Vano, mother of two, returns to Kent to receive bachelor’s degree


Photo courtesy of Josie Vano

Josie Vano (left) with her husband Jeff Vano (middle), step-son Kyan (right) and daughter Nyx (bottom left). Josie and her family live in Mentor, Ohio.

Luke Trupo, Reporter

The current social norm for attending higher education happens right out of high school, without much transition time in between. Many college students are not able to attend school that early due to other life circumstances. Non-traditional students like Josie Vano are not the typical age for college students, but due to unforeseen life events, she now attends class each week while having a family and raising children.

Josie graduated from high school in Ashtabula in 2008 and started classes at NYU studying educational theatre. Josie was a first-generation college student dipping her toes into the water of higher education.

“I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it was gonna be,” Josie said. “Being the top of your class in a postage stamp town in Ohio

Josie Vano, senior integrative studies major and mother of two. Vano returned to Kent State after receiving an ASL degree from Lakeland Community College in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Josie Vano)

doesn’t mean anything when you get to New York City.”

Things didn’t go according to plan and she decided to move back to Ohio and continue her education.

At the time, Josie was planning on transferring to Baldwin Wallace University, but due to an unforeseen pregnancy she was unable to enroll. Following this life-changing news, she moved to Iowa in 2009 to stay with her mom.

Josie moved back to Ohio and enrolled at Kent State as a commuter student in summer 2012. When classes began, she had trouble making connections on campus and was unable to find her footing.

As a parent she didn’t know what resources were available to support her other than the LIFE program.

“There was a lot of, ‘Oh you can do anything as a parenting student,’ ‘We’ve got your back as a commuter student,’” Josie said. “But I wasn’t seeing any of this materialized.”

She chose to withdraw from the university a year later because balancing work, school and parenting was becoming too difficult to manage all on her own.

She then switched gears and found work at a middle school in the autism resource unit. Helping people that have disabilities was something that she was passionate about, and for the time being, she was enjoying the work she was doing.

After suffering a concussion at work, she decided to quit teaching and get a corporate job which she worked for a few years.

She started in the ASL program at Lakeland Community College in December 2019, and graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA in May 2021.

Following her graduation from Lakeland, she began to consider going back to school again to get a bachelor’s degree. Now a wife, mother and step-mother, Josie’s home life had become stable and allowed her the opportunity to attend college once more.

“I got one year of college experience, everything else since, has either been community college or online classes,” Josie said. “I really would just like to experience what it’s like to be in college.”

A driving force behind Josie’s educational journey has been her husband Jeff Vano. Jeff and Josie met while working at a renaissance fair and connected further after that. Jeff was also a single parent, which was a huge connector for the two.

“Overall it’s been really good, but it’s not challenge free,” Jeff said. “There were some unexpected things, we sat down as a family and had a long talk about the whole thing.”

The family was fully supporting Josie on her journey and she enrolled at Kent State, and began taking classes in fall 2021. She moved into Tri-Towers and lived on campus during the week and went home on the weekends to see her family.

While at Kent, Josie made many important connections that have helped push her toward her goal. Lo Denmon, the assistant director of the LGBTQ+ Center and Tabitha Messmore, assistant director for LaunchNET, have been working together on various projects and organizations.

“This is a person that goes above and beyond,” Messmore said. “She’s doing a great job because she’s able to focus on school while

Josie Vano (left) with her sorority sisters Faith Shoaff (middle) and Alex Jensen (right) at the Tri Sigma Night Live Event. Vano joined Tri Sigma in fall 2021. (Photo courtesy of Josie Vano)

she’s here during the week, and she’s involved with a lot of other things.”

Josie actively participates at the LGBTQ+ Center and has been a great help for Lo and the other members of staff there.

“Her ability to plan things and the justification behind it, is brilliant,” Denmon said. “She’s really talented.”

Josie joined Sigma Sigma Sigma in fall 2021 during recruitment and began to take on a plethora of leadership roles within the sorority. Junior biology major Erin Hawkins serves as the chapter president and has known Josie since she joined the chapter.

“Since joining, she has stepped up and basically volunteered for everything,” Hawkins said. “She’s been the house manager, she’s been on the honors council, held a few different leadership roles and has won a few awards.”

Josie has been a vital and active member within the sorority and her outlook on life has been a key trait of hers.

“She tends to see people as very holistic, things aren’t black and white,” Hawkins said. “She very much looks at a person as a whole and is very understanding.”

Josie will be graduating this upcoming May with an undergraduate degree in integrated studies and plans to enroll in graduate school here at Kent. Her family is in full support of her goals and are standing with her every step of the way.

“I’m nothing but proud of what she has been accomplishing,” Jeff said.

Luke Trupo is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].