job title will be. This major allows you to personalize it to what community population you want to work with.”

For Kristyanna Remillard ’23, the fact that Curry offers so many different ways for its graduates to ultimately work with children, whether in a school setting or elsewhere, allows students like her to consider the options and make a choice about what best fits their interests. Remillard actually came to Curry from Abington, Massachusetts, as a basketball player who planned to major in nursing.

“Curry was the school that changed my mind about what I wanted to do,” says Remillard, who was Curry’s 2022-23 Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. “I was always going to do something that involved working with children, but when Professors Seltzer and [Michelle] LeBlanc were talking about the education program, I realized it’s not only about teaching the academics, but what you can do to make a difference in a student’s life.”

As an undergraduate, Remillard gained field experience working with pre-K students at Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan, Massachusetts. Since graduating last spring, Remillard, who majored in special education, has been studying for her final MTEL while working as a special education teacher for students in grades K-3 at Clifford Marshall Elementary School in Quincy. Like Remillard, each student in the education major at Curry completes three to four semesters of fieldwork, which gives them direct experience toward their career goals.

“The field experience at Curry made me more confident in my ability to work with children,” Remillard says, noting that her special education training gives her the skills to work with Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) and make recommendations for parents. “Curry taught me how to advocate for myself, how to advocate for the kids, and gave me as much experience as I needed to feel comfortable in my current position.”

While Curry’s Education programs already prepare dozens of students to enter the workforce each year, the College is considering expanding its licensing options for special education, including for severe and secondary education certification. Adding a secondary education program would help to address the growing demand for math and science teachers. Because of its small class sizes and individualized planning, Curry will continue to support education students with academic advising and tailored programming that’s based on students’ interests and career goals.

“The hallmark of Curry is that we look at the student’s strengths and look at their career desires,” Seltzer explains, “and then we can advise them into appropriate courses and field experiences to get them on their ideal pathway.”