By Kristen Walsh
Photos By Kathleen Dooher
Originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of Regis Today
When Mount Ida College announced that it would close its doors in spring 2018, a tight-knit college community in Newton, Massachusetts, was left without a home, without educational pathways, without jobs. But students, faculty, and staff refused to let go of their dreams. And, so did Regis. The university committed to continue Mount Ida’s Dental Hygiene program—a natural fit for Regis’ School of Health Sciences and indication of its mission to “love and serve the dear neighbor.”
Denise Tetreault rarely worked from home, but on April 6, 2018, she did. It was a Friday. She was making lunch when her cell phone buzzed on the kitchen counter with an email from Mount Ida College, where she was department chair of the Dental Hygiene program. What came next was an utter shock: Mount Ida was closing.
“My head was spinning; I called my dean and my associate department chair,” recalls Tetreault, a registered dental hygienist. She is still choked up with emotion months later. “My first thought wasn’t ‘I’m out of a job.’ It was ‘What are we going to do for these students?’ That was a priority for all of us.”
The supervising dentist was Karen Hallisey-Pesa, DMD, who was also the pre-dental hygiene adviser at Mount Ida. Just one day prior, she had spoken with a group of excited, prospective Mount Ida pre-dental hygiene students to discuss prerequisites for the program. She and Tetreault were scheduled to speak on Saturday at Admitted Students Day. But her plans quickly took a turn. Instead, she headed to campus for a meeting called by Mount Ida President Barry Brown.
“It was devastating,” Hallisey-Pesa says of absorbing the news with other members of her beloved community. “We were all sitting around the boardroom table; many people were in tears. It was incredibly emotional.”
Former Mount Ida student Lacey Perry ’19 also describes the news as devastating. She was off campus at a café working on a final paper with a few friends from the Dental Hygiene program when she received the news.
At first I tried to make a joke. But the laughs did not last when we realized that our future was starting to collapse and there was uncertainty about continuing our degree. I had completed two years of academics; I was halfway there. It was hard to accept and believe.Saeed Alqalaleef ’20
“While typing our papers, we received the horrible email that we soon learned would change our lives,” Perry says. “I read it out loud and we all instantly laughed thinking it wasn’t true. But then we stormed out of the café and headed back to Mount Ida when we realized that it was.”
Back on campus, people were walking around trying to understand what was happening. Perry went to her room to call home and tell her mom, then headed down the hall where she and her floormates sat together and cried for hours at the thought of being split up.
“Never in a million years did I think I would go away to college and start learning a career I love and make so many amazing new friendships just to have it all taken away,” Perry says. “Not knowing if, when, and where I was going to finish my degree was awful.”
Saeed Alqalaleef ’20 and his classmates were in the dental hygiene clinic preparing for a lab when they heard the news. “At first I tried to make a joke. But the laughs did not last when we realized that our future was starting to collapse and there was uncertainty about continuing our degree. I had completed two years of academics; I was halfway there. It was hard to accept and believe.”
Alqalaleef traveled from Saudi Arabia to attend Mount Ida College. “I made so much effort to manage my life and adapt to Mount Ida. I could not accept going to another school and leaving my friends and teachers—my dental hygiene family.”
Among that family was Latisha DeRepentigny ’20, who was with Alqalaleef at the clinic. “We were really confused by the email wording that Mount Ida was closing and that UMass might take us over, so we decided to head to the meeting with President Brown. We went dressed in scrubs as a united body.”
There, DeRepentigny questioned the UMass chancellor about the Dental Hygiene program. “He said that UMass wasn’t taking it because it isn’t a part of what they offer. I was shocked. I’m 28 years old and finally made the leap to come back to school. My classmates and I looked at each other wondering if this was the end.”
It turns out, it wasn’t the end. Alqalaleef, DeRepentigny, and Perry wouldn’t have to leave their dental hygiene family and they would be able to finish their degrees. Tetreault and Hallisey-Pesa could stop searching for new placements for their students.
“When Mount Ida announced its decision to close, we immediately began exploring ways that Regis could step in for these students,” says Regis President Antoinette M. Hays, PhD, RN. “Not only did we feel compelled to help our neighbors, but we already had a strong School of Health Sciences. The Dental Hygiene program was a perfect fit and great addition to our portfolio of programs.”
On May 10, Regis announced that it would continue the Mount Ida Dental Hygiene program when the college closed its doors this spring. The pending agreement gave hope. It provided a path for former Mount Ida College students to complete their degrees and achieve their academic goals—and 11 former Mount Ida Dental Hygiene faculty and two full-time staff, including Tetreault and Hallisey-Pesa, to continue their careers at Regis. Dental hygiene courses and clinics are continuing at the former Mount Ida campus for the 2018–19 academic year and the public dental clinic will continue to operate.
Among the many working tirelessly behind the scenes at Regis to make it work were Laura Burke, dean of the School of Health Sciences, and Laura Bertonazzi, dean of undergraduate admission and retention.
Not only did we feel compelled to help our neighbors, but we already had a strong School of Health Sciences. The Dental Hygiene program was a perfect fit and great addition to our portfolio of programs.Antoinette M. Hays, PhD, RN, Regis President
“The Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment recognized the immense transition that these Mount Ida students were facing and worked to provide a seamless and supportive enrollment process for these students and their families,” says Bertonazzi. “The hallmark of Regis College is our care for the dear neighbor, and our work with the students from Mount Ida was anchored in this philosophy.”
Burke says that the addition of the program and its students is a win-win. “We wanted students in the Dental Hygiene program to understand that this was an opportunity for them to continue their educational path but also an opportunity for Regis to continue a very specific program that has a history of being very strong. Mount Ida’s Dental Hygiene program has a long, impressive legacy.”
Hallisey-Pesa agrees about the program’s success at Mount Ida. But she is excited about its future at Regis.
“It’s a dream that Regis values health sciences and has so many programs because it opens the door for us to do interdisciplinary work,” says Hallisey-Pesa, who is continuing as the supervising dentist at Regis. “It’s such a good fit.”
Throughout the transition, Burke says that the Regis community has not lost sight of the fact that Mount Ida was an institution loved by its faculty, staff, and students. “It was their second home in the same way that Regis is for our students. It is important for us to remember that.”
At a college fair on the Mount Ida campus and a second event at Regis—held even before a formal agreement had been confirmed—Regis staff members were on hand to answer questions, listen, and walk potential students through the transfer process. Seventy-six dental hygiene students from Mount Ida enrolled in the new Regis program (which totals 83 students); 20 Mount Ida students transferred to Regis programs such as sports management, education, and criminal justice.
“Students were waiting in the wings not knowing what to do,” says Tetreault, who now directs the Regis Dental Hygiene program. “We asked them to please be patient. We couldn’t promise what would happen because we didn’t know. But they had faith and look how great it turned out.”