Mary Curcio G’95 always wanted to be a math teacher but, as a mother of six, knew the path forward might not be a straight line. She also knew that setting an example for her children that anything was possible would need to begin with her own trajectory. “I knew if I didn’t get a degree, my kids wouldn’t either.”
She took the plunge and started with one course — at the age of 35 — at Jefferson Community College, earning her associates degree in two years.
Continuing her studies, she was accepted at SUNY Oswego but needed support to attend. She applied for a federal Paul Douglas Teaching Scholarship, which would provide financial assistance to help her purchase books, pay for childcare and gas money. The only problem was, Curcio was viewed as too nontraditional because she was over 30, and she kept getting denied.
She truly believed this scholarship was her ticket to SUNY Oswego, and contacted her local legislators with one question: “How many women over 30 are receiving this scholarship?” Curcio asked again and again. “They would not give me answers. But I would not give up.”
Curcio eventually secured the scholarships to study at SUNY Oswego, where she received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education in mathematics.
“Once I finished my degree at SUNY Oswego, one of my favorite professors, Dr. Kathy Lewis, encouraged me to apply to the mathematics education program at Syracuse. Lacking confidence in myself, I did not pursue this,” she says. But Lewis kept pushing her, and eventually she applied.
In 1993 at age 40, Curcio set her sights on Syracuse University and was accepted into the mathematics education program, where Joanna Masingila was her advisor. Curcio says she learned more about teaching at Syracuse than anywhere else. “Joanna was phenomenal, this program is where I learned to teach and do research,” she says.
“I was just a little housewife from Orwell, NY. After receiving my master’s degree, I was hired at Westhill High School ‘right out of the gate’,” says Curcio. “Eventually I moved up to administration, became a principal, superintendent, and retired five years ago.”
Curcio credits her success to female mentors who helped her believe in herself. She knows this is still critical today. “The women who mentored me weren’t afraid to share their expertise. This led me to mentor others along my professional career.”
And now, she’s created a legacy for own children. “The research is clear that kids will pursue the same level of education as the mother. My dream was for my children and grandchildren to have a better life.” Curcio speaks proudly of her children, among them an occupational therapist, a registered nurse, and an engineer.
After a rewarding career in public education in Upstate New York, she currently teaches math for elementary education majors as an adjunct instructor at Cayuga Community College, and spends her free time giving back to students and teachers by working with Read to Them, a national non-profit whose mission is to create a culture of literacy in every home.
She is also a member of the Literacy Coalition of Oswego County where their mission is to develop literacy communities that are foundational to diminishing poverty.
“Literacy is key to everything, including bringing children out of poverty,” she says. “Adults will stay more engaged in a literacy program that engages their children and the family, than in an adult literacy program.”
She adds that you can’t expect districts to do the lift all alone, learning is a community effort. “To become lifelong lovers of reading, children must be reading at home.”
And Curcio is more than happy to be a part of that equation.