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Balancing College and Family: Christina McMahon Shares Her Journey

By Lauren Landry
February 1, 2018

When Christina McMahon graduated with her bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting management from Northeastern, she was 38 years old and 38 weeks pregnant, with two other children at home.

“I wanted to be a good role model for my kids,” McMahon says, describing the afternoons she sat on the edge of a soccer field with her head buried in a book, while her children ran up and down the sidelines.

Balancing family commitments, coursework, and a full-time job was a test of its own—but one she aced. McMahon graduated in 2012 summa cum laude and was honored with the Office of Alumni Relations’ Compass Award for her leadership in the classroom, workplace, and community. Getting to commencement didn’t come without its hurdles, though.

McMahon was 18 when she dropped out of school after discovering she was pregnant. Seven years later, newly married, she returned to college to further her accounting career. In the midst of earning her degree, however, she found out she was expecting baby number two and took a six-month sabbatical. While away, her college discontinued the program she was in, sparking a search for universities with online and hybrid learning opportunities that would enable her to finish her bachelor’s degree.

“Beyond its reputation, Northeastern offered me the flexibility I needed,” McMahon says. “I could work until seven and then sit down and do my school work at nine o’clock. I didn’t need to be tied to a classroom schedule.”

McMahon collaborated with classmates in Portugal and Colorado from the comfort of her Massachusetts home via voice and video calls. She also formed bonds with several faculty members, who turned situations they had experienced on the job into case studies and reviews.

McMahon then applied what she was learning in the classroom to her role as assistant controller at Instron, a company that manufacturers test equipment to evaluate the mechanical properties of materials and components.

“I would apply projects and case studies I was doing in my classes to my work,” McMahon says. “It really brought that next level of understanding.”

 

“The butterfly is the symbol for transformation,” McMahon says. “My favorite thing, and even more fitting, is that my kids chose to bedazzle this on my cap.”

 

Since graduating, she’s advanced into a new role at a multinational technology company. McMahon now serves as an accounts payable manager for business services operations at Dell EMC, crediting her degree for creating opportunities she could have only dreamed of at 18.

“I chose to earn my bachelor’s degree to open up opportunity for advancement,” McMahon says. “There comes a point in life where you get trapped. But having a degree from Northeastern, I certainly wouldn’t have gotten here without that.”

The experience has not only helped McMahon advance her career, but galvanized her to mentor other women who wonder, “Can I do this? Can I earn a bachelor’s degree?” McMahon is on the board of trustees for Girls Incorporated of Taunton, a youth enrichment organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be “strong, smart, and bold.” She has also encouraged other women within her company to take the next step in their career.

“I tell them it’s about what you want and what drives you,” McMahon says. “You can walk to the finish line; you don’t need to run. Even if it’s just one class. Once you find that groove, you can do it. Anyone can do it. It’s about teaching people to reach within themselves.”

While balancing her coursework, job, and family commitments wasn’t always easy, McMahon knew the juggling act was worth it when, on commencement day, her oldest daughter posted on Facebook: “The graduation address speaker, Josh Kraft, mentioned my momma and her accomplishments in his speech!! Words can’t express how much this woman inspires me!”

McMahon tears up retelling the story, repeating, “That made every late night worth it.”

McMahon’s daughter also went on to pursue her bachelor’s degree in accounting. And when she stumbled a bit, McMahon wasn’t worried. As her daughter said, “You did it. I can do it, too.”


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About Lauren Landry
Lauren Landry is the former associate director of content marketing for Northeastern University.