The Unexpected Path

by Maura King Scully  | photos by Nicki Pardo

SOMETIMES IT’S THE DETOURS that make all the difference. A college plan transformed by a single class. A family member who reaches out with an offer. A graduate school application denied, a prestigious grant awarded, an unexpected job offer. Moments of disappointment, moments of grief, moments when the bills have to be paid—they all have the power to redirect career paths and bring unexpected fulfillment. Here are five stories of Stonehill graduates who veered from the straight line and achieved the unimagined.

Gregory Affsa ’04

“I WAS A NORMAL HIGH SCHOOL KID with no idea what I wanted to do in life,” recalls Gregory Affsa ’04. At Stonehill, he had a vague idea about joining the FBI—based on watching The X-Files. But when an FBI recruiter came to campus, Affsa thought it sounded like “just another desk job.” So he decided to major in fine arts with a studio concentration, and that led to a job in accounting.

Huh? How did that happen? Mostly by happenstance. And the need to pay his rent. His father had a connection at State Street Bank, and Affsa took a job in the retirement accounting department. “I picked up Excel easily, which made up for the fact that I had never taken an accounting class,” he says.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Affsa moved to California to work in the accounting department of a mountain bike company. He loved the bikes, surf and sand. “But I was 27, and at a desk in a cubicle—exactly the place I didn’t want to be,” he recalls. So, he decided to move back to Boston and enroll in an industrial design program at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

In early 2017, Affsa went to work at Optum, a health services and innovation company, where he is a product experience manager. “We’re using human-centered design tools to solve some of healthcare’s biggest problems,” he says. “I was always looking for a job that I would love, and I never gave up on trying to find it. Now, I don’t foresee myself leaving this field ever.”

Amanda (Dalia) Hazeltine ’05

WHEN HER MOTHER WAS DIAGNOSED with cancer in 2011, Amanda (Dalia) Hazeltine ’05 was working in healthcare communications. “I remember a moment when I was drafting a client’s tweet, and it felt so unimportant compared to my mom’s battle with cancer,” she recalls.

“I decided I wanted to pursue a career that enabled me to more directly help others.”

Soon, Hazeltine headed back to school—part-time, while still working full-time—to complete prerequisite nursing course work. For the past three years, she has worked per diem on the weekends as a patient care technician. Last April, she joined Massachusetts General Hospital’s division of palliative care and geriatric medicine to launch a serious illness care education program. “Our mission is to meet the needs of seriously ill patients and their families through patient engagement and education, and training clinicians—regardless of specialty—to have serious illness conversations to find out what matters most to patients.”

Initially, Hazeltine’s mother wasn’t convinced her decision to change careers was a good idea. “She said, ‘You’re doing really well. Why start over?’”

But as her mother’s illness worsened, she increasingly saw and felt the benefit of medical professionals trained to ease the stress of a serious illness. “Just before her death, my mother said, ‘I can see now why you want to do this,’” Hazeltine recalls. “This meant so much to me, to have her blessing as I embark on a new path inspired by her and her strength.”

This fall, Hazeltine will apply to nursing school, with the goal of becoming an oncology nurse practitioner.

Chad Gaughan ’10

CHAD GAUGHAN ’10 had sent in applications and was waiting to hear from dental schools when he got a job with Concierge Services for Students, a Boston company that provides personalized support for international and out-
of-state students attending school in New England. “It was babysitting rich kids—getting them apartments, helping them get acclimated,” explains Gaughan.

Then, came disappointment. Gaughan, who had long dreamed of becoming a dentist, didn’t get into the schools of his choice. He ended up staying with Concierge Services for a little more than three years. Along the way, he found that he had a flair for technology and negotiating real estate deals. Though he enjoyed the work, Gaughan found himself thinking, “What can I do that is different and will leverage my qualities as a person?”

“My in-laws suggested teaching or sales,” says Gaughan, who is married to Kelsey (Doherty) Gaughan ’11. In 2013, he joined Goodrich Residential in Boston, where he mastered the ins and outs of real estate and was promoted to vice president. Three years later, he went to work for Local Property Shop as president, and in November 2017, he bought the business.

Though running a company gives him more than enough to do, Gaughan makes time to talk with college students interested in real estate careers. “I want them to keep their options open. Real estate is a tough industry,” he explains. “A lot of brokerages are built around an all-star agent, and the leftovers get kicked down to other people. You have to generate business yourself, so I encourage the students to start working in the business before they graduate.

“You never know if you’re making the right decision along the way, and I still don’t know if I’m making the right decisions,” muses Gaughan, “but I know I ended up in the right spot.”

Katherine Morelli ’16

WHEN KATHERINE MORELLI ’16 found out she had been awarded a prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship for 2017-2018, her life took a turn that she never expected. “I was living in Maine and substitute teaching,” says Morelli. “If I had been turned down for the Fulbright, I probably would have continued substituting and applied to Teach For America.”

Instead, Morelli is teaching English as a second language to 5th through 12th grade students at a school located about 20 minutes outside the German city of Hamburg. “I applied for the Fulbright knowing that I wanted a career in teaching and to spend more time in Germany,” says Morelli, who majored in biology and decided to minor in German after spending her junior year in the country.

When Morelli arrived at Stonehill, she thought teaching biology would be her calling. But after getting to know Professor Stacy Grooters, founding director of the College’s Center for Teaching and Learning, she decided that her ultimate goal is to teach other teachers. “Listening to Professor Grooters talk about her job was formative,” recalls Morelli.

Her next goal is to earn a graduate degree in sociology at a German university. “I hope that studying sociology will make me a better teacher,” she explains. “It’s very important to me that I understand where my students are coming from.”

She also offers some advice to her students: “You have to take it one step at a time. I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and I got a Fulbright. Be open to options, and have a group of people who are willing to write you great recommendations. My Fulbright wouldn’t have happened without all of the support I received from my Stonehill professors.”

William Ryan ’77

“I STARTED COLLEGE AS A SCIENCE MAJOR. I worked hard and got Cs,” recalls William Ryan ’77. “In my sophomore year I somehow wound up in a psychology class and put  the same effort into it and got an A.” Ryan switched majors to psychology and went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling.

For about a decade, Ryan worked in social services. Though he enjoyed the work, funding was limited, and he began to think about switching careers. His wife suggested he would make a good lawyer, but they couldn’t figure out a way for him to go to law school and pay the mortgage.

Enter Uncle Oscar. “My Uncle Oscar had a law practice in Blackstone,” recalls Ryan. “He mentioned it would be nice if someone in the family would take over the practice.” Soon, Ryan was working full-time for Oscar, and a year later he began part-time at New England School of Law. Ryan eventually opened his own practice, where he has spent the last 26 years, concentrating in estate planning, probate and family law.

When Ryan looks back at his career path, he fondly remembers Rev. Robert J. Kruse, C.S.C., who often quoted from Rainer Maria Rilke’s book Letters to a Young Poet: “Love the questions themselves.” With that and his Catholic faith in mind, Ryan says he has learned to trust God with both the uncertainty and the journey. “Law has been where I’ve felt most fulfilled,” says Ryan. “It wasn’t a straight-line transition, but as I look back, I see this cluster of events that seem to be God leading me to where I needed to be.”