LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Malory Spring (née White) is an alumna of the Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) program at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.
After graduating from Connellsville High School, Malory had studied photography and was working as a certified nursing assistant. She had no plans to return to school — until a traumatic life event and a chance meeting with a stranger dramatically altered her path.
“My significant other took his own life in front of me and my dog in 2014,” she said. “My life flipped upside down.”
She coped, in part, by running up to 50 miles per week with Hoss, her blue-nosed pitbull, at her side. Her grief was still raw when she signed up for a run hosted by Penn State Fayette, where she met JoAnn Jankoski, a professor known on campus as “Dr. Jo.”
“I was struck by her compassion,” said Spring. “She was a stranger, and I was in the midst of my trauma, but I told her my whole story. She encouraged me to apply to the HDFS program and she gave me her phone number. I would have never started on this path if it wasn’t for Dr. Jo.”
And so, at the age of 26, Spring found herself in a classroom, taking her first college exam on the first anniversary of her significant other’s death.
“I had to survive a traumatic event to give me that final push toward what I wanted to do in life,” she said.
“When anyone shares their personal story of struggle or brokenness, it’s a gift,” said Jankoski, associate professor of HDFS. “I’m so blessed that Malory and other students know that they can come to me or anyone in our department for support, encouragement and hope.”
The four-year bachelor of science in HDFS prepares students for careers as social and human service assistants and administrators, marriage and family therapists, mental health and substance abuse counselors, social workers, home health aides, community educators and more.
“HDFS is so broad. I knew I wanted to work with suicide prevention, but when I got into the program I realized I could go into domestic violence, child and youth services, drug and alcohol,” said Spring. “I would recommend it to anyone who wants to be a helping hand.”
As a nontraditional-aged student, Spring appreciated the hands-on curriculum and small class sizes at Penn State Fayette.
“In one of Dr. Jo’s classes, we had to film ourselves playing the role of the therapist. I loved having the opportunity to counsel the actors through real-life scenarios,” Spring said. “When I thought of college, I pictured overwhelmingly packed classrooms where you don’t know anyone’s name, but HDFS was like family. It was a nurturing environment.”
During her final semester, Spring completed an internship at the Glenbeigh Outpatient Center of Erie, where she was able to facilitate group therapy sessions and assist with drug screenings even as a student.
In 2018, she graduated from Penn State Fayette and started a full-time position as a primary counselor at Glenbeigh Hospital, gaining experience in individual counseling.
Spring went on to work as a treatment specialist for Fayette County Drug and Alcohol, solidifying her passion for helping clients in recovery.
“I wasn’t sure how I would like the drug and alcohol field, but I love it,” she said. “I get experience with a variety of populations — individuals in domestic abuse situations, the homeless, and people struggling with suicidal thoughts.”
In 2020, Spring graduated from Edinboro University with a master's degree in social work, for which Dr. Jo provided continued mentorship.
“I applied everything I learned at Penn State Fayette in my master program, and I continue to apply those skills in my daily work. Penn State Fayette taught me everything,” she said.
Today, Spring is preparing for the licensed social worker exam and starting a new position as a therapist at Dream Life Recovery, an inpatient center in Donegal, Pennsylvania.
“My ultimate goal is to continue my education until I’m Dr. Malory,” she said. “I want to open a private agency called Hope House, where we can contract therapists of all specialties to accommodate any kind of population—even those who may not be ready for therapy but who need a safe and hopeful place to go.”
Spring lives in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, with her supportive husband, Daniel — who will graduate from the HDFS program in 2022 — and Hoss, who is still by her side as her therapy dog. She credits her therapist, Rose, and her entire family, especially her parents and her sister, for supporting her journey, along with her sister’s three kids, whom she calls her “heartbeats.”
“I can’t tell my significant other’s story. It’s not mine. The story I can tell is the loss of hope I witnessed in him. My passion is to instill the hope in my clients that he lacked,” she said. “When I see individuals gain that hope back, I tell them to look into the HDFS program at Penn State Fayette. We need people who can share their experience, strength and hope.”