“Endings are just beginnings backwards,” a character in Neil Simon’s popular Chapter Two glibly rationalized. It’s a fortune-cookie philosophy that the six people you are about to meet took to heart in turning the page to the second chapter of their professional lives. They represent countless adults who, due to a shift in personal circumstances, return to South Florida’s colleges and universities every year to further their education. Whether 25 or 53 or 87, they reenter the classroom knowing their future success is a matter of, well, degrees.
By Dave Wieczorek
From Sherwin-Williams to the Dolphins?
There comes a time in many a man’s life when he just wants to put the paint brush down. In Sam Ciraco’s case, that would be brush, can and store.
“I was working for Sherman-Williams part time when I was getting my marketing degree at FAU, and then I just kind of fell into it,” says Ciraco, 25, who earned his bachelor’s in 2011. “You see all the success stories around you, people making decent money and all that. In a corporate environment like Sherwin-Williams there are so many opportunities to move up. I definitely considered staying with the company and could see where it would become a career forever.”
Ciraco did in fact move up. He manages the Sherman-Williams store on Galt Ocean Mile in Fort Lauderdale. But now he sees the job as a way to pay for his future. In fall 2012 he enrolled in NSU’s MBA program. He spends 50 hours a week at the paint store and another 20 to 30 on his studies.
“Eventually it clicked that, ‘Yeah, I do OK, but I’m not really interested in selling paint and managing a store the rest of my life,’ ” Ciraco says. “Something set me off one day when I said to myself, ‘What am I doing? I’m still young. I can still go back to school.’ ”
So he decided to pursue an MBA with a focus on sports revenue and hopes to land with a professional organization like the Dolphins or Marlins.
“I’ve always been a sports fanatic,” says Ciraco, a Sunrise resident. “I grew up playing baseball from the time I was 3 years old until I graduated from Hollywood Hills High School. Being around sports my whole life is what drew me to this MBA specialty.”
Based on his experience thus far, Ciraco would encourage others to go back to school and chase their dream.
“If you’re OK with not having a social life,” he laughs, “then absolutely, you should pursue it. If I wasn’t back to school I could work for Sherwin-Williams for the next 25 years and be happy financially, but not happy as far as what I’m doing with my life.
“I’m not the type of person who wants to live with regrets.”
Maria de Lourdes Ladino
Educator, Ironwoman, Doctor
“I was born in Madrid, Spain, but we moved around a lot when I was child,” Maria de Lourdes Ladino says. “My father was a professional safari hunter. We lived for a time in Africa. I had a pretty intense life as a kid, and that helped me prepare for all of this.”
“All of this” includes, at 29, starting medical school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and competing in Ironman triathlon competitions on the side. This after earning multiple degrees at Florida Atlantic and Nova Southeastern universities and teaching in elementary and middle schools for nearly a decade, including at the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens.
Why medical school now, after establishing a career as an educator?
“Medicine is something I always wanted to do,” says de Lourdes Ladino, who earned bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and biochemistry at FAU and a master’s in mathematics and doctorate in educational leadership from NSU. “I started doing the Ironman when I was teaching. That piqued my interest in medicine because I had to learn a lot about nutrition, biochemistry, metabolism, about how the body works in general.”
De Lourdes Ladino recalls the “aha” moment that signaled the Chapter Two of her life.
“I was going on a long training ride before my second Ironman and it popped into my head: How cool would it be to go to medical school and make a career out of science, something I’m really passionate about? It was like a voice inside me I couldn’t shake. I tried to ignore it for a year.”
She finally responded to the voice, with caution.
“I had to make sure I was making the right choice, because I loved my teaching job,” de Lourdes Ladino says. “I didn’t want to forsake that for something that wouldn’t work out.”
Four years of medical school will be followed by three to seven years of residency. De Lourdes Ladino admits that as she headed to Vanderbilt this summer, “I was a little nervous, because it was unlike anything I’d ever done before. It’s another level of challenge, rigor, intensity and responsibility.
“But I don’t have any regret about leaving teaching or doubt about what I’m doing in medical school. I’m still living an adventure.”
An Olympian Leap to a New Career
Beth Mignano is proud to tell you about one of the highlights of her life.
“I walked in the closing ceremonies with the U.S. Track and Field team at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London,” she says.
She pauses to laugh, which she does frequently, then adds: “A week later I was at Barry University starting this whole new life.”
The 37-year-old Mignano is in the second year of the 28-month physician assistant program at the Miami Shores university. A PA can conduct physical exams, treat illnesses, prescribe medication and assist in surgery.
From 1999 through 2012, Mignano traveled the world as a massage therapist for numerous amateur and professional athletic teams, including the U.S. National Swimming Team, the universities of Georgia and Oklahoma gymnastics squads, the Florida Panthers, and she worked with assorted NFL players and grapplers of WrestleMania.
When word got around that she was returning to school in January 2010 to take prerequisites for the PA program, the athletes became Mignano’s biggest fans.
“During the NHL playoffs last year my Panther boys were doing chemistry flashcards with me,” she says. “When I was in Korea with the U.S. track team they were doing anatomy flashcards with me. Every trip I took my athletes were totally cheering me on. That was pretty cool.”
Despite the rewards of massage therapy, Mignano couldn’t continue the physically demanding work forever. Her decision to pursue a second career was born “halfway out of fear, halfway out of a better way to serve my athletes. If I stubbed my toe or twisted my ankle I couldn’t work. I’ve always worked alongside PA’s, so I thought that would be a good thing to get into.”
The Spanish River High alum and Boca Raton native earned a degree in exercise physiology from University of South Florida in 1997. She will graduate from Barry in December 2014 with a Master of Clinical Medical Science degree and a Physician Assistant Certificate.
Mignano feels “pretty blessed and lucky” to have seen much of the world while preparing athletes for peak performances.
“Everyone thinks I’m crazy for going back to school, because I loved what I was doing,” she says. “Now massage will be my backup, and as a PA I’ll still be helping athletes.”
An Octogenarian’s ‘Continuing’ Education
“Webster’s Dictionary should abolish one word: old,” Jack Slotnick says. “I wrote in my reports when I was going to school that that is a total lie. There’s no such word as ‘old.’ It’s called continuation.”
No one can attest to that more youthfully than Slotnick. At age 84, the already successful and still very active businessman from Lake Worth enrolled at Lynn University in 2010. He completed a bachelor’s in psychology in a year and a half. In May he received a master’s in psychology. He will celebrate another milestone in November: his 88th birthday.
“I got along very well with the younger students, mostly because of my age, not because I’m Paul Newman or Einstein,” Slotnick says. “This octogenarian refuses to stagnate.”
Slotnick had often driven by Lynn University in Boca Raton and admired the campus. One day he decided it was time he returned to college. He’d attended Brooklyn College at night for three years following World War II but never completed a degree after becoming involved in business and traveling the world.
When Slotnick spoke with a Lynn counselor, he said he’d like to enroll as a psychology student. The counselor asked why psychology, and Slotnick replied, “I’ve been married 36 years. My wife doesn’t close closet doors. I want to find out why.”
In more ways than one, Slotnick took a nontraditional route back to school. He received the Purple Heart after being wounded during World War II. He was aboard the U.S. troopship Leopoldville when it was sunk by a torpedo in the English Channel on Christmas Eve 1944. Some 800 of the 2,300 soldiers and crew were killed. Slotnick has dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder ever since. Four years ago he beat prostate cancer.
“I feel lucky to be alive,” he says.
In between those traumatic episodes, Slotnick “made a fortune” in manufacturing bags for vacuum cleaners and with other ventures. Now he plans to put his Lynn degrees to use in the area of human resources. This fall he and a business partner will travel to China to launch production of a lawn-mower line at a government factory.
“I’ll work with the Chinese through an interpreter to teach them how to function if they want to come to the USA to find a job,” he says. “I will lecture them on the different lifestyle here, what changes they should look for. It’s a totally different culture from theirs. It’s like the North Pole and South Pole.”
No matter the makeup of his audience, Slotnick will share as often as he can his resolve for returning to college.
“There’s one word I don’t believe in: can’t,” he says. “Life is simple. There’s a glass of water that’s half full or half empty. If you say it’s half full, you’re an optimist. If you say it’s half empty, you’re a pessimist. There’s nothing you can’t do if you really want to do it.”
From Mom and Cop
to Student and Professor
Enid Conley was nearing 40, a single mother of four children and soon to retire from South Florida police work after suffering multiple injuries in the line of duty. Her Chapter Two was about to begin.
“I couldn’t be a police officer anymore, and that was my love,” says Conley, 53. “Just too many injuries. Sitting behind a desk wasn’t me. I had to do something, so I went back to school and got my bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D.”
As simple as one, two, three. Well, not quite.
“My kids were too young to stay at home, and I couldn’t afford to have a baby sitter,” she says. “So I spoke with my professors and they let me bring the kids to class. I’d be in class from 6 to 9 and the kids would sit in the back doing their homework or working on puzzles. Years later my daughter said to me, ‘Thanks, Mom.’ I said, ‘For what?’ She said, ‘For setting a good example.’ ”
Conley earned bachelor’s (2001) and master’s degrees (2003) from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach and a Ph.D. in educational leadership (2008) from FAU. A member of the Arawak tribe, she was the first Native American to receive a doctorate in education from FAU.
Today, all four of her children work in some area of law enforcement, while Conley, who lives in Coral Springs, teaches criminal justice at the North Miami campus of Johnson & Wales University.
When she reflects on those early days back in the classroom and all the challenges she faced, Conley says: “I realized I was very focused. I didn’t let the pain get in the way, I didn’t let the exhaustion get in the way. I was going to do the right thing, and show my children that you can do anything you want.”
Pressed to Make a Change
What’s a guy to do when the business he has been in most of his life starts shutting down its presses? If you’re Bryan McNab, you kiss the printing industry goodbye and get educated in another field.
“I’d been in the printing business since I got out of McArthur High School and rose to plant manager just before it closed,” says the Sunrise resident. “The industry and my company started falling on hard times like everyone else. I got laid off in December 2009. I found a job with another printing company, and they went under within six or seven months. I decided I wanted out of the business completely.”
He “kicked around” in real-estate sales “but didn’t see a whole lot of potential there. So I went back to school.”
At 53, he is enrolled at Broward College, completing his prerequisites before starting a two-year radiology program to become an X-ray technician.
“When the Internet started booming in the late ’90s and early 2000s, everybody said, ‘It’s going to kill printing,’ ” McNab recalls. “We all laughed while we were racking up big profits. Now I’m following my son-in-law into radiology. He was working with me in the printing business when I told him, ‘Look, you need to find something else.’ I don’t know why I didn’t follow my own advice then.”
He has taken it since, and the grandfather of five isn’t looking back.
“I find college very rewarding,” McNab says. “It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life. The classroom experience and learning, focusing on a goal, it has re-energized me. If someone is contemplating a change, I would say, ‘Follow your heart. Go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose.’
“I feel the future is bright.”
For information about academic programs offered by the institutions mentioned in these pages, visit the following websites:
Barry University: barry.edu
Broward College: broward.edu
Florida Atlantic University: fau.edu
Lynn University: lynn.edu
Nova Southeastern University: nova.edu
Palm Beach Atlantic University: pba.edu