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ASAP Grad ‘Masters’ Many Fronts

To say Jennifer Button Mong knows a thing or two about multi-tasking is an understatement.

Since 2007, this Painted Post resident has held down a 40-hour day job at a non-profit agency while taking weekly evening classes in management through Keuka College’s Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP). She started with a Bachelor of Science in organizational management and only took a few months off before moving into the master’s program, from which she will graduate Dec.19. Each year, Mong adds another seasonal job to her schedule: running the Country Cream ice cream shop she owns in Addison, where she puts in about 25 hours a week April through September. Meanwhile, she’s celebrated two other major milestones during her tenure as a Keuka student: the birth of her sons, Alex and Ethan William, both born on May 14, three years apart.

“She’s probably a poster child for time management skills,” said Keith LaSota, Mong’s ASAP adviser, wondering aloud if she manages to get 26 hours out of each day.

While he generally avoids implying that any one student might be busier than another, “in this case, I think she was busier,” said LaSota, acting program director of Keuka’s ASAP management program. “I think she mastered multi-tasking to the max.”

Mong said she was attracted to ASAP because of how quickly she could earn her degree—just 16 months for a bachelor’s, 18 for a master’s—especially since she had reached a point where she needed a degree to advance in her career. ASAP was cheaper, more convenient and very “do-able,” she said, when squeezed in with work and married life.

When she started her bachelor’s, she worked as director of visitor services for the Corning Chamber of Commerce. She gave birth to her first son, Alexander, on May 14, 2007, and only missed one week of class before she was back. Three years later to the day, she missed just one week of class again— this time, a class in the master’s program—when her second son was born. In-between finishing her B.S in August 2008, and starting her master’s in June 2009, she landed a new job, as the human resources recruiter at Chemung ARC, in November 2008.

Her new job has “opened the world of HR to me,” Mong said. “I will probably further myself with a second master’s in education or specialize in human resources [with certification]. I’m definitely a firm believer in lifelong learning.”

Mong’s sons will be in the audience at Keuka’s mid-year conferral of degrees Dec. 19. While they may still be too young to fully understand what’s going on, she said it’s important to her to set an example for them about learning and going to college—no matter what else happens to be on your plate.

“There are certainly people you remember above others and she was one because I was just amazed she could do all that,” said LaSota. “At the same time, she was always so calm. You never got the sense that anything fazed her. It was like [she indicated] ‘OK, I guess I can handle that.’”

“It’s definitely a lot of work but if you’re dedicated and organized, you can do it,” Mong said, crediting the other adult students in her ASAP cohort group also taking classes at Corning’s Small Business Center for their role in her success.

Thanks to them, and the ASAP instructors, Mong said she was able to catch up quickly after giving birth.

“Everyone was awesome. It’s amazing the relationships and network I’ve gained,” said Mong, who added that she and her classmates still connect over occasional dinners.

LaSota also praised Mong’s keen attention to detail, evident in the Action Research Project required of ASAP students. While many students take a more hypothetical approach, Mong created what LaSota called a “phenomenal” strategic plan for growing her ice cream shop business, right down to projected dates of completion, designated staff, and contingency plans if goals were not reached.

“It’s probably one of the best I’ve ever seen and I’ve spent 30 years in corporate [business],” LaSota said, citing big names such as Xerox or Kodak among those he’s reviewed.

While some concepts Mong proposed are unique for an ice cream parlor in that area, it was the approach she took and the recommendations she made that were unusual because she was in the rare position to have the leverage to implement them, he said.

“You can say ‘It’s a small business, so what?’ but survival could hinge on these things coming true and she had a very prescriptive plan,” LaSota said.

Mong said she already spoke with one woman wondering if it was possible to have a baby while working on a degree of her own, and encouraged her that it can be done.

“The program is definitely do-able,” said Mong, “even when you’re going through challenges of your own.”

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