Commencement 2015: Wakefield mother of three achieves dream of college degree

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Rachael Musch studied health promotion

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 8, 2015 – “Are you crazy?”

That’s how friends responded when Rachael Musch told them she wanted to get her college degree – even though she had three toddlers at home, even though her husband worked 55 hours a week in a restaurant, even though she was at the age when most people are already deep into careers.

Turns out, they were all wrong. Musch is a very sane – and happy – soon-to-be health studies graduate from the University of Rhode Island with a grade-point average of 3.8, two internships under her belt and a part-time job as a health and wellness coach.

“I was walking on campus the other day and thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m finished,’ ” says Musch. “I started smiling and laughing. Wow! I made it. I actually made it.”

After graduating from South Kingstown High School, the lifelong Wakefield resident attended URI, but dropped out after one month. “I wasn’t ready,” she says. She waitressed for a few years, then enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island, where she earned her associate’s degree in applied science, with a focus on massage therapy. Along the way, she met her husband, Randy, the kitchen manager at Mews Tavern in Wakefield.

Babies soon came along, and by the age of 30 she was taking care of three kids. Her days were a whirlwind of diapers, dirty laundry and tantrums, as well as giggles, cuddling and silliness – all brought to her by the joy of motherhood.

But something was missing. “I was tired of struggling financially,” she says. And although she loved being a mother, she longed for a career. She shared her feelings with friends and family. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” she says. “They said, ‘There’s no way you can do that.’ I said, ‘There’s a way.’ ”

She enrolled at URI in the summer of 2013, determined to finish in two years, before she turned 36. She quickly settled on the health promotion program in Health Studies. It was a perfect fit – a combination of wellness and science courses.

“All the faculty and students were so kind, open and accepting,” she says. “As an older student and mom, I never felt judged. I was always treated as an equal and that was special to me.”

Two internships shaped her career path. At South County Health and Wellness Group in Charlestown she worked with wellness professionals and helped organize health care events. At StayFit Plan in Narragansett she worked on fitness programs for private firms. Her employer was so impressed with her enthusiasm she offered her a part-time job, which she still has today.

She also received a $10,000 scholarship from the South County chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. A woman on the award’s committee popped by her house one day to shake her hand. “It was surreal,” she says. Outside, while Musch was saying goodbye, her youngest daughter pressed her nose against a screen window and shouted, “I drew a picture on the wall for you.”

“It was like, well, this is my life,” says Musch.

And she received private scholarships at URI: the Vasilios S. & Aphrodite Haseotes Scholarship and the Ann & Albert Barker Memorial Scholarship.

Musch’s college degree did not come without sacrifice. She missed family picnics on the beach so she could study. Dirty dishes piled up in the sink. LEGOS were everywhere. Laundry was washed, but never folded. “My kids called it the mountain,” says Musch.

Not surprisingly, her expertise is in stress management. She can tame a wayward child or console a patient suffering the aches and pains of chronic arthritis. Merging traditional medicine with alternative treatments is the future of health care, she says, and she wants to be part of it. “Things move so fast now. There are so many demands, and no time. I can help people slow down and find balance.”

If all goes as planned, she’ll take a break from her studies this summer and jump back into the fray in the fall with an online master’s degree in integrative health and wellness at Rutgers University.

Meanwhile, she’s getting ready for commencement. Randy and their kids – Shaelyn, 7, Ryder, 5, and Keiley, 4 – will be cheering from the audience. “They can’t wait to see me in my wizard outfit.”

Photos above: URI senior Rachael Musch, 35, of Wakefield, and her children, from left to right, Shaelyn, 7, Ryder, 5, and Keiley, 4. Photos courtesy of Rachael Musch.